Monday, November 04, 2013

How Do Blind People See Race?

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks
If I person is visually impaired, does that mean they are automatically colorblind? Not necessarily, says law professor Osagie Obasogie.

In an article on, Kate Chow writes about what Obasogie discovered after interviewing over 100 individuals that have been blind since birth. His findings challenge some of our assumptions about race being only skin deep and that colorblindness might not be as easy to achieve as it seems.

Chow writes:
"It's easy to understand that the notion of how blind people see race could prompt all sorts of interesting questions about what race means. 
Consider Dave Chappelle's "Blind Supremacy" skit from 2003, in which the comic plays Clayton Bigsby, a blind white supremacist who doesn't know he's black. Bigsby indulges in all sorts of gratuitous hate speech, bashing Latinos, Asians and blacks. He even goes to a KKK meeting dressed in a white robe and hood. Bigsby clearly doesn't know he's black. The joke, of course, is that Bigsby is in fact a member of the very group he so viciously hates. 
"While I think most people find [the Chappelle skit] funny because it seems utterly absurd, there's actually a lot more to it than most people realize in terms of portraying how race can be a polarizing issue in the blind community," says Obasogie. "Blind people aren't any more or less racist than anyone else. Indeed, part of the point of this project is that vision has very little to do with it. What matters are the social practices that train us to see and experience race in certain ways, regardless of whether we are sighted or not." 
Obasogie emphasizes that blind people use a combination of cues to infer someone's race. Together, he believes these cues add up to a kind of visual description, a form of seeing. Put simply, when the color or someone's skin isn't easily detectable, some blind people rely on other cues that help create a visual; cues such as the texture of someone's hair. 
Bruce Sexton, who has been blind since birth, says it's natural for everybody — including the blind — to distinguish a person based on race. "I think that we do categorize and group based on the information that we have ... I come from a very diverse place and I still do group people based on their race, their ethnicity, their religion — anything, everything, really. Their education," Sexton says. "Maybe, as a disabled person, I think of it even more and I try to break free of the stereotypes that come with that grouping.
Obasogie emphasizes "blind people are not uniquely preoccupied with race. Rather, the findings simply draw attention to the fact that race affects everyone's lives and that blind people are not exempt simply because they cannot see. Seeing and experiencing race is a social rather than merely visual phenomenon."
To read the rest of Chow's article please click here.

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