Search results for blind

Screenshot_2The short answer? No.

Law professor Osagie K. Obasogie interviewed a series of people who had been blind since birth about their understanding of the concept of race.   Counter-intuitively, he found that race was as meaningful to them as it was to sighted people and that their descriptions and biases were largely in line with cultural norms.  The article includes really striking quotations from the interviewees and what Obasogie describes as an “empirical assessment of the metaphor of colorblindness.”  He’s also published a book based on the research: Blinded By Sight.

In this three minute interview, he explains some of his findings:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Last week someone sent me a link to an article about Brad Paisley’s new song, “Accidental Racist,” which features LL Cool J. Given that you’re a Soc Images reader, chances are good you’ve heard about this song. I don’t remember what I was expecting when I saw the title of the song, but man. I really was not prepared for that experience. There’s no official video available on YouTube at the moment, but someone made a video of the song with the lyrics:

In Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva discusses the rhetorical strategies that Whites often use to minimize the existence of racial inequality today. As being openly racist has become increasingly stigmatized in the U.S., a version of “color-blind” racism has emerged.

One argument that underpins color-blind racism is the framing of racial oppression and injustice as elements of the past that, while regrettable, can’t be remedied now. Moreover, it’s history; since African Americans aren’t enslaved or legally segregated today, we need to move on from here and treat everyone as equals, with no special considerations for anyone. As one of Bonilla-Silva’s interviewees explained, “…what happened in the past is horrible and it should never happen again, but I also think that to move forward you have to let go of the past…And it should really start equaling out…” (p. 78).

Along with this is often an attempt to equate the discrimination faced by some groups of European immigrants (Italians, the Irish, Jews, etc.) to the experience of African Americans, as this interviewee did: “…they were slaves back in the past and yet, how often do you hear about the people who were whites that were slaves…Boy, we should get reparations, the Irish should get reparations from the English…” (p. 79). From this perspective, African Americans are just one of many groups that had it bad; the impacts of a legally institutionalized racist system that denied African Americans full citizenship or access to opportunities is ignored. This storyline of “we all had it bad” equalizes various experiences of racial and ethnic inequality.

And this is the problem with Paisley’s song (well, it’s one of the problems, but let’s focus). Take these lyrics (found here):

And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

And we’re still paying for the mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came

And these contributions from LL Cool J:

If you don’t judge my gold chains…I’ll forget the iron chains

The past is the past, you feel me…Let bygones be bygones

While Paisley may mean well, his song presents racial inequality or conflict as the result of long-past history, “mistakes…made long before we came,” something we need to just get past so we can appreciate each other. And it equates wildly divergent issues, presenting everyone has having a fair, legitimate complaint. Slavery (“iron chains”) and adopting an aesthetic style (“gold chains”) that some Whites might not like are, apparently, equivalent issues. Ending racism is just a matter of everybody deciding to be nicer. If Whites can get over not liking what some African Americans wear, well then hey, African Americans will get over a history of institutionalized racial oppression and the impacts it still has today.

In the world of color-blind racism, this is a fair, plausible compromise.

You might also enjoy SNL’s take.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

An emerging controversy in Canada is a good example of just how difficult it is to be racially-neutral when the context is racially-charged.  The country recently redesigned its money.  On the back of the $100 dollar bill celebrating medical innovation they sketched an Asian-appearing woman looking into a microscope.  In a focus group in Quebec, people complained that the bill reproduced the stereotype that Asians pursue careers in science and medicine.  The Vancouver Sun reports:

“Some have concerns that the researcher appears to be Asian,” says a 2009 report commissioned by the bank from The Strategic Counsel… “Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology and/or the sciences. Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes. Other ethnicities should also be shown.”

A few even said the yellow-brown colour of the $100 banknote reinforced the perception the woman was Asian, and “racialized” the note.

The Canadian government responded that they had never intended the woman to appear “ethnic” and ordered the image re-sketched so it would be more racially “neutral.”  

They were then accused of being prejudiced again. Mu-Qing Huang, a Chinese-Canadian interviewed for the story, objected to the deletion of the figure’s Asian features:

If Canada is truly multicultural and thinks that all cultural groups are equal, then any visible minority should be good enough to represent a country, including (someone with) Asian features.

This is a tricky problem.  By including racial or ethnic minorities on their bills, Canada risks reproducing a stereotype.  Including all “neutral” figures can be seen as exclusionary because neutral looks suspiciously like White people in a country dominated by White people.  The third option is to deliberately break stereotypes by putting, say, an Asian woman running the hurdles and a Black woman looking through a microscope, but this can seem overly contrived (as many attempts at diversity do).

The truth is that all of Canada’s options can be read in racially-charged ways.  This isn’t because people are unfairly reading into the sketches, it’s because life in Canada is, in fact, racially-charged.  When race matters, it matters, all claims to colorblindness aside.

Thanks to Craig G., Tom Megginson, Jesse, Helen, and Alex, an MLIS from McGill, for the submission!

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.


Jay Livingston, at MontClair SocioBlog, alerted me to a fascinating phenomenon called “change blindness.”  The term refers to the fact that people must choose what to pay attention to in any given setting. Accordingly, when the details they’ve decided aren’t important change, they don’t notice. This often includes the very people they are interacting with.
In an experiment by psychologist Daniel Simons, an assistant behind a counter, pretending to sign students in for an experiment, is surreptitiously replaced by another person. A full three-quarters of the people don’t notice. Awesome:

Here is a shorter illustration of a similar experiment with the same results (pictured above):

If you haven’t had enough yet, here’s one more example that shows that you can even switch race and gender and it still works!

See also our post on Privilege and Perception.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Scientopia and Racialicious.

Several years ago I took this photo of the posted dress code for Brothers Bar in Madison, Wisconsin.   As an alumnus, I can tell you that the relationship between the college community and the community at large was strained, as it is in many college towns.  The college community was, on average, better off economically than much of the non-college community, with greater (potential) educational achievement, and overwhelmingly white.  There was less mingling between the “town” and “gown” than we might expect by random chance, and some businesses tried to attract the latter exclusively.

This was the case with Brothers Bar. Brothers sits within a block of campus, they wanted to attract the college students but push away young “townies,” as they were derogatorily called.  Of course, it’s illegal to say “Poor Black people keep out,” so, instead, they use symbolic codes to warn especially Black members of the non-college community that they’re not welcome: no crooked hats, no skullcaps, headbands, or bandanas, and no sports jerseys.

An enterprising journalist sat outside Brothers Bar to see just how the dress code was enforced.  Not “strictly,” it turned out.  The people who were turned away were overwhelmingly Black.  Meanwhile, they let in students wearing UW sports jerseys and other Bucky the Badger-themed “athletic wear.”  So much for color-blindness, this was a racist dress code with no reference to color at all.

I was reminded of this incident when Stephen Wilson sent in photo of a similar dress code taken at Kelly’s in Kansas City.  Again we see racially-coded restrictions: the same no crooked hats rule, doo rags and bandanas are disallowed, as are hoods actually worn on the head (but not the preppy hoodies apparently), and “excessively” baggy clothes.

So, sure, Black people are allowed in these establishments, just not Black people “of a certain type.”  If they want to enter, they have to assimilate to white culture.  These dress codes seem to say:

Turn those hats on straight forward or straight back, pull up those pants, and take off whatever’s on your head!  It’s not that we don’t like Black people, we just prefer our Black people to defer to white standards.  See?  Not racist at all!  Cheers!

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The U.S. is not a very race-literate society.  We aren’t taught much about the history of race relations or racial inequality in school and almost nothing about how to think about race or how to talk to one another about these theoretically and emotionally challenging issues.  Many Americans, then, don’t have a very sophisticated understanding of race dynamics, even as most of them want racial equality and would be horrified to be called “racist.”

In teaching Race and Ethnicity, then, I notice that some of the more naive students will cling to color-blindness.  “Race doesn’t matter,” they say, “I don’t even see color.”   Being colorblind seems like the right thing to be when you’ve grown up being told that (1) all races are or should be equal and (2) you should never judge a book by its cover.  It is the logical outcome of the messages we give many young people about race.

But, of course, color blindness fails because race, despite being a social invention, still matters in our society.  Enter the ongoing scandal about the Cadbury candy bar ad featuring Naomi Campbell, sent in by Dolores R.,  Jack M., and Terri.  The ad compares the Dairy Milk Bliss Bar to Campbell.  It reads: “Move over Naomi, there’s a new Diva in town.”

The ad has been called racist because it compares Campbell to a chocolate bar; chocolate is a term sometimes used to describe black people’s skin color or overall sexual “deliciousness.”  The ad, then, is argued to be foregrounding skin color and even playing on stereotypes of black women’s sexuality.

So what happened here?  One the one hand, I see the critics’ point.  On the other, I can also imagine the advertising people behind this ad thinking that they want to link the candy bar with the idea of a diva (rich, indulgent, etc.), and choosing Campbell because she is a notorious diva, not because she’s a black, female supermodel.  They could argue that they were being colorblind and that race was not at all a consideration in designing this ad.

The problem is that being colorblind in a society where race still colors our perceptions simply doesn’t work.  The truth is that race may not have been a consideration in designing the Cadbury ad, but it should have been.  Not because it’s fun or functional to play with race stereotypes, but because racial meaning is something that must be managed, whether you like it or not.  This is where Cadbury failed.

In my classes, I ask my earnestly-anti-racist students to replace color-blindness with color-consciousness.  We need to be thoughtful and smart about race, racial meaning, and racial inequality.  Racism is bad, but color-blindess is a just form of denial; being conscious about color — seeing it for what it is and isn’t, both really and socially — is a much better way to bring about a just society.

Cadbury, for what it’s worth, has apologized.

See also the Oreo Barbie, the Black Lil’ Monkey Doll, the Obama Sock Monkey, Disparate Pricing for Black and White Dolls, and Accidentally Illustrating Evil with Skin Color.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Squee sent in some rather odd commercials put together by the Norwegian Association of the Blind. The commercials encourage companies to hire blind individuals…by arguing that you can get away with doing things in front of, or to, blind workers because, you know, they won’t be able to tell anyway:

The message is a little strange, I think — trying to provide more employment opportunities for a group that may suffer from job discrimination by reinforcing the idea that if if someone is blind, they are completely clueless about what’s going on around them and, thus, their non-blind coworkers can act in ways that would be totally inappropriate if done to/around any other colleague.

Does that seem like an effective strategy to you?

Presumably many of you have heard about the controversy that has arisen about a conversation between Laura Schlessinger (aka Dr. Laura) and a female African American caller. Corina C. sent in some links to posts on the topic. Trigger warning for harsh, racist language.

Here’s a recording of the conversation (found at Media Matters) in which Schlessinger responds to the caller’s concerns about comments from her White husband’s friends and relatives by suggesting she is “hypersensitive” and isn’t in a position to be concerned about comments she considered racist because “Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger”:

Selected parts of the transcript:

CALLER: I was a little caught back by the N-word that you spewed out, I have to be honest with you. But my point is, race relations —

SCHLESSINGER: Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.

SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. We’ve got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that’s hilarious.

SCHLESSINGER: Chip on your shoulder. I can’t do much about that.

CALLER: It’s not like that.

SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. I think you have too much sensitivity —

CALLER: So it’s OK to say “nigger”?

SCHLESSINGER: — and not enough sense of humor.

SCHLESSINGER: …You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race. If you’re going to marry out of your race, people are going to say, “OK, what do blacks think? What do whites think? What do Jews think? What do Catholics think?”…And what I just heard from Jade is a lot of what I hear from black-think — and it’s really distressting [sic] and disturbing. And to put it in its context, she said the N-word, and I said, on HBO, listening to black comics, you hear “nigger, nigger, nigger.” I didn’t call anybody a nigger. Nice try, Jade. Actually, sucky try. Need a sense of humor, sense of humor — and answer the question. When somebody says, “What do blacks think?” say, “This is what I think. This is what I read that if you take a poll the majority of blacks think this.” Answer the question and discuss the issue…Ah — hypersensitivity, OK, which is being bred by black activists. I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don’t get it.

There are a number of things going on here. In Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva discusses the various ways that Whites, in particular, downplay racial discrimination through a number of rhetorical and discursive strategies, several of which Schlessinger draws on in this exchange. For instance, she naturalizes the behavior the caller is concerned about: if you marry someone of another race, you just have to accept that their friends and family are going to consider you a representative of your entire race and constantly interact with you through the lens of your racial/ethnic background. That’s just to be expected, and if it starts to bother you, you’re “hypersensitive.” In fact, you ought to be sure and constantly educate yourself about all social trends as they relate to African Americans, so that if someone has any questions about what “Blacks think,” you can quickly tell them.

Think about the level of mental energy that is being expected here. Schlessinger is saying that it is the responsibility of minorities to know what members of their race/ethnicity think, in the aggregate, about whatever topic anybody else might want to know. I, as a White woman, am not expected to be able to provide, at the drop of a hat, data on Whites’ opinions about anything. (Though I do find that people who find out I’m a sociologist often think I must have insight into every aspect of social life, leading to questions such as, “My sister-in-law likes to _____. What do you think causes that?” or “So what do you think _____ will be like in 50 years?”, neither of which I am usually prepared to address in the middle of getting some potato salad at a picnic or buying a soda at the gas station.) The underlying argument here is that it is minorities’ responsibility to patiently educate Whites about things related to non-Whites, and an unwillingness to take on that role is evidence that you have a “chip on your shoulder.”

Another frame Schlessinger draws on is the minimization of racism: we have a Black president now, so racism’s totally over. What’s your problem?

Schlessinger is also holding all members of a racial group responsible for the actions of any of them. She argues that the routines of some Black comedians invalidates this individual African American woman’s right to be upset by racialized language in any context. It doesn’t matter whether this woman approves of the comedians’ comments — or has ever heard any of them; all African Americans are treated as an undifferentiated group, and the behavior of some revokes the rights of any others to bring up issues they find problematic.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Schlessinger hints at another rhetorical strategy, the “some of my best friends are _____ and thus I can’t possibly be racially prejudiced” argument:

I went out to dinner with three friends after Larry King. One of my friends who is gay is sitting there with another friend who is black, and he looks up and says, “I wonder what the media would do with this? You’re with a black guy and a gay guy.” We laughed, because we all understand what this is really about — censoring a point of view.

So there you have it: a round-up of ways to frame non-Whites as overly sensitive and unilaterally responsible for improving race relations.

UPDATE: The comments section is closed. There were still a lot of people commenting, but much of it had descended into name-calling and accusations, and I can’t keep up with all of them to catch the truly offensive ones. I may reopen comments in 48 hours after a cooling-off period.