Updated: Jun 20, 2020
My Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has taught me many cruel lessons…that my face can meet the pavement in less than just a few seconds, that my treatments at the cancer center can make me more nauseated than I thought was imaginable, that I simultaneously exist between the land of insomnia and narcolepsy and that pain relentlessly clings to my every nerve.
My medical condition is not only disabling, it’s progressive. My surgeon recently inserted a port to administer a chemo alternative. I ambulate with a walker but my occupational therapists prep me and my home for the day I’ll be wheelchair-bound. And my neurologist has painted a grim future where the damage to my nervous system makes a feeding tube, a suprapubic catheter and even a colostomy bag not only possible, but likely. (Embarrassing but true).
Despite all the mortifying and painful truths I face as an MS Warrior,
the one I lament the most, is that I am color-blind.
That thought seems silly to some people. “You’d rather see color than walk straight?” I was once asked. “Absolutely,” I responded. I wasn’t born color-blind. I was once able to take in the full beauty of this world. But it was stolen from me. And I’d give anything to have it back.
I’ve traveled the world as a missionary. Clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, helping widows and loving on orphans. I’ve climbed the mountains of Guatemala, run barefoot along the vivid landscapes of Ireland, been adorned with jewels and henna in India, basked under the waterfalls of the rain forests in Puerto Rico.
But it’s like someone dimmed the lights. And I can’t fully appreciate cultures for what
they are, without seeing colors as they are. My loss of color is something I grieve.
But oddly, the term “color-blindness” is making a come-back, flooding social media and conversations. It’s trending in race discussions. And I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be color-blind.
Nearly 300 million people navigate through life color-blind. It comes with unique challenges. And is a disqualifier for many professions, including in the military.
I interviewed over 50 people of color this month for a couple of different projects. One of the questions I asked was, “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘I’m color-blind’ used in race discussions?” The results were unanimous – yes.
When I followed up with, “How does that phrase make you feel?” The responses ranged from, “It’s not true,” to “I feel like I am being erased.” Which is odd considering every interviewee stated that they felt the term was not used in a derogatory way but in an effort to ease tensions.
The irony? Color-blindness is a visual impairment, not a plus. Color deficiency is the more common medical description. And while it’s categorized into several types and causes difficulty determining colors such as red, green, grey, and blue those who are color-blind tend to see black, white and brown clearest. (Check out resources below and you'll find samples of what color-blind people actually see).
I was recently on a panel with other MS patients along with specialists, counselors and scholars who specialize in race relations. And the feedback from MS patients who’ve lost color-vision when they hear the term “color-blind” thrown around ranged from sadness to anger. While the physicians and specialists concurred that, “Saying you don’t see color is different than deciding you won’t see someone for who they are, which includes their racial identity,” Dr. Ray Harold, “Color-blind patients can’t pick and choose what colors they see.”
Louie Armstrong recorded “What a Wonderful World” in 1967. Imagine the courage and grace that it took to utter those words when the world was far from it. In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the wake of Jim Crow Law, a black man from the south, with his heart-warming rasp and contagious smile echoed that he saw the world, in an array of colors with all its people... ”The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people going by. I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do. They're really saying I love you…”
It’s one of my father’s favorite songs. He’d play it over and over when I was little and sing it with a similar natural growl in his voice. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. I’d learn later that Louie Armstrong was hand-picked to record it by its writer and producer. They felt he had a natural way of bringing races together. And they debuted it during a time they felt the world needed healing.
But the first part of that healing was seeing the world as it is – in color.
A company by the name of Enchroma made waves in 2018 when they revealed glasses with built-in technology to help correct color deficiency. They come in a variety of styles designed to modify hues and tones for the most common types of color-blindness. The immediate reactions of those who benefit from them are jaw-dropping and give me chills. See for yourself, most are instantly amazed and then completely overwhelmed by the ability to take in the richness and full beauty of God’s creation.
The Bible encourages us to be uncomfortable and to inspire change. Philippians 4:3-4 states, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Color is a gift. If you can see it, I urge you to appreciate it.
As a woman of color who is color-blind I ask that you not
invoke my disability to mask your discomfort.
When it comes to race, I’d rather you be honest. Admit that you see race but you’re uncomfortable. Similar to as Martin Luther King, Jr. described, you long for the day where children, "will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Because as a woman of color who is color-blind, the other inference I’m left with from someone claiming to be color-blind that's not, is that they're too uncomfortable… they don’t want to hear of my struggles…won’t admit the plight of people of color… won’t humble themselves… and won’t do anything to help.
Let’s discuss this:
- How have you been blessed by color?
- How have you heard the term “color-blind” used in race discussions?
- How can you influence others to see color as a blessing?