People who are “normal” often don’t even know what that feels like.
I have been legally blind for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t caught until I was in first grade – I simply didn’t realize that there was writing on the blackboard. It took the teacher a while to realize I wasn’t just dumb – I simply couldn’t see what other children could see. I remember the series of eye doctor appointments, as my eyes got progressively worse. Back then, there were the eye charts with the big E at the top, and optometrists would ask me, “what’s the smallest line you can read on the eye chart?” And I would say, “where’s the eye chart?”
So when I finally was able to fix my eyes, it was very much as they had promised. Pretty much a miracle. The operation itself took 15 minutes. It was weird to feel the surgeon cutting into my eyes, but not all that painful. They put blinders on my eye for that evening, I went to sleep, woke up the next morning—and could see.
Two weeks after the operation, I walk into the doctor’s office for a check up. Yes! I can see the eye chart! The doctor projects the first line of letters on the wall and asks me to read them. I get through all the letters. The second line is a bit harder. I can guess, because I literally know that, for instance the letter A is the only letter that is pointy on top and a T is the only letter that wide on top and pointy on the bottom. In my years of being blind, I have literally memorized what the alphabet looks like when fuzzy.
Then the third line. The doctor says “Ok, if you can read this line, it will be 20 / 20!”
I can’t read it at all. I can’t even guess. It’s all a blur.
And I say to the doctor “Oh man! I am almost normal!”
That sensation of being “almost normal” was an extraordinary sensation to me. And in a flash it explained to me something that I had understood but had never been able to really internalize.
“Almost normal” must be what gay couples feel like when same-sex marriage is approved in 38 states.
“Almost normal” is what a Stay-At-Home dad feels when he takes his kids to the playground and is just experiencing the sheer joy of being with them – until someone comes up to him and says “taking the day off from work today?” or worse “oh, so you are babysitting?”
“Almost normal” is what is what a brilliant person feels like on a conference call when no one can see his wheelchair.
“Almost normal” is what Jackie Summers felt like, as an entrepreneur speaking to a group of 200 salespeople. As he was waiting to walk into the conference room to speak, a security guard walked up to “check him out.” He found out from the receptionist that someone had called security because an unknown black man in an office building is somehow suspicious—even if he is an entrepreneur and public speaker.
Having privilege means you don’t know what it feels like to be almost normal. Privilege IS normal. A lot of people seem to think privilege means that someone is standing on a street corner handing out benefit after benefit to, say, the straight white guy. But that’s not the way it works. Being able to get married is a benefit all heterosexual people have but not all gay people have. Not having to worry about getting shot when you are stopped for a traffic violation or jaywalking….most of us don’t see that as a benefit to living in this world. We see it as normal.
And being able to be seen as “just a normal person” is one of the greatest privileges there is.
photo: wwworks / flickr