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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

November 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Race project | Does race exist if you can’t see it?

Does race exist if you can’t see it?

A linguistics study on display at RACE: Are We So Different? found that 72 percent of subjects could tell an individual’s race just by hearing them say “hello.”

So what does that mean for the blind? A NPR Code Switch article followed law professor Osagie Obasogie’s effort to find out.

Blind Senegalese musician Pape Niang.  (AFP/Getty Images)

(SEYLLOU / AFP/Getty Images)

He spent eight years researching how the blind perceive race, interviewing 110 people who had been blind since birth.

Part of that research examined the impact of race in relationships.

One of those interviewed told about his friend, a blind white man who was dating a girl in college. He broke it off after someone told him she was black. The blind man explained that “it would not have worked, in the South, for a white man to be involved with a black woman.”

I would have thought the man’s perceptions of race would have changed when he discovered their common bond. Instead, race changed his perception of the woman.

A student told our class about a similar experience: She was in a job interview when someone said he couldn’t tell by her name that she was white. He advised her to make sure to meet with interviewers in person.

Personal and professional qualifications don’t change when you find out someone’s race, so why is it so important to some?

This was a driving question behind a study that used names on resumes to test discrimination in the labor market. Researchers found that applicants with African-American names were 50 percent less likely to get a callback than those with white-sounding names. Race is such an ingrained social construct that it allows some to ignore a person completely, which is baffling to me.

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