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Colorblindness
Ways of Seeing, and Why Context Matters

Colorblindness
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In a his four part documentary Ways of Seeing, John Berger discusses in part one the multitude of presentations that distort how we approach and perceive art. The space in which a painting is displayed effects its perception just as much as the difference between seeing a piece on a crowded opening night or a quiet weekday visit at noon. It’s one thing to travel to see an entire, original painting, and quite another to see that painting through a television screen, in print, or by looking it up on the Internet. Furthermore, the opinions of an art critic, who has studied and enjoyed paintings, techniques and art history all his life, would differ from a disinterested child forced to see that same painting.

Applying these concepts to understanding people might also bear fruit.

America has a colorful history of race relations. In the wake of counterculture movements of the Sixties, the civil rights in particular, certain pockets of the country developed what is called today color-blindness, which is a way of seeing that is founded on the assumption that the United States is a post-racial country. 

In a society with easily traceable remnants of African American slavery, colonization, Native American repression, and a history of immigration from all over the world, acknowledging color is an important lens with which to see and communicate with any American. Of course, this colored-lens is applicable everywhere, and is the first step towards cultural respect. These lenses, or contexts, change from the histories of each skin color to the regions of America. To understand that a man is from Nigeria as opposed to being an American-born and bred Nigerian should change your dialogue and registers. In learning to make these discriminations, one sees that a Korean American who grew up in Los Angeles’ Korea Town during the 1992 Los Angeles riots does not share the same Asian American experience as a third generation Filipino American army brat.
Ways of Seeing asserts awareness of interplay between a human and the culture which informs his or her worldview. Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues that color blindness eschews cultural and racial understanding through a concept called “abstract liberalism,” which is defined by those who claim to believe in individual choice and equal opportunity, while simultaneously opposing concrete laws aimed to fix this.

Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “I Have a Dream” speech, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Color should not matter in an ideal world, and there laws based on color-blindness might work. But this is not an ideal world, and decontextualizing color before we are in a truly post-racial country silently negates the progress towards King's dream.


By Thad Higa



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