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The Boston Globe

Ideas

ideas

How blind people see race

Osagie K. Obasogie set out to find out what ‘race’ means to people who’ve never been able to see skin color.

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, he yearned for a time when Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” King’s language drew on a metaphor for fairness as old as the image of blindfolded Lady Justice, one that has long held a seductive appeal in America’s conversation on race: that of blindness. If we could just stop seeing color, the logic goes—if we could truly be race blind—we might at last move beyond the sins of slavery and prejudice, and reach a kind of utopia in which racial differences are emptied of meaning.

But what happens when the metaphor of colorblindness is tested literally? For lifelong blind people, who have no ability to sort people by skin color, does race become as meaningless as we might hope? Or do they in fact “see” race? And if they do—if they are no less race conscious than the rest of us—what might that tell us about an ideal that anchors our most basic sense of racial equality?

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