Stephen Colbert’s assertion notwithstanding, none of us is color blind. Not even the blind, it turns out. That’s according to the work of Osagie Obasogie, law professor at UC Hastings who earned his doctorate in sociology from UC Berkeley. In 2005, he began interviewing more than a hundred people who had been blind since birth, asking how they understood race. Were they conscious of it? Did it shape how they interacted with people? Could blind people, in fact, be racist?
Not only were the blind people he surveyed just as aware of race as any sighted person, they also conceived of race visually. “You ask a blind person ‘What is race?’ and he’ll say it’s skin color, it’s facial features, it’s all these visual cues,” says Obasogie.
The explanation, according to Obasogie, is simple: Blind people live in a culture of sighted people. Many respondents traced their perspectives on race to childhood experiences with sighted caretakers who passed along their own attitudes. But what Obasogie found surprising was just how starkly the family and friends of the blind drew racial...