Last night my boyfriend said I’m the most colorblind person he knew. It wasn’t meant as a compliment or an insult. It was just a statement, and it was about skin color.
I have always had a problem with facial recognition. I don’t have anything as serious as prosopagnosia (fascinating condition by the way) but sometimes it’s pretty close. I recognize family and friends and people I’ve known a long time, that’s fine, but it takes me forever to remember new faces. I suck in restaurants because I never remember what the waiter looks like. Generally I’ll know if they’re male or female but that’s about it. It’s not exactly a lack of observance because I am observant in other ways. I’ve learnt to look for clues in these situations–my waiter is wearing a blue bow in her hair, that sort of thing– but remembering what a person looks like is a whole other story. I thought it was just a basic facial recognition problem, but then I realized it was deeper than that. Unless I make a special effort I will not be able to tell you a persons’ eye color, hair color, or even how they wear their hair sometimes. It’s really damn frustrating! I do pay attention, believe me. I can tell you intimate details of strangers’ lives (why do strangers tell me about their lives?!) but all I can probably tell you about them is that they are male or female. I will not recognize them again. If we meet again and they remind me of where we met I will then remember everything they told me. I just can’t remember faces.
So, what does this have to do with colorblindness? Well, I figured it was just me being crappy at remembering faces. Of course I’ll remember something as salient as skin color, right? Completely wrong. I found this out after starting my current job. We have people come in for interviews every few months and after a visit I have to fill out a form with their address, name, etc. This form includes their race. I have just sat in a small room with this one person for up to 3 hours and learned more about them then their spouse probably knows, and when it comes to filling in race I have to look at the forms from the last time they visited. I thought this was normal until it was pointed out to me how strange it was. I look at the people, I remember if they fiddled with their hair or if they had something “abnormal” about them physically but 95% I cannot tell you if they were black, white, or other.
My boyfriend recently informed me that we had an “inter-racial” relationship (I’m white and he’s Mexican-Lebanese-American). I was honestly surprised, Inter-cultural, perhaps (i’m from England with not particularly religious parents and a small family, whereas he grew up partially in Mexico with a huge, Catholic family) but I never considered inter-racial. I just hadn’t really registered that we were slightly different colors and that that was a big deal to some people.
I don’t really have a point to make with this, but I just wanted to write about it because it surprised me. I know that most people don’t have as terrible facial recognition skills as I, but I guess I never realized that people registered color and race in the way that I don’t seem to. I am not claiming that they was I see things is right, or that it is wrong. I just wonder if part of the reason that I don’t understand racism and separating based on race is because I don’t notice the same differences that people seem to. I don’t just mean this in a negative way either. I will appreciate a persons culture, religion, country of origin, etc., based on what they tell me about it. I don’t look at a person and remember any certain background based on the color of their skin. Maybe this is wrong; perhaps I should. Personally I think it’s just as bad to assume neutral things about a person based on their skin tone as it is to assume negative things, but that’s just me. What do you think? Am I really the only one who doesn’t notice color much?