Two leaders of the blind community in Texas have said that racism is more than just a visual experience, and that the problem of systemic racism caries on, whether you see skin color, don’t see skin color, or simply don’t see.
Trade advisor Peter Navarro made headlines when he claimed that he lived in a “race-blind” world, and that he “doesn’t see race” in the weeks that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.
“…[It] troubles me that we have so much of this discussion,” Navarro said, “when in fact we have got real problems in this country.”
Reverend Michael Garrett and Peggy Garret both live in Missouri City, Texas, and have been community advocates for several years. Rev. Garrett is the current Associate Minister at the New Faith Church in Houston, Texas, and Peggy Garrett is the President of the Association for the Blind, Texas.
Do they believe people in the blind community are subjected to racism by those who can’t see?
“Well if you knew some of the people that we know – We know that that is not true. That is totally not true,” Peggy Garret said in our phone interview, “I think that people in the community are no different [from…] people who are in the blind community.”
The Garretts recounted some of the interactions they had with members of the Association of the Blind and pointed out that some racist tendencies spawn out of upbringing. Having sighted parents and utilizing stereotypes of personalities and sounds to determine the race of people around them.
“I’ve heard people who can’t see ask is that person black,” Peggy Garrett said, “[they] actually asked the question. They ask, ‘what race are they.’”
This mentality has been upheld by several studies of the blind community, with the work of Osagie Obasogie, J.D., Ph.D., offering a comprehensive understanding of how race and sight interact. Respondents in the study noted that their blindness and inability to physically see color did not absolve them from racism.
However, an age of citizen journalism has continued to complicate this space. Video of George Floyd, for example, is often discussed in media as a visual experience. A knee on the neck of a person of color, with an unravelling story of Floyd being big, strong, and seemingly aggressive according to officers.
Without the visual, Peggy and Michael Garrett are reliant on audible understandings of the incident. They still are processing it.
“Even now, sometimes they still play [the video] because they have new footage of that have that takes it from a different angle,” Peggy Garrett, “And so, while I’m blind, and I can’t see the screen, I listen very closely.”
The video of George Floyd’s death caused hundreds of thousands to take to the streets in nationwide civil unrest amid a spiraling pandemic.
However, though these moments are indelible, Rev. Garrett notes that they are not new to him or his community. Instead, they are part of an ever-growing list of problems experienced by black and brown people in the United States.
“So that there were things that… we process it from the standpoint that it is, it goes in the file, you know. The Breonna Taylors, you know It goes [with the] other acts of violence that are unjustly levied on people of color.”
Rev. Garrett believes that these incidents will continue because the changes that need to be made are systemic. He says that in his church, and in his community, he recognizes that the issue of race, and the death of people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, are heart issues.
“In the sense that I understand the historical significance, I understand that it is a heart issue that has been passed down from generation to generation,” Rev. Garrett said, “And if you don’t have a means to let that hatred get out of you, then we will never achieve the change that we seek.”
This story was completed in progress to a Masters in Journalism through Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies in my capacity as a graduate student.