Can a Blind Person Be a Racist?

Posted on January 12, 2014

Do blind people understand race? Given the vast and sprawling writings on race over the past several decades, it is surprising that scholars have not explored this question in any real depth. Race has played a profound and central role to human relationships. Yet how is it possible that this basic question has escaped deeper contemplation?

This gap in the scholarly literature and public discourse points to a fundamental assumption that we almost all make about race, its significance, and its salience. Race has been central to human relationships. Yet, there seems to be at least one thing that most people can agree upon: that race is, to a large extent, simply what is seen.

But, how much does the salience of race—in terms of it being experienced as a prominent and striking human characteristic that affects a remarkable range of human outcomes—depend upon what is visually perceived?

The findings from this research are quite surprising. After conducting over a hundred interviews with blind individuals—people who have never seen anything, let alone the physical traits that typically serve as visual markers for racial difference—one consistent theme resonates throughout the data. Blind people understand and experience race like everyone else: visually. That is, when asked what race is, blind respondents largely define race by visually salient physical cues such as skin color, facial features, and other visual characteristics. But what stands out in particular is not only blind people’s visual understanding of race, but that this visual understanding shapes how they live their lives; daily choices, experiences, and interactions such as where to live and whom to date are meditated by visual understandings of race in the blind community as much as they are among those who are sighted. Despite their physical inability to engage with race on the very visual terms that are thought to define its salience and social significance, blind people’s understanding and experience with race is not unlike that of sighted individuals.

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Source material from Scientific American

Mental Health News