Friday, June 04, 2010

"I'm Not Color Blind!"

"I'm Not Color Blind!"

by Kevin Burns

Photo by Devanshe Chauhan

"We understand color-vision deficiencies better than we used to," a school official explained. "It's no longer necessary to test all children because most educational and occupational restrictions have been eliminated."*

*From the article, "Ending Discrimination, Colorblind schoolkids can see clearly now," The Japan Times

Me at 13: "Dad, that carpet down there is brown. See I`m not color blind!" Dad shakes his head, "Kev, sorry but it is green." Looks disappointed. There is something unstated, some kind of unstated tension.

Damn! Even logic won`t lick this thing I think. Why would a carpet be green? My attempt at proving I wasn`t color blind (or somehow deficient in some way) had failed again. "Dad what is the big deal? Does it really matter if I am color blind or not?" "No not really, just your life will be a bit tougher is all."

Maybe that was all there was, but I felt there was a shame attached to it. I failed the tests. Everyone elementary school could see the thing in the ink blot except me. It seemed so anyway.

It started in grade one, I was drawing Mauro Grespan a Canadian of Italian descent, and I drew his face light green. All the kids laughed at what a great joke I had pulled. It was no joke. That light green crayon looked light brown to me. Mauro Grespan never looked green (except perhaps) in his college days. But that day he looked brown to me, but so did that light green crayon.

That was how I found out I was somehow different. It isn't such a big deal as some things are, yet it was a shock just the same and it has been with me throughout my life. It is a funny kind of unstated thing where in a way you pretend to be something you are not--to hide the fact.

In Japan where I live and teach English now, I was told to never tell anyone I was color blind. My first employer in Nagoya, told me to never mention it to anyone other than him. He was a Scotsman and told me to not mention it to the Japanese staff. He said I shouldn't teach any units on color unless I was sure about how to do it, without making mistakes. Fair enough.

It had been seen as a major "handicap" here. I think things are changing but it happened partly at least, due to an incident concerning the Japanese royal family:

"In 1920, Field Marshall Yamagata Aritomo tried to block the engagement of Hirohito, then crown prince, because colorblindness ran in his fiancee's family. Ultimately, the effort failed, and the couple married in 1924. But the publicity left the general public with the impression that colorblindness is a grave disability, according to Motohiko Murakami, professor emeritus at Keio University School of Medicine and author of a book on color blindness."*

*From the article, "Ending Discrimination, Colorblind schoolkids can see clearly now," The Japan Times

Indeed Japanese place emphasis on bloodlines and any kind of abnormality is cause for shame. But let`s be honest, us western folk are not beyond that kind of thinking either. There is a lot of toxic shame all around about various things. I'm not bitter. I'm just being honest.

In my twenties; though I well knew I was colorblind, I decided to give it a shot and see if I could be a commercial airline pilot. My father had flown a bomber during World War 2, and two of my uncles had been pilots as well, one of whom captained for CP Air.

I took CP Air's pinhole test where they test you with different colored lights in a huge room. You have to identify green and red lights. I knew I was green/brown color blind, but thought I might have a shot with green/red and I knew if given the chance, I would be a great pilot.

I seemed to get through the first half of the test, but was taken into a huge room and asked to identify the colors of various pinhole lights. I failed. Failing wasn't fun, but the look of disgust by the tester was annoying.

I think colorblind people face that. It isn't like being called a bad name. But there is this undercurrent that not just your color vision is deficient, but YOU are.

Perhaps the tester was just hoping I would pass. Perhaps he knew my uncle. Who knows?

Indeed color-blindness rarely affects job performance. In some cases it is actually an advantage. Colorblind recruits are prized in the military as they are not confused by camouflage. They pick out objects by shape and not color--these are some of the skills of a good sniper.

Sports: I am a good amateur tennis player. I occasionally play with Canada's former number 1 singles player Tony Bardsley. I am known for my exceptional volleying ability. Green ball--green background. Are there any studies about how many of the world`s top tennis players are color blind? How about some of our war heroes?

As a teacher, I have had to be sure I can teach a unit on color. One way around that has been to have another teacher write the names of the colors on the back of the color cards, so I can read which color it is as I am showing the students. Plus if they say green when it is brown, I can quickly note that and correct them.

When dressing I like to have my wife confirm that what I am wearing looks good. I have had some horrible experiences of wearing green socks with brown pants and things like that. Now my wardrobe is pretty simple and I am known for being a good dresser. I have worked at it though. Yet I still have a lingering doubt about how I am dressed.

I don't feel that being colorblind is a big deal. I don't feel I am color deficient. I feel that we simply see the world in different ways. There are many people who see the world in exactly the same way that I do. Another way of naming us, if you want to, is simply calling us a minority, or a vision minority.

What gives the majority the right to call us deficient? Perhaps in fact, being "colorblind," is a gift.

Colorblindness an Evolutionary Advantage?

It could be that in evolutionary terms, people like me were necessary to spot the saber toothed cat more easily. Having 5% of us, protected the other 95% from being cat food! &nb sp; I think my theory has potential, yet I am not aware of anyone else espousing it. I think that we should think outside of the box a bit more about all of these things.

Sometimes what we call a deficiency, a challenge, or God forbid--a handicap, turns out to be an advantage. In 100 years will we even be discussing this? I wonder. I hope not.

To see how color blind people view colors see:

About the Author
Kevin Burns is married, has three great kids, teaches English in a Japanese university, and owns an English school in Kanagawa, Japan called Kevin's English Schools,

He loves to write and does this at his many websites. You can visit Kevin's sites:

# How to Teach English in Japan
# Japan Living at
# A site he does with his two young sons on his love of Lego at

Afterword: In Japan at least, while discrimination at universities has greatly lessened, 94 universities were found to restrict entry by colorblind applicants in fields of study such as dentistry, my very own--education, and engineering.

Why? If I am not sure of a color I simply ask. Just as you do about certain things. Totally blind applicants could enroll while colorblind could not!

While I can understand not wanting me to fly your commercial airliner in case an emergency light goes on, I don't see why I cannot be a dentist, teacher or engineer. Let's not go too far with this.

Discrimination in hiring still persists in Japan: colorblind are barred from certain public service jobs such as the police force or fire department, and some private companies.

"If you ask them why, they have no scientific justification."--Yasuyo Takayanagi, opthamologist and activist (conducted survey on colorblindness and Japanese universities and employment)*

--The Japan Times, Alice Gordenker*

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