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Colour Blind/Deficent Tested and Prejusticed!


“I just don’t see it like you” is the statement that we have all heard.

Yes that’s right, we all don’t see it the same, figuratively and literally but we want to challenge it and make everyone see it the way we do. Impossible!

We’re all different with different upbringings, genetics and culture that influences the way in which we see the world.

When I was eight years old the Department of Education nurse came and visited my school and we had a basic government health check. Amongst saying argh! and having our groins felt for problems we had a colour test. These are the standard Ishihara tests but I’ve always referred to them as confetti charts. Well I had a note to take home to my parents which said that Ian was red/green colour blind and so began my understanding of this condition.

45 56

Can you see 45? Can you see 56?

In both of these examples I can not distinguish a number.

Colour deficiency effects about 8% of the Australian male population and is carried on the female “X” chromosome. Which is interesting in that yes two of my mothers brothers were colour blind but so is my father. Which is a coincidence. How about that! I remember him buying some pink shorts once thinking that they were grey. I thought they looked fine but all the women of the family laughed, he never did wear them.

So I’ve always known this but when I was about 33 I needed an aviation health check and it came up again and I asked the doctor and he went deeper into it with the confetti charts and said that I was very green deficient. To my surprise I then began to dwell on it quite a bit and started to attempt to understand what it means to see the world and to attempt to understand what the world must look like to others. I still get surprises even now like recently after eating them all my life discovering that avocados are, yes green. I never realised!

This got me thinking about how to communicate what I see to others and visa versa because of the following banta…

Ian: “I’m sorry didn’t realise, I’m colour blind”
Other: “Really!”
Ian: “Yes I don’t see much green”
Other: “What do you see?”
Ian: “What do you see?
Other: “I see green”
Ian: “Well, I see green”

Then I get the confused look and proceed to explain that we both call the same coloured things that colour, not because that is what we see but because that is what we are taught to call that colour. The reality is that we don’t know if what we see is the same and I can guarantee you there are many people out there who don’t know they are colour deficient but are able to agree most of the time with what people agree on as a specific colour. Have you ever seen appalling colour tastes in clothes or decoration?

So then in the conversation I turn to the Other and say, “describe yellow to me”.

Go on describe it, I challenge you. You will probably refer to the colour of something. No that is the colour of that thing which we agree is yellow, not the colour. Then you’ll refer maybe to brightness or shade but that also doesn’t describe the colour. I have yet to have someone describe a colour to me and most of the time they refer to an item that is that colour and not describe the colour itself. There is one way though and that is to go for the specific scientific wave length of that colour which is the definition of what it is but it doesn’t describe it in a human way. If you can please let me know.

So how we describe something that is so difficult to describe as colour?

Traffic lights and street lights!

To explain some thing new we have to move from an agreed understanding of something and move incremental to a new understanding. That’s also how education and learning is done.

Think of a set of traffic lights. Red, amber and green. The three lights are the same brightness and colour intensity as each other just a different colour. Agreed? I hope so.

Now think of the white street lights around the traffic lights. There are many different types of street lights but they all have a subtle tint to them some yellow some blue maybe others I don’t know of. Now think of the white street lights with the very subtle blue tint.

Next time we’re driving and we see these street lights going off into the distance and we’re coming to a set of traffic lights I see the bright red like you, I see the amber like you but I see the intensity of the green colour as intense as the blue colour in the street lights, not like you! It’s hard to imagine isn’t it but just imagine the colour turned down so it’s primarily white with a tint of green like the blue in the street lights. You can imagine what it’s like to have less but I can never imagine what it’s like to have more green.

If you want to see if you can see the whole colour spectrum or not check out the University of London site. I fail and loose sight of the square at 0:08 and 0:59 which are two colours that I can’t see in the world.


So I’m prejudiced against a world with green in it and it doesn’t matter how much I attempt I will never understand but I can intellectualise what it may be like. The funny thing is though, we are all colour blind. I don’t know anyone who can see the whole colour spectrum. Ultra violet to infra red let alone microwaves to x-rays. A falcon can see the urine trails left by its prey because it fluoresces in the ultraviolet in sunlight. So compared to a falcon we are colour deficient.

So I’m colour blind/deficient/prejudiced but using that as an analogy we are prejudiced by our experiences and just because we see something and believe something and agree with our community/family on something doesn’t mean that it’s correct. What is correct anyway?

For humans the part of the visible light spectrum that we call the colours of the rainbow is agreed to be correct. We know there is more but we’ll agree that is correct and get on with our lives.

How about the other prejudices in our life? How many things do we believe are correct. Are we really that sure, maybe we’re coloured blind on that subject. Others are saying different who is right? And if we can’t find a common place to start our discussion that we agree on how can we move to a new understanding of another’s way of see the world. One persons dictator is someone else saviour. One groups terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. It all depends on the filters that we look at life through.

So lets find some common ground that we can agree on and move forward to understand why and how we are living the lives we live. Maybe we can never truly look through someone else’s eyes but with some effort we can understand that we all see the world differently and even then we’re not seeing the whole spectrum. But at least we will have some empathy for others and know that there is more than meets the eye.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kate Saturday, 22 December, 2007, 8:41 pm

    Is this why you have not adopted the green pea meme that’s been going around twitter?

  • Kate Saturday, 22 December, 2007, 8:41 pm

    Also interesting thing about your post is that we always assume that others see, perceive, interpret the same way that we do. Just another example of how we are all different.

  • Ian Saturday, 22 December, 2007, 8:58 pm

    My exact point Kate.

  • Jo Thursday, 10 January, 2008, 10:59 am

    As the wife of a colour blind person I am keen to find a test that will allow me to ‘see the world how he sees it’. I imagine it to be a type of ‘paint by numbers’ where we both choose colours from a palette to match a given picture. Does anyone know if one exists?