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Life comes at you fast, but apparently history comes at you slower, because Helen Keller denials are a thing now
And now, in the latest lecture series, Smart People Who Believe Stupid Things, we follow our talks on election conspiracies, anti-maskers, and people who travel in spite of shelter in place advice with the following: Gen Z believes that Helen Keller (yes THAT Helen Keller) didn’t exist. Inside Hook reports that screenwriter Daniel Kunka kicked off this universal realization when he took to Twitter to share the absolutely bonkers conspiracy theory that a lot of Gen Z kids believes that Helen Keller “was a fraud who didn’t exist.”
Guys, something insane happened to me today.
I am on a text chain with my teenage nieces and nephews along with my mom (their grandma) and today my mom asked them if they knew who Helen Keller was…
And their response was that Helen Keller was a fraud who didn't exist.
— Daniel Kunka (@unikunka) January 5, 2021
What in the ableist hell?
After Kunka pressed the young Helen Keller deniers for more details, Kunka said his nieces and nephews insisted Helen Keller could never have accomplished all she had done if she were really deaf and blind. Eventually, one nephew agreed Keller “probably existed,” but he claimed she “was probably only one or the other [deaf or blind].” After all, based on this special line of Gen Z philosophy, “How could someone be deaf and blind and learn how to write books?”
It’s a question for the ages, for some Twitter and TikTok users.
helen keller didn’t exist. change my mind
— DHood (@hood_delaney) January 15, 2021
In truth, Helen Keller’s life story was instrumental in creating the development of deaf and blind education programs, and her contributions to deaf and blind literacy aid continue to benefit society today. Helen Keller established an institute for hearing-impaired children, who eventually became known as the Helen Keller School for Deaf Children, still operating today. But apparently that’s not true, according to the Twitterverse.
I’m telling you, I don’t think #HelenKeller was who they taught us she was.
I really don’t.
— Able Mass (@AbleMass) January 16, 2021
Kunka still thought he was part of an elaborate prank, so he did what most folks do in this scenario: he turned to the internet. And Holy Annie Sullivan, what he discovered stunned him; his kin were not the only ones disputing Helen Keller’s existence. Kunka’s Twitter thread contains a link to a 2020 article by student and writer Isabella Lahoue titled, “The Generation that Doesn’t Believe Helen Keller Existed.”
In the article, Lahoue tries to get to the bottom of the “collective doubting of [Keller’s] existence” playing out on TikTok under the hashtags #HelenKeller and #HelenKellerisoverparty, which apparently gathered more than 17 million views as of May 2020.
“The[y] do not believe in Helen Keller,” Kunka continued in his Twitter thread. “And apparently 15 million others on TikTok feel the same way.”
Cynicism and aloofness could be behind the conspiracy theory. Lahoue wonders if Gen Z’s Helen Keller disbelief is rooted in a broader desire to challenge the media in a search for unfiltered truth. “Maybe we don’t believe in her because we’re growing up in a world of fake news,” writes Lahou.
Haben Girma, a human rights lawyer who graduated from Harvard and author of the book Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, tweeted about her frustration about the doubters.
The first time someone called me fake news, I laughed. Then another insisted a Deafblind person couldn’t go to Harvard. Nearly every disabled person has experienced the old, “You’re faking it” line. Even #HelenKeller. She brushed them off saying, “Oh, the supercilious doubters!” pic.twitter.com/t8V3aWSVPA
— Haben Girma👩🏿🦯 (@HabenGirma) January 13, 2021
Advocacy group Blind New World spoke about the abelism in Helen Keller theories, the very existence of which implies a person who lives with blindness or deafness is not capable of achieving academic or economic success.
With that cleared up, maybe TikTok can get back to what it does best: sea shanties and dog videos.