Helen Keller (letter to Senator Robert La Follette, 1924)
funny how the most popular narrative about helen keller is a harmless little girl who learns to communicate and then the story ends for some reason gee i wonder why that is
Gee. Why does the popular narrative end before she became a communist? So strange! And the Martin Luther King Jr. narrative does the same thing! What a coincidence!
Also, that the narrative is generally about the abled teacher helping her and how amazing she was to be able to do it. As the wikipedia article frames it: “The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker.” So even the story about Helen Keller is often not really about her.
Helen Keller is a glaring example of it, but history’s dominant narratives are full of women whose stories are depoliticised and infantilised in order to make them more “inspirational”.
A current example: when Malala Yousafzai is the brave little girl who just wanted to learn, she’s the world’s darling, but when she tells Obama that drone strikes are driving terrorism the cameras all turn off.
I believe that this BS would fall under “inspiration porn”, too.
I got her first book at a thrift store for 95 cents and figured “Hey, it’s short. I can read that.” because I read a few books about her in school, you know? Seemed sensible to read her own words.
Then I find out she was a communist!? :D :D :D :D :D She got more awesome by an order of magnitude.
Hey, loves, I know HK’s narrative gets watered down and that makes you rightly mad, but can you not wash out Anne Sullivan’s while you’re trying to reclaim Keller’s? Anne Sullivan was nearly blind and in constant pain from a trachoma infection in both eyes at the age of five. She was not the guardian angel abled teacher come down to bring civilization to feral Helen. She was a blind woman in chronic pain who received her education in spite of her blindness, graduated valedictorian, and went out to teach another blind girl and advocated for her continued education.
Anne’s political stances are less well-documented than Helen’s, but they weren’t dissimilar.
I gave a presentation on Helen Keller last month for a local group for low-vision people, and I was astounded by how much I just didn’t know until I was doing the research.
I highly recommend her writing, especially her collected articles. Because in addition to being a socialist and a suffragist and a pacifist and a unionist, she was a huge bucket of sass. For example, "How I Became a Socialist" contains a number of wry criticisms of people who turned on her for daring to voice unpopular opinions rather than being the meek, docile, grateful woman everyone expected her to be.