Saturday, November 10, 2018

You Don't Know What It's Like To Be ... (Blank)

I can't stand that argument. It drives me crazy. It's illogical and marks deep ingratitude. It's ugly and divisive. Until this morning, I couldn't think of the logical fallacy in it. It seemed impervious to debate as whatever you said could be countered with yet more characteristics the left associates with oppression.

I know a blind fellow at work. He's a scientist. I've worked with him on making our web applications more accessible to screen readers. If you've never used a screen reader, it's amazing what it does and what it requires on the part of the consumer. The thing starts at the topmost element in the Document Object Model (DOM) of the web page and reads it to you. Hitting the tab key moves you to the next element. I think ctrl-tab takes you back to the previous one.

Pictures and input elements like forms must have alt text associated with them so the screen reader can tell the blind person what it is. Without it, they can't fill out forms and don't know what the picture is showing to the rest of us.

To use a screen reader, you have to keep a mental map of the web page in your head. Imagine memorizing the map of the DC subway system. And the NY subway system. And the Chicago El and the LA bus system and on and on and on. Each website has a different map and the blind person is picturing the DOM in their heads as they walk through it with the tab key.

Meanwhile, the rest of us just zip around with the mouse and click on funny lolcat memes.

Whenever I hear arguments like, "You don't know what it's like to be black!" or "You don't know what it's like to be a woman!" I want to reply, "You don't know what it's like to be blind!" The obvious reply would be, "Yeah, well, you don't know what it's like to be a blind, black woman!"

That's not the way the thing works, though, is it? The blind dude doesn't live in a world of blind people where he might have some advantages because of his skin color or sex. He lives in the whole world and has to compete with all of us for jobs, respect, social status and mates. It doesn't matter to the blind guy that he doesn't know what it's like to be a black, blind guy because his disadvantage is orders of magnitude worse than skin color or sex, if those even carry with them disadvantages at all, which is debatable.

In fact, if he met a black, blind woman, they'd immediately have a close kinship born of having to learn how to live in the world of the sighted. They'd be able to have deep conversations about screen readers, crosswalk voices and how to set up a bedroom so you don't fall over everything. Heck, they might even fall in love because they finally met someone who understood them.

Meanwhile, in the world of the grievance culture, most of us are sighted, healthy, reasonably attractive and enjoy the fruits of our ancestors' hard work and ingenuity. Life's pretty easy, all things considered. Certainly too easy to walk around telling each other that we don't know what it's like to be an Eskimo lesbian.

Oh yeah? Well, you don't know what it's like to be a short, one-eyed, one-handed, transgendered, lactose-intolerant, vegan pirate!

1 comment:

Foxfier said...

It's insidious, because on some level it works.

Contemplating Mary as a 19 year old who was pretty sure nobody was dumb enough to date her, much less marry her, was waaaaaay different than contemplating Mary as a happily married 29 year old holding her darling daughter and hearing "a sword shall pierce your heart."

The flaw is, I could still figure out "yeah, my son being tortured to death in front of me is bad."