'......when I started filling out the Bank of America Foundation application and reached the page which asked me which of the following minorities would be in the audience, I saw no mention of Middle Eastern or Arab peoples at all. I couldn't even tick a box called 'other'. They weren't the only foundation to ignore this group. Were Arab Americans undesirable or just plain invisible to the needs of corporate socially responsible America?'
From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin
Above, Paul is describing a little of his experience as he applied for funding from American Institutions in support of NYOI's proposed tour of the USA.
It is a short but very telling quotation for the following reasons:
- It is a clear example of a deeply embedded, institutionalised blind spot concerning a specific part of the American population.
- It shows how negative assumptions are readily made about the presence of such a blind spot rather than it being accepted as a genuine oversight or error. (This likely happens because no one likes to be ignored.)
- It shows how a blind spot can be not only perpetuated but also enlarged, spreading into surrounding institutions. (This is particularly the case, as the above quotation shows, when the institutions possessing the blind spot are high profile and influential members of their sector or well-established pillars of society. Taking their lead from these well-established and esteemed institutions, those interacting with them often see and not see the same things in the same ways. If they do perceive an ever-spreading blind spot, they almost unquestioningly assume that it is there for a good reason or is simply 'the way things are around here'.)
- It shows how a blind spot, particularly one such as the above, is most likely perceived and questioned by those who have themselves been under-represented and marginalised (or even ignored). In this case, Paul is a member of the commonly marginalised gay community.
So, take care to ensure your context and the institutions you are working with do not blunt your curiosity and dull your sensitivity to blind spots. Be careful to remember that blind spots are potentially dangerous because they tend to be perceived negatively by those sensitive enough to recognise them. Take a careful look at forms and documents; listen intently to conversations and presentations; take careful note of what is said at meetings. And if you sense the spreading presence of blind spots similar to that described above, make yourself ask the obvious question:
'Why are they there?'
If you can, invite someone especially sensitive to being marginalised and ignored to help you discover and challenge blind spots. Indeed, extending this invitation may be all that is needed to make the blind spots shrink and disappear.