We often depend on visual cues such as height, weight, age, and skin color to make judgments about people we meet. But how would you judge a stranger if you couldn’t see how he or she looked?
Does race matter to blind people?
What would happen if no one could see? Would racism be eradicated altogether? Would people judge each other only by the “content of their character” as Martin Luther King pleaded with Americans to do in his famous 1963 March on Washington speech?
Well, although most blind people do not technically see racism, they are most definitely aware of it, and can be affected by it. That’s because racism has less to do with what we see, and much more to do with what we’re taught. For example, a child is not born with ideas about race, but he begins to accumulate them from his parents and others around him. Sooner or later, he will form beliefs about race based on those ideas and from the society he lives in. Blind children who are taught by their parents to look down on a certain race will most likely do so their entire lives, even though they may not even know a person’s race until someone tells them.
Law professor Osagie Obasogie interviewed 110 people who were blind from birth and conducted extensive research to find out how blind people view race. He published his findings in a book titled Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race In The Eyes Of The Blind. One participant in Obasogie’s study told him this story about another blind friend of his, who happened to be white:
“He was going to college and he had started working with a reader. She was very attractive to him, and he started seeing her. Then, somebody told him that she was black, and he broke it off. He broke off the relationship. He justiﬁed it by saying that it would not have worked, in the South, for a white man to be involved with a black woman.”
How can blind people tell a person’s race?
You might assume that blind people can tell a person’s race based on their voice or accent, but this isn’t a reliable method.
Even people who can see can wrongly assume a person’s race based on their speech. That’s why most blind people have learned not to rely on accents, as explained in the video below.
Can blind people be racist?
Unfortunately, the truth is that anyone can be racist, blind or not.
Last year, YouTube channel Cut asked several blind people to describe their views on racism. Although their answers varied, all of them acknowledge the fact that they are aware of racial stereotypes in society, and that those stereotypes have affected the way they think and feel about people of other races.
As one interviewee put it, “People who are blind come in all shapes, sizes, economic backgrounds, beliefs—and some of them are racist. That’s something that we as a society in general, blindness excluded, need to work on being better at.”
So, it’s obvious that simply not being able to see people doesn’t equal being devoid of racist thoughts about them.
Perhaps we should all become blind to the stereotypes that our society has created about different races. If we all choose to reject the idea that some races are “better” than others, and teach our children to do the same, one could hope racism could eventually become a thing of the past.
The man who doesn’t see race
For Tommy Edison, a man who has been blind his entire life, a person’s physical characteristics are the least important factor when it comes to deciding whether they are “beautiful” or pleasant to be around.
“I don’t know if you’re beautiful or not,” he says. “You’re beautiful to me if we get along and you make me laugh and you make me smile.”
Since he can’t tell a person’s race by observing skin color or other aspects of their appearance, Tommy considers the concept of racism completely illogical and unnecessary. He’s often asked about the topic, but he insists that it’s not something he thinks about.
“I just think of them as humans,” he says. “I think about what they have to say. I think about what they think. You know, how they are to me.”