Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 1st 2015 Contents A person may not have to "see colour" to be racist.
Some blind people, just like sighted people, make
judgments about others based on their race, according
to a new study.
The findings come from interviews conducted in
person and over the phone with 25 people who were
either born blind or severely visually impaired, or who
lost their sight as children or adults. A researcher asked
the participants, most of whom lived in the northeast
United States, about whether they thought about race
and also how it affected their feelings about a person.
The study found that blind people can still have
racial stereotypes, but "in all cases it takes them longer
to categorise people by race and there is more ambi-
guity," said Asia M Friedman, an assistant professor
of sociology and criminal justice at University of
Delaware, who conducted the study.
The study was presented Tuesday at the American
Sociological Association annual meeting, but has not
been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Friedman found that five of the nine respondents
who were blind since birth or early childhood reported
that they did not think at all about a person s appear-
ance. And according to some respondents, the inability
to know a person s race kept them from making snap
judgments about them, which is a "good thing," Fried-
man said. One person she interviewed explained that
being blind makes it harder to "judge someone visually
right off the top of your head."
However, the study participants said even as they
don t think about physical attributes, they put people
into racial categories based on nonvisual cues, such
as voices and names. Those mental calculations some-
times led them to make predictions about a person s
lifestyle, behavior and socioeconomic class. As one
respondent put it, being blind does not mean that
they were "absolved from being a racist."
"I think blind people are inculturated into ideas
about class and race," just like anybody else, Friedman
said, and the ideas can come from a whole range of
places, including news, family, teachers and peer groups.
Research on how blind people understand racism
could lead to better insights into how blind people
make judgments about other aspects of life that usually
involve visual cues, such as eating a meal or shopping
for clothes. Respondents in Friedman s study described
being very aware of sounds and voices when they
meet people, and sounds could influence how blind
people choose a restaurant or clothing store, Friedman
said, along with sensory inputs such as textures and
This research can also inform us about the depth
of racism in the United States, another expert said.
"Blind people understand race the same way as
sighted people," said Osagie K Obasogie, a professor
of law at University of California Hastings College of
Law who has researched how blind people think about
race, but was not involved in Friedman s study.
Just like sighted people, blind people can conflate
the concept of human variation---differences in skin
colour and facial features---with the qualities of a
person, Obasogie said.
Unlike Friedman s study, however, Obasogie s
research, which was published in the book Blinded
By Sight, suggests that people who were born blind
do, in fact, think about a person s physical appearance,
including skin color and facial features. They also make
quick judgments based on the physical attributes they
perceive people to have, he said.
"I would push back against the idea that blind people
somehow enter every social interaction with a blank
slate," he said.
Some of the more than 100 blind people Obasogie
spoke with said they might ask others to tell them
about a person s race before meeting. And even if they
don t know a person s race beforehand, they might
try to figure it out during the interaction, rather than
keeping an open mind.
"If race is such a strong and deep part of our social
order that blind people who have never seen anything
can see and pay attention to race ... it shows how deep
the problem is," he said.
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, September 1, 2015
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Obasogie thinks these studies suggest that
so-called "colorblind" policies, such as gov-
ernment programs that do not use racial data
in deciding how to divvy up funds, are mis-
guided in their approach.
"Race is a disease of society and the idea
that the disease will go away by ignoring it
is not the most sophisticated and proper way
to deal with the problem," he said. (cnn.com)
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Blind people can be racist, too, study says
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