For many, Helen Keller is a symbol of perseverance. The Story of My Life, the autobiography of Keller, still inspires many even if they do not have any disabilities. While her legacy has been well preserved by many historians, somehow, some on the internet have found her to be a fraud and racist. But what is behind the conspiracy theories?
It all started two weeks ago when some people called Keller a privileged white person. Soon, many started a storm, depicting her as a racist woman from the Southern US. Now, Keller —53 years after her death — some have even questioned her existence on Twitter and TikTok besides calling her a fraud as they can't believe that a person of that generation could be deaf-blind and write 14 books. It's difficult to explain her legacy to the ignorant. But let's try.
Who Was Helen Keller?
Keller was a disability rights activist and a scholar who is an inspiration for all irrespective of disabilities. She was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. According to historians, Keller suffered from "acute congestion of the stomach and the brain" that could be caused by a rubella epidemic in Alabama, scarlet fever or meningitis when she was just 19 months old. Her illness left her deaf and blind.
However, despite her disabilities, she went on to study at Radcliffe College (now Harvard University) and authored 14 books. Behind her incredible achievement at that time was her teacher Anne Sullivan. She began teaching her how to communicate and eventually read and write in Braille. She became the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1900.
Was She Racist?
Now to the main point of debate. Was she racist and a privileged white person? No, she wasn't racist but yes, it is difficult to deny that she did have some privileges. However, the obstacles she had to face definitely outweighed her so-called privileges.
In the 1900s, it was a difficult road for black women to enter college if not impossible. Some African-American women earned college degrees in the mid and late 1800s. For black women with disabilities, it was all the more difficult as not many could afford it. Perhaps that was the reason behind Anita Cameron, a disability rights activist, calling her "just another privileged white person".
As for Keller, she was born in a family that fought for the confederacy. Her father, Arthur Henley Keller, was a captain in the Confederate Army and the family held slaves. Her mother was the daughter of a Confederate General named Charles W Adams.
However, Keller didn't carry on his deplorable family behavior. Instead, she co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. The organization was a supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She even became a member of the Socialist Party and had regular communication with Eugene Debs, the party's influential member, who ran for the presidency five times. Keller read Karl Marx and supported birth control.
Her allegiance to social activism was one of the reasons why she was on the FBI's radar. The agency had monitored her for a long time for her ties with the Communist Party. It is also one of the reasons why Keller's life isn't taught much in American schools, the Times reported.
"This great republic of ours is a mockery when citizens in my section are denied the rights which the Constitution guarantees them, when they are openly evicted, terrorized and lynched by the prejudiced mobs, and their persecutors and murderers are allowed to walk abroad unpunished. The United States stands ashamed before the world whilst ten million of its people remain victims of a most blind, stupid, inhuman prejudice," Keller wrote in a letter to Oswald Garrison Villard, Vice-President, NAACP, in 1916, endorsing their works.
Is Her Existence Fake?
The answer is obviously, no. But that didn't stop people from wondering about her existence. On TikTok, videos questioning her existence with hashtags #HelenKeller and #HelenKellerisoverparty earned over 20 million views combined.
"Maybe it's because we were never technically educated on her in school like we were on Anne Frank and other historical figures. She's become something of an urban legend," wrote Isabella Lahoue on Medium, who began doubting her existence herself after coming across millions of posts about it.
So, she wasn't a racist and did write the books. With letters and videos featuring her, it is enough to prove her existence. The theories that are floating on the social media platforms are nothing but an ignorant attempt at discrediting one of the most prominent rights activists.