Commentary: On Perceiving Race as Someone Who Is Blind

July 12, 2016

Last week’s senseless violence and countless protests gave us an opportunity to reflect on our values, both as individuals and as a country at large. As someone who is blind, this made me think of a question I have grappled with for many years. Often, people assume that those of us who can’t see are not affected by or judge others based on race or appearance. Unfortunately, in today’s society we all have misconceptions and stereotypes about others. To say that people with vision loss are immune to forming misconceptions of others is yet another stereotype about people with disabilities.

People often assume I cannot judge others based on their appearance, and they are right to a certain extent. Not being able to see others allows me to get to know them for who they are and what they can do. I suppose that not being able to see allows me to judge people by the content of their character, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted. Truth is, sighted people often make conclusions about others based on how they dress, their hair color, weight, etc. As someone who can’t see, I feel I have the advantage of not being influenced by those characteristics, and to me that is a good thing.

Although I cannot judge others based on their physical appearance, I too have stereotypes and prejudices. Stereotypes are formed in the mind, and I think this is true for everyone regardless of whether or not they have sight. A recent study from the University of Delaware concluded that although it might take those of us who are visually impaired longer to categorize people by their race, we are still influenced by the same stereotypes as everyone else. Even though I cannot immediately judge others based on their looks, I can still form my own mental image after getting to know them better. If I meet a young person in the street for instance, I might assume he is still in school, when in fact he already graduated. This goes to show that no one is excluded from forming or being a victim of prejudices.

I am appalled at the recent string of shootings and other acts of violence that continue to happen in the United States. Sadly, we as a society still have misconceptions and stereotypes about other minority groups whether or not we want to admit it. Many of these stereotypes are unintentionally passed down from one generation to the next, both through our family and friends and the media. As we have seen in the last few years, this leads to unnecessary violence, both from perpetrators and victims.

My heart goes out to all of the victims of the shootings that have plagued the country in recent years. We should all strive to make this a better world for everyone, and we can only make it happen by working together to rid ourselves of stereotypes and prejudices.

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