Can a blind person be racist?

The findings from this research are quite surprising. After conducting over a hundred interviews with blind individuals—people who have never seen anything, let alone the physical traits that typically serve as visual markers for racial difference—one consistent theme resonates throughout the data. Blind people understand and experience race like everyone else: visually. That is, when asked what race is, blind respondents largely define race by visually salient physical cues such as skin color, facial features, and other visual characteristics. But what stands out in particular is not only blind people’s visual understanding of race, but that this visual understanding shapes how they live their lives; daily choices, experiences, and interactions such as where to live and whom to date are meditated by visual understandings of race in the blind community as much as they are among those who are sighted. Despite their physical inability to engage with race on the very visual terms that are thought to define its salience and social significance, blind people’s understanding and experience with race is not unlike that of sighted individuals.

These data present a tremendous challenge for existing lay and scholarly conceptions of race. How can it be that individuals who cannot see have a visual understanding of race? And how is it possible that this visual understanding is so significant that it fundamentally shapes their everyday lives just as it does for anyone else? How can someone not have vision, but be able to, for all intents and purposes, “see” race? Blinded by Sight unravels this mystery so as to understand this phenomenon as an empirical matter. Through qualitative research methods, I capture these experiences and unearth the broader sociological patterns that give rise to blind people’s ability to “see” race. These empirical findings can have wide-ranging implications for rethinking the relationship between race, legal doctrine, public policy, and social relations. This research ventures into an area that many assumed did not exist in any meaningful sense—the racial lives of blind people and, moreover, the visual acuity with which they experience race—and uses the empirical data to discuss this discovery’s implications for reconceptualizing the ways that race plays out in law and society.