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Blinded By Sight Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind Essay

Pages:6 (1812 words)


Subject:Social Issues


Document Type:Essay


Blinded By Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind

In Western culture as a whole, sight or visual eyewitness proof or testimony is taken to be the ultimate proof of veracity, including of the construct of race. But what if sight were actually an impediment to true racial understanding? This is underlined in Osagie Obasogie’s book Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind which challenges the notion that racial identity exists outside of social constructs and that race can be identified visually. The book encourages a reevaluation of the concept of colorblindness just as much as race, and instead suggest a new way of understanding freedom of oppression, namely a focus upon equal outcomes and addressing historical injustices, rather than upon attempting to not see race. “It is precisely blind people’s lack of vision that can enable the rest of society to see the folly of their ways and the damaging effects of these redemptive efforts” writes the author, highlighting how the concrete reality of blindness highlights the absurdity of what can appear concrete due to racial prejudices and constructions (Obasogie 176).

One example of both the pervasiveness and the ridiculousness of racism cited by Obasogie is that which was fostered against Japanese-Americans during World War II. Before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, prejudice against Asian Americans was common. However, the war crystalized specifically anti-Japanese sentiments and created a constellation of prejudices specifically inflicted against Japanese Americans. “This singular act radically deepened Americans’ pejorative sentiments toward Japanese people, leading to them being perceived as a distinct group with intrinsic tendencies toward treachery and duplicity” (Obasogie 12). Once such prejudices take root, they are very difficult to eradicate, and these prejudices still linger to this very day. During World War II, prejudice against Japanese Americans resulted in individuals of Japanese ancestry, including children, being detained in internment camps, one of the darkest chapters of recent American history.

According to anthropologists, the physical differences between races are actually quite minimal. There is just as much similarity as there is difference in the biology of individuals of Japanese, Chinese, German, and English ancestry. But the obsession with racial typology, or the idea that it is possible to classify humanity according to types and categories, is resilient to biological knowledge. Race is a pervasive cultural myth that has served a number of national agendas. For example, because the Chinese were American allies during World War I, the popular magazine Life devoted a series of articles to differentiating between the so-called Japanese and Chinese races physically. This was an effective and insidious part of wartime propaganda, as the Chinese were portrayed as a superior race because of their more attractive physical characteristics.

Although these types of articles may seem patently absurd today, Obasogie notes that race can very literally make people see things differently. Obasogie is an African American and vividly remembers how an African American was shot by an officer who claimed to accidentally mistake his pistol for his Taser gun. The officer was acquitted by an all-white jury. Even though there were videos and eyewitnesses, the perceptions of individuals who witnessed the crime were completely different. Racial biases, in other words, colors judgement to the point of quite literally affecting vision. What one sees is not to be equated with reality. Racial ideology can be blinding.

Obasogie notes that many ideological solutions have been proposed to the deep, entrenched acknowledged problem of racism in American society. One is that of colorblindness, perhaps best embodied in Guess Who’s Coming to…

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…differences, and enable Americans to start anew, as if race never was a problem in the country’s history is suggested by the concept. But, Obasogie notes, colorblindness “is an affirmative nonrecognition of how racial meanings, constructed as they may be, still impact social and legal decision making in a manner that fundamentally shapes everyday life” (Obasogie 116). It reduces color to the superficial—often people who claim to be colorblind say they do not care if someone is pink or purple, which trivializes and negates the impact that race can have upon people’s lives.

First of all, people do not come in the color of pink and purple; secondly, because of the ways in which racial discrimination has functioned in American history, people often have great pride in their ability to survive such oppression, hence the rallying cry of “Black is Beautiful” in the 1960s and 1970s to counteract negative portrayals of African Americans in the media. Finally, colorblindness “asserts that individuals should not be punished or disadvantaged because of previous generations’ sins, creating a disassociation with racial history and the inertia of social structure” (Obasogie 116). This again acts as an impediment for remedies such as affirmative action, much less reparations, to be introduced to remedy historical injustices.

Obasogie’s scholarly work acts as a profound challenge to the notion that to simply not see race is a solution to centuries old racial injustice in America. Rather than ignoring what we see, it is important to focus on what has been experienced. Instead of focusing on the visual as a remedy, it is important to instead focus upon concrete measurable injustices that have existed in the past and will exist in the future unless they are not challenged. Looking critically and seeing race differently is essential, otherwise even well-meaning…

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Works Cited

Obasogie, Osagie. Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014.

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