In this piece on NPR’s Code Switch, Kat Chow discusses the forthcoming book by Hastings College of Law professor Osagie Obasogie, Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race in the Eyes of the Blind. Inspired by Ray Charles’s experience of race, as depicted in the biopic Ray, Professor Obasogiebegan interviewing blind people to get a clearer understanding of how the blind experience race.
The results, I think, are not terribly surprising. Professor Obasogie notes that since the blind are socialized into the same racially structured social milieu that the sighted are, they internalize race in much the same way. Only, for the blind, this means drawing on proxies for skin color and needing to make inferences about race from other clues. (Which the sighted also must do in situations where skin color is ambiguous.)
Nonetheless, this looks like a fascinating study and one that will add a new dimension to the discourse on race and the operations of racial oppression.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal published an op-ed piece in Politico where he says in part:
We have made tremendous progress, but as long as our society is comprised of imperfect human beings, we will always be striving for a more perfect union. We must not let this constant process prevent us from acknowledging the enormous strides we have already made.
Yet we still place far too much emphasis on our “separateness,” our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few.
Here’s an idea: How about just “Americans?” That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our “separateness” is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot.
There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their different heritages. We have a long tradition of folks from all different backgrounds incorporating their traditions into the American experience, but we must resist the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl. E pluribus Unum.
There are several problems with this argument. One is that racial and ethnic identities have become in the modern era important aspects of our sense of self and so cannot be discarded as simply as he suggests. Another problem is that research in cognitive science shows that categorizing people is a fundamental way our minds work, so urging us to simply see sameness is unrealistic. See the recently published Blindspot for an accessible overview of this research. Yet another problem is that his suggestion that we all just think of ourselves as “American” means in practice thinking of ourselves as white. A 2005 study by Devos and Banaji shows that most Americans implicitly associate being American with being white. And since whiteness is the dominant frame that shapes our cultural images and conceptions, assimilation to ‘Americaness’ just means assimilation to whiteness.
This new research just published in the Harvard Business Review shows that people who studiously avoid mentioning racial identity when the situation calls for it are perceived to be more racially biased than those who call attention to it. They also confirm independent research that shows that by approximately the age of 10 whites internalize the norm of colorblind discourse, whereas children younger than 10 do not feel compelled to be colorblind.
From the opening paragraphs:
It’s a natural tendency, proven time and again in research: When you see a new person, one of the first things you notice is his or her race. In business life, however, we typically pretend we don’t notice—a behavior that’s called “color blindness”—because we want to reduce our odds of exhibiting prejudice or engaging in discrimination, or of seeming to do either.
Our research, conducted with our colleague Sam Sommers, of Tufts University, shows that there are drawbacks to the color-blind approach. In a series of experiments, we found that when people avoided referring to race in situations that cried out for a mention of it, other people perceived them as more racially biased than if they’d brought the subject up.
via The Costs of Racial “Color Blindness” – Harvard Business Review.