One day, my partially sighted friend from Sierra Leone had the following status on Facebook: “I fail to understand how blind people can be racist. They don’t see the skin colour.” I personally fail to understand how anyone can be racist. The colour of your skin has no effect on what kind of a person you are. The culture around you and your experiences however, do. I think racism is equally stupid to for example, discriminating people according to their eye or hair colour. But my friend’s status got me thinking and I wrote something along these lines in the comment field.
“It is very easy for a blind person to be racist. He or she may not be able to see your skin colour, but they can still have prejudices built into them from childhood. And they can figure out your skin colour from things like your name, nationality or accent.”
It turned into a very interesting discussion about how you really can tell a person’s skin colour as a blind person. Especially today when the world is so global. It took me a while to understand that my favourite comedian Russell Peters was Indian for example.
I dare say I’m fairly good at picking up what race people belong to. Black and white skin feels a little different and every racial group has slightly different voices from one another. My good friend and ex colleague at the BBC was quite shocked when I asked her if she by any chance had Indian parents. I can’t remember exactly why I asked this, but it could have been either because she asked me to guess what she looked like, or she talked about her boyfriend who had an Indian name. She herself had an International school kind of English accent and her name, both first and last, could pass off as European, so I can understand her shock. I told her that it was her voice “It sounds like a voice from India.”
But we don’t always get it right. One blind friend of mine, who happens to be a black girl from Uganda, asked me, after having known me for five minutes whether I was Chinese because I had a voice that sounded a little bit like I could possibly be a Hong Kong girl. And recently, when I was walking through campus, a young man started to talk to me, as students do. I was absolutely sure he must be Indian or Pakistani, because he had that kind of Urban city accent most countries and languages have. In Oslo, people who talk like that, tend to sound Pakistani. So I was very surprised when he shook hands with me and introduced himself as Stian, a very Norwegian name.