I appreciate Conor Friedersdorf’s latest missive on the dangers of instructing impressionable young attractive college students on the existence of “white privilege.” I myself learned a considerable deal in my single graduate course in women’s studies, chiefly that my mere male presence suppresses honest feminist conversation (I am a strong introvert and said nothing, which was taken as a microaggression). My studies in sociology have led me to recognize my racial privilege too. I’ve been very fortunate in my life—especially in my parents’ five divorces and seven remarriages, my brief but traumatic life in a trailer park, my crippling student loan debts, and the time I helped push a car through the snow and screwed up my knee.
But perhaps the greatest piece of good fortune I’ve had is to be born
in America to well-educated parents colorblind. I literally can’t see color, and so I judge everyone on the basis of the content of their eyebrow formations. This has given me a profound insight into the nature of race relations in America. When Beyoncé sang “At Last” while newly inaugurated President Obama and First Lady Michelle danced gracefully in a Washington ballroom, I cried because all their eyebrows looked so happy. I had no idea it was a statement on racial progress.
But my colorblindness hasn’t been without costs. I once mistakenly asked a man to carry my bags to my hotel room in New York, only to be told that he wasn’t a bellhop but a member of the Blue Man group. I used to wear a bright yellow cotton sweater during the winter, unknowingly becoming a laughingstock at work for reasons only related to the sweater and nothing else. And one time I dropped one of those red skinny straws from a can of WD-40 in the grass, and had to ask the entire neighborhood to help find it because the straw is not shaped like eyebrows.
Technically, I have color weakness or color vision deficiency, not colorblindness. Many well-meaning people don’t know the difference. Colorblindness is kind of like what Harry Potter sees when Voldemort comes close—everything is blurred and grayed-out, and people look like Dementors. Sunsets become apocalyptic, and mayonnaise appears reflective. Trees are just vomiting sticks.
Color weakness, on the other hand, is just difficulty distinguishing similar shades of color, especially when they are adjacent. In my case, light, pastel shades are difficult to separate, and greens and reds tend to shade toward brown. Do you remember those tests composed of differently colored dots with letters or numbers in them? I can’t see the characters in those: to me, they look like Jackson Pollack paintings if he had bothered to clean them up and make them happy.
Color awareness is growing, though. For example, there’s a new type of polarizing glasses that help the color-disadvantaged see colors as others do, but like cochlear implants they are somewhat controversial in the colorblind community. Well, I assume there’s such a community, but I only know about my Mom and brothers, since color-unprivilege runs through the X chromosome. The glasses don’t work for us. In more promising news, the movement is growing to require businesses to accommodate our grey-positive lifestyles by installing black-and-white stairs.
The costs still remain. Men and women who are colorblind are often accused of having no sense of style, even though some of our most famous fashion celebrities are colorblind. Did you know Anna Wintour is colorblind? Could be.
But despite social misunderstandings, the positives of being colorblind certainly outweigh the negatives. In fact, I think we all should be blind—colorblind, race blind, ethnicity blind, gender blind, weight blind, age blind, blind to the size of noses, and stupidity blind. In fact, we shouldn’t see people at all. It would be better if we just texted everything to one another using a severe black-and-white scheme. Because my experience has shown me that Friedersdorf is absolutely right that the teaching of “white privilege” serves only to perpetuate racial divisiveness. The same kind of thing occurs any time anyone reminds me that “it’s different because you’re a guy” or “well, you’re from the South” or “you sure like mustard on your sandwiches, don’t you?” Such hurtful comments cause me to grow defensive and suggest that if they like ketchup so much they might as well top a tomato with a cup of sugar for all I care, because that’s what Heinz tastes like. Is that the kind of social behavior we want to encourage?
Later, in my quieter moments, which are very similar to my louder moments because, like I said, I don’t talk much, I wonder: maybe it would be easier if we could all just get to know our fellow human beings by sniffing or licking each other. But maybe not. All I know is, I am tired at looking at everyone’s eyebrows.