When I ask my students to question their assumptions about various issues, I often use the analogy of “lenses” – encouraging a different lens so that we may look anew at all that we take for granted. Well, now, the lenses are no longer metaphorical. But, as anthropologist John L. Jackson has noted, “seeing through another person’s eyes is not the same thing as actually seeing that person. In fact, one precludes the other, by definition, unless the gaze is (tellingly) merely into a mirror.”24 Being the other, conceived of in this way, is an extension of what bell hooks calls “eating the other.”25 Tech designers have created actual headsets that we can don, our physical body in one world as our mind travels through another. Or is that really how it works? By simply changing what (as opposed to how) we see, do we really leave behind all our assumptions and prior experiences as we journey into virtual reality? Perhaps we overestimate how much our literal sight dictates our understanding of race and inequity more broadly?
I am reminded of a study by sociologist Osagie Obasogie, author of Blinded by Sight, in which he interviewed people who were blind from birth, asking them about their experiences of race. He found that, like everyone else, they had learned to “see” – that is, perceive – racial distinctions and hierarchies through a variety of senses and narratives that did not depend on actual sight. From this, Obasogie compels us to question two things: sight as an objective transmitter of reality and colorblindness as a viable legal framework and social ideology. If blind people admit to seeing race, why do sighted people pretend not see it?