Oct 7th, 2009 by ravi
Politics: the real disability of Helen Keller

On Wednesday, a statue commemorating her 1887 breakthrough will be unveiled in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, the first statue in the Capitol of a person with a disability, as well as the first of a child, according to the Alabama governor’s office.

Neither the statue, nor the politicians speaking of Keller — or the CNN article for that matter — dares write about what, for Keller, overcoming disability to achieve greatness means, because it is a bit of a discomforting fact: Keller was a socialist, writer on labour affairs, and a pacifist. As the Wikipedia entry on Keller tells us, this dismissal of her politics is nothing new:

Keller and her friend Mark Twain were both considered radicals at the beginning of the 20th century, and as a consequence, their political views have been forgotten or glossed over in popular perception.[11] Newspaper columnists who had praised her courage and intelligence before she expressed her socialist views now called attention to her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote that her “mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development.” Keller responded to that editor, referring to having met him before he knew of her political views:

“At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him…Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.”

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3 Responses

  • THank you for acknowleding Helen Keller, the status in Dc, and the woman the world is still getting to know. Can you please give me the citation reference for your quote from her? I realize many of her letters are published or otherwise available. I’m working on an art-project about her and this will help my process. Thanks.

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