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4. Spilling to the Disabili-TEA

Marissa: If you're anything like me and your disability is relatively noticeable, you'll find in high school that people will just start to recognize you without ever talking to you, even if you go to a school with over 500 kids per grade. I was the really pale girl or the blind girl, or if someone had just taken an honors biology class and they did a few punt squares, I was the albino. I went to a very small elementary and middle school. So pretty much everyone knew about my blindness since I was three. And it was pretty much just accepted, but what surprised me when I went to a much larger high school was how quickly people could figure it out without knowing anything else about me. A lot of my friends that I had made in my sophomore and junior year of high school always knew who I was, even if they had never taken a class with me or had spoken to me before, I'm very lucky that people were never outright mean to me, but it still is very shocking how much I like stuck out to people and how quickly they could label me.

Well, my guest today, Sam Hurley, who is currently a senior in high school living in Georgia, addressed these issues head-on by creating a YouTube video called “Here's the Disabili-TEA” in which she shares her experiences with albinism and dispels several of her classmates' false assumptions. In this episode of legally blonde and blind Sam and I discuss her YouTube video as well as advocating for disability rights and other social justice issues online. Stay tuned.

*Intro Music*

Marissa: Welcome back to another episode of Legally Blonde & Blind. I am very excited to have another legally blonde and blind guest Sam Hurley.

Sam: Hello.

Marissa: Thank you so much for joining me today. I am so excited to have you. You do so many cool things and I can't wait to talk about that in today's episode.

Sam: Oh gosh.

Marissa: But before we get into it, I have an icebreaker for you. And I know how cringy icebreakers are. I hate them, but this was something I thought that actually kind of relates to my podcast. I think we've talked about this a little bit before we started recording, but, I'm guessing your favorite color is purple, right?

Sam: Yes

Marissa: But, okay. So take that color purple. Right? Right. And imagine that you're talking to an alien that has a concept of everything in the world, except the color purple. What kinds of sounds, smells, memories, and objects would you associate with the color purple to explain the concept of the color purple to that alien?

Sam: Okay, well, first of all, We're gonna get you through this because I know you're probably living a really colorless experience. Life without purple is a little bit rough, but I got you. So purple is meditation. Okay. It's lavender. Purple is like, you're a spunky gal, but like just enough. Purple. You know, being outspoken, but respectful, you know, purple smells like, uh, taking a shower at night or feels like, you know, you know, purple is like, I guess like, you know, indie, alternative music, you know, kind of like below five vibes.

Marissa: I definitely feel that, especially the showering at night. That one I think is very relatable.

Sam: Yeah. Purple basically just purple is the best thing ever. And I'm so excited for you to discover it, Mr. or Mrs. Alien. You've been blessed.

Marissa: I know. I always find this a very interesting question because I think it really shows what people value. But so anyway, I wanted to talk to you about your various YouTube videos and your raising awareness for albinism. But before we get into that, I actually, the first time I had ever heard of you was on your guest appearance on Kim of Queens. Because I saw basically the thumbnail with your face on it. And I was like, “wait, is that somebody with albinism?”

Sam: You're like no way, no way.

Marissa: This is Marissa from the future. With the quick message I realized while editing this episode, we never really explained what Kim of Queens was. Basically. It was this lifetime show that aired for two seasons a few years ago, it followed a pageant coach named Kim and several of her clients as they competed in beauty pageants throughout Georgia. So Sam was a guest on one of these episodes. The best way that I can think of to describe it is, I don't know if anyone listening was a dance mom's fan when it was out, I most certainly was, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Kim was like a nice supportive and not emotionally abusive version of Abby Lee. The show had the staple mama drama, but it was mostly about building the confidence of the girls on the show. So it was a lot more wholesome than Dance Moms. When I was little, I saw toddlers and tiaras, and I wanted to compete in beauty pageants after seeing that for whatever reason. But thankfully my mom was like,” no,” but she would've let me compete in the beauty pageants on Kim of Queens. That's how wholesome they were. So like I was saying, the show was only on for two seasons and after it ended lifetime posted the full episodes on YouTube. So that's what Sam was talking about when she said she saw a video with her face on it. Now let's get back to it.

So the first question I had for you is I was wondering what that was like to share your experiences with albinism at such a young age on TV, because you were only about 10 when you did it, right?

Sam: Yeah, I was 10. Yeah, it was really honestly just wacky, kind of like I think this is also an interesting story. Like the way that I discovered that this was happening was just in February. And I looked at my phone and in the re and my recommended videos and there was my episode of Kim, of Queens or, you know, like the one that I was on. And I was like, “what the heck?” Like, that's my face, and lifetime posted it. I clicked on it. It had like a million views. I was like, “okay now a million people have seen my tiny face like 10 years later, this is not okay.” So I was like, “I guess I'm gonna make a video.” I was literally at my aunt's birthday dinner itching to be on my phone and I couldn't.

It was crazy as a kid. The way that that kind of worked for me was, I was very nervous, but I also kind of felt like I was living a dream. I was like, “no way I get to be on TV. Like stop it.” I have been watching Kim of Queens for, you know, as long as it had been out, I guess, because I also thought it was cool that it was, you know, it was in Georgia. I was like, “no way Peach State like someone wants to watch what's happening here.” So I liked it because you know, Georgian vibes but I also liked the way that Kim was like, you know, inner beauty and yada yada, yada, I liked her personality. You know, she's kind of like an oddball. It reminded me of myself and kind of who I wanted to be. But also I guess the experience overall of doing it was really cool because I'd always kind of been ashamed of being different, but then going on the show and having that embraced and having people react to it so positively, like, “wow, You're just, you're just beautiful and unique.” I was like, “no way. That's so cool. I remember like the, one of the awards I got was best hair and I was like, no way. That's so cool. No, I keep saying that, but I just thought it was really neat because. When you're a kid and you're 10, you go to school and obviously like you, you look different, you know, you're gonna be a target for, you know, people like picking on you and being like, “Ew, why do your eyes move? Like, how are your eyelashes white? Like, did you bleach them? Like, like a laundry accident?”

Marissa: So no, I've had people ask me that too. I think what was really cool about this show when I watched it is I think they handled it very well. Like they were talking about how you have to look closer at things. And I think they also did a great job of trying not to hide your albinism. Yeah. Like I was very impressed that they didn't put fake tan on you.

Sam: Yeah, me too.

Marissa: I was like, “oh nooooo” But anyway, the main thing I wanted to talk about was your video “Here's the Disabili-TEA.” And first of all, I loved the title.

Sam: Thank you.

Marissa: So what year of high school did you make that video?

Sam: Yeah, the year I made it, I was a sophomore or I guess a rising junior. So it's been a hot minute, I guess.

Marissa: And obviously you don't have to tell me about the high school you went to of course. But, I was curious, like, do you go to a larger school, a smaller school? Is it private? Public?

Sam: Yeah, I go to a public school.

Marissa: Okay. I was kind of interested in that because I grew up in a very small public school. We only had about a hundred kids per grade.

Sam: Oh, no way.

Marissa: So I was very, I was very fortunate. I didn't experience a lot of bullying, mostly because I had been with the same group of kids since I was three and they were just kind of used to it.

Sam: Right.

Marissa: Yeah. So I was curious if you kind of had that same experience.

Sam: Oh no, my school's huge.

Marissa: Oh wow. So what were some of your main reasons behind wanting to make that video?

Sam: I think I was just, I always describe it as like sophomore year was just like, not a hard time, but a big learning experience. I mean, it was a hard time, but also it became a big learning experience for me that year I had gotten diagnosed with PR malformation. So I was diagnosed with this brain defect where my brain was pushing on my spinal cord and exploding outta my skull. Not really, but you know, I'm just making jokes, but, I've gotten diagnosed with that and gotten the surgery and had to like recover from that while, you know, when you're a sophomore, a lot more AP classes are available. I was, I think it was in like four or five over the course of the year six or something like that. And so I was, you know, juggling school. And then also like in these new classes with these upperclassmen, you know, taking the, you know, they were also in the same APs and I was like meeting new people.

And I guess that year didn't go too well for me. There was just a lot of main, the main thing that bothered me. One thing that really hit me hard was I was at lunch one day or it was multiple, it all hit like the same couple of days. For three days, multiple people came up to me and they were like, “Hey, I'm gonna let you know that this is happening, or I wanna ask you about this.” But basically, people are saying that you didn't earn your grade in like such and such class or like in this class or like this happened, like the teacher was giving you special treatment because you're blind. And I was like, “what? Like, that's not how that works.” And I was like, honestly, like I was livid because I was like, are you kidding?

Marissa: I'm sure.

Sam: Like my entire relationship to school has been. Everyone thinks I'm stupid because I'm blind. Right? So I'm gonna be a super overachiever to prove them wrong.

Marissa: No, I definitely understand where that comes from. I kind of had a very similar experience where you're trying to, in a sense, almost overcompensate. So what were some of the main messages that you wanted to convey in your video?

Sam: Basically just like with the, you know, the bullying and the rumors as well and everything. I was just, I made it with a friend. I wanna mention her, her name's Leah grace. And, we were both on the phone talking about how we were just like, “Ugh, this is like too much.” So we wanted to make the video. And then the message is I just kind of wrote out a speech and then I revised it a million times and I sat down and was like, “Okay, here we go.” And I wanted to tell people just in the nicest way possible because I wanted to make sure I filtered out my anger because anger doesn't really do anything when you're trying to educate people and be heard.

Marissa: Of course.

Sam: Yeah. So definitely a big part of my message was I don't want it to be angry. I just wanted it to be passionate and diplomatic. But when I was thinking of messages, it was just mainly like. First of all, like when you make fun of someone for being disabled like that's ableist, you don't like, no one knows that word, but that's a thing like racism, it's like queerphobia. And they are also not okay. So then what makes this okay? Also just trying to call attention to the fact that like, you don't realize how, you know, one little giggle or one little comment, or like spreading a rumor is gonna ruin someone's day. Like I was just in a bad state mentally that year. And I was just trying to show people how their words affected me, right? Like we're almost adults like this can't fly anymore. Like we gotta, like, y'all gotta watch this. And we gotta grow up together and like, learn about other people's experiences. Like rather than speculating on them. I'm gonna, I'm gonna sit here. I'm gonna tell my story. I'm gonna explain these things and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, going to a new school year and just be like, look like. I'm here and I'm valid for my experiences. Like, and the things that y'all said hurt me and were wrong.

Marissa: Yeah. For anyone who is listening to this right now, and hasn't already watched Sam's video, “Here's the Disabili-TEA.” I highly recommend it because I think you accomplished exactly what you said. You were very diplomatic. It was very educational, I think too because I think one of the things you touched on, you mentioned this earlier, was that some people think that accommodations are an unfair advantage and obviously that's not the case at all. And it's really important to dispel that myth because it's not fair to you for people to equate your accomplishments to your disability.

Sam: Oh yeah, that was definitely, I forgot about that. I feel like I hit so much of that video. It's hard to put it in a couple of sentences, but yeah, I definitely talked a lot about that too. And, and did touch on the thing that we talked about just a second ago, about the overcompensation, about how basically like it came from a feeling of I can't win.

Marissa: I understand that. And another point of yours that I liked was, that you were talking about how, when you go to school, you're not putting on war paint when you do your makeup and you're not putting on armor when you are dressing for school. I think a really important point is that you were calling people out on their false assumptions about you. I think, unfortunately, a lot of advice towards people who are being bullied is like, “oh, ignore it. Oh, get over it.” You shouldn't have to deal with this in the first place. You shouldn't have had to sit down and make a 10-minute YouTube video, right? And I think the fact that you were willing to do so really demonstrates your courage.

Sam: Thank you. And yeah, definitely. I hadn't even thought about that. Sometimes I just write things and sometimes don't even realize the interconnections of everything, but definitely the analogy of war paint and armor. Like I shouldn't, that shouldn't have to be a thing. And the way that that even ties to what people have told me growing up. About bullying, like, “oh, just be strong. Like it'll be okay. Like, kill them with kindness.” I had never even thought about, I guess, how that was connected, I guess like subconsciously I knew because I wrote it, but that’s a very interesting point.

Marissa: No, definitely because those are good pieces of advice, but you also, we also should take into account, like where are these assumptions coming from? Why do people think this way and how can we change their perceptions of disability? So I was curious too, after the video, after you published the video, I think it went baby viral. Is that a good way to put it? Like I know a lot of people shared it in their stories. I know NOAH shared it on theirs. What was that like?

Sam: Weird. Yeah, it went baby viral and yeah, it was a weird kind of virality because it was like, you know, like no one outside of these weird, like niche communities cared, but mine did so heavily. And it was very, I was like, “oh, I did not.” I mean, I was like, “I guess I did mean for that, but I didn't mean for that.” I was like, “I don't know.” This is so spontaneous. I was like, “I'm glad I looked okay.” I put makeup over my sunburn. It was a lot. I was, I'm trying to remember, I really think I was proud and I really felt the biggest thing that I had walked away from was being happy.

I'd kind of accomplished what I had set out to do for the most part, with the video I set out to have people hear experiences outside of their own and to, you know, inspire people, to feel comfortable sharing theirs and to, you know, inspire people in my community to listen to what I had to say and to, you know, to be, I guess, available to, you know, hear that and understand it and accommodate it, I guess.

And that had happened. I had gotten a lot of messages from people. From, you know, friends, people that go to school, teachers, people just saying, “Hey, I like what you did. And I didn't know this, this and this about you. Thank you.” Or

“I had no idea this was happening. And I, you know, I'm really sorry. Like, let me know if there's ever anything I can do.” So just things like that. I had gone into making the video with a really negative perception of the world and I came out, with the reactions as you asked, like, I came out with more of a positive perception of the world of like, you'll see the negative people walking down the street, but I guess this caused me to see all the positive people come out to and send me their, you know, their love.

And that was a really big deal. And then another big thing that I wanna say that the video did, which has set me in like this really big whirlwind of like controversial thought, but a big thing that it led to as well is teachers taking me more seriously. Obviously, like always not to call anyone out. Obviously, there's always been teachers that have been absolutely perfect for me, like done everything that I needed. But I think going into my junior and senior year, I've had way less issues with, you know, getting accommodations followed. And, also just the fact of being recognizable more so in my school helped as well. Because I used to have people just come up and ask me ignorant questions or would just kind of like, you know, even adults just being rude without understanding that I was blind and like saying things or asking me questions or asking me to do things they didn't understand. I was struggling.

Marissa: Yeah, I think it's like sometimes that I've had less instances of outright bullying and more just people being ignorant or condescending without actually realizing it. But I think what was cool about your video is it said to people, “Hey, I'm willing to put myself out there and I'm willing to stand up for myself and I'm not going to take your ableist crap anymore.” And that's really inspiring.

Sam: Oh, thank you.

I remember when I first watched the video, So, if it was your sophomore year, it was my junior year of high school. I remember when I first watched it, I sent it to all my friends and I was like, Like I, this is really cool what she's done, and this is kind of like, I think she put in six minutes, what I would struggle to put in like 30. So I, I really thank you.

Sam: I really appreciate that.

Marissa: And I was curious too, did some of the people who had, you know, bullied you or said ignorant things to you - did anyone apologize to you? Did they treat you differently? Did you notice any kind of significant change?

Sam: Oh, that's a good one. Actually. Dang, honestly. I still interact with a lot of people. Not a lot. I still interact with some of the people that were like, definitely on the forefront of my mind while I was making the video. Whether they changed. I really don't know. They haven't said anything to me. I had a lot of people who like, honestly, I never even had an issue with apologizing to me. And I was like, “oh, thank you. my bad, no need for alarm.” I think the main people that I was like, I guess that had prompted me to make that video, I don't believe that they made it clear that they had learned from it. I guess that doesn't really matter though. Because it was just, it was a handful of people and so many other people I felt had learned from it. And even like you had said, like how I put into words, like some of your experiences that we share, like that was really important to me as well. Like that the number of people that were like, you just explained my life story and I was like, “no way. That's so cool. Let's be friends.” I'm sure there are people that, you know, never were won over, but it's okay because I feel like hundreds of other people I was able to form connections with hundreds of other people I wouldn't with.

Marissa: Yeah. I think you've reached so many other people and I don't, I mean, I'm not even sure if it kind of originally hit you when you first wrote that letter, but I, I think that's really cool. And so, I know that you have a YouTube channel and I know you've been, um, publishing videos every now and then, do you have any plans for the future? Are you going to continue making YouTube videos?

Sam: I do have plans, actually. I'm very bad at not being scared to post things. Like I'm the most obnoxious person in person.

Marissa: Oh, don't worry about it. That's why I have a podcast. So people don't see my face.

Sam: Perfection. Yeah. Literally the same. We're the same, Publishing for whatever reason scares me because there's, I don't know. Anyway, in 2021, in general, but also, um, I rebranded recently. And that's looking pretty cute. So I have some new colors going on, you know, trying to make all my thumbnails match, you know, um, trying to, I guess, niche down on, you know, advocacy for things like my disabilities and also doing some music things and just, you know, being a little wacky person. So I guess my plan is to follow through more and to hopefully, how I can, you know, reach more people and connect with more people because that's really my favorite part about it.

Marissa: So, and I know in addition to your YouTube channel, you also have other social media accounts where you post various things about albinism and other social justice issues that you care about and I want to know how you think people who are, particularly those who are allies, can avoid like performative activism and can actually like, can make meaningful change rather than just like sharing a random post.

Sam: Oh my gosh. Yeah, this is so important. Thank you. Okay. The biggest thing I'd say is that being an ally isn't one action. Being an ally is a lifestyle. It doesn't have to be as deep as you might think it is, but being an ally isn't just reposting “Abelist slurs you should cut out of your life.” Being an ally is cutting those able as slurs out of your life and like encouraging the people around you to also not say ableist slurs. It is also taking action. That is hard, like being a true, good, valuable ally is doing things that push your boundaries because the fact that you are an ally to a group that you do not mean that you wanna ally with a group of people who push their, who have their boundaries pushed by society every single day, right? Like, you know, as disabled women, like, you know, society, society pushes our boundaries in a multitude of different ways. There are times where people, you know, for me, like sticking with the example I use, people will use ableist slurs and I get uncomfortable and I, you know, say something about it or I just have to weather that storm. Right? But if you are allied to a movement, just posting is performative, as you said, and not, it's just the start.

Marissa: You have to take the actions that are described in those posts and actually incorporate them into your daily life rather than just sharing it. Because sharing it only takes two seconds. Actually confronting your relatives about ableist or racist slurs is a completely different thing and requires a lot more effort.

Sam: Definitely I guess the biggest line I'd draw between being performative and being, you know, a valuable ally is, are you talking about the struggle, or are you kind of taking it on and doing something to understand the barriers this particular community faces and weather that storms with them? That is extremely important.

Marissa: And I think it's important for, uh, for us to let the allies for other movements as disabled women and acknowledge areas in which we are privileged. And I think that's all really important to consider the intersections of different movements. And I think you do a great job of that on your Instagram.

So before we head out, I wanted to give you the opportunity to share your YouTube channel and your Instagram so people can go follow you.

Sam: Oh, okay. Awesome. Cool, cool, cool. Well, my YouTube. It's just Samantha Hurley. So Samantha and then Hurley is spelled HURLEY. And that's my YouTube. And my Instagram is just @itssamanthahurley. So it's that same name, but with “it's” in front of it. Send me a message, you know, if you liked what we've talked about. You know, hit me up, let me know what's going on. I love talking to people. It's awesome. Sometimes I'm really bad at being responsive, but I always do respond at some point. Like no pressure, but that would be super fun.

Marissa: So yeah. So glad that we finally got the chance to talk and to connect. If anyone's listening to this, please check out Sam's YouTube channel. She has some awesome videos, both about albinism and just other crazy hijinks in her life. I think you have a great personality and very are very entertaining.

Sam: Oh, thank you!

Marissa: Thank you again for joining me. Is there anything else you wanna add before we leave?

Sam: No just, I hope everyone has a good day, you know, dye your hair. That's fun. Do that.

Marissa: Well, everyone that was Sam Hurley. I hope you had just as much fun listening to our conversation as I did recording it. If you like this episode of Legally Blonde & Blind, make sure to subscribe on Spotify, apple podcast, or anywhere else you get your podcasts. As I said in a social media post a few weeks ago, my goal now is to release episodes on the first Saturday of every month. So that means the next episode is going to be on March 6th. Also, make sure to check out my Facebook page and my Instagram account @legallybb_ for updates. Thank you for listening. And I hope to see you again soon1


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