What color is that? I’m color blind.

Look Ellis, a white car! Oooh! A red car! Look, a black truck! Look! (crap, I have no idea what color that is) It’s um, um, a CAR!

crayola crayons

I have known I was color blind since kindergarten, when I colored the sky purple and grapes blue.  Since then, my life has been full of torment and pain due to my crippling handicap, limiting my daily activities and creating insurmountable obstacles preventing me from fully enjoying life.

No, this is not how I see the world.

My sad, gray world.

Come on! It’s not really that bad, although it can be quite annoying.  You might wonder: “What is it like to be color blind? How does the world look through his eyes?”

Anyone who is spends much time with me inevitably finds out about my “color deficiency.” Here’s how it usually goes down:

  • Me: What color is that?
  • Person: (looking incredulous and confused) Um… Blue..?
  • Me: Ok, cool. I wasn’t sure if it was blue or purple. I’m color blind.
  • Person: Whoah, are you serious? So, like, you just see black and white?
  • Me: No, I can see color, but sometimes I just can’t tell certain colors from each other.
  • Person: Weird. What color is my shirt?
  • Me: Black.
  • Person: What color are your pants?
  • Me: Blue.
  • Person: What color is the carpet?
  • Me: (taking a guess) Brown.
  • Person: YOU’RE NOT COLOR BLIND!!!
  • Me: (annoyed an rolling my eyes) Ugh… Ok, if you say so.

I can’t count how many times I have had that same conversation. For people who aren’t color blind, the concept is completely mind-blowing. They’re convinced that “color blind” means our world looks like a black and white movie, devoid of the sensory delights of bright red tomatoes, green grass or the brilliant spring flowers. This misconception likely stems from the term color blind. It’s understandable that people can’t grasp what it’s like, and while I’m happy to explain it to them, the incessant “what color is this?!” game gets very old.

GATITO19

A stunning collection of heirloom tomatoes. No, they don’t look gray to me.

My world is full of colors, but I might not see them as well as you. Like most color blind people, I have a hard time perceiving certain hues of red and green. Sometimes I look at a color and just can’t tell what it is, and I often end up asking someone around me.

Here are some of the colors I get mixed up:

  • Green vs Brown
  • Red vs. Brown
  • Green vs. Orange
  • Yellow vs. neon green
  • Blue vs. Purple
  • Grey vs pink
  • Grey vs. green

If a color is in it’s purest form, I can usually tell what it is. If it’s grass green, cherry red, or lemon yellow, I probably won’t have trouble knowing what it is (unless I’m far away from it). And it sounds weird, but sometimes I can actually trick my mind into seeing something as a different color. For example, I can almost “decide” to see tones of gray as pink or even green. Not exactly the superpower I had dreamt of, but I’ll take it.

 color wheel

Color blindness is mostly genetic, and it affects about 8% of men and only about 0.5% of women. My grandpa was color blind, and my cousin Tommy is too. Our condition is caused by the way certain cells in the back of our eyes called “cones” perceive light (that’s as scientific as I’m going to get).

This website, like many others, offers tests to determine if you’re color blind. I failed them all. Give it a try!

http://colorvisiontesting.com/ishihara.htm/

Color blind test.

Color blind test.  Evidently you should be able to see a 7.

Here’s a very cool blog post discussing color blindness. http://www.colourlovers.com/web/blog/2008/07/24/as-seen-by-the-color-blind/ One thing they included was a comparison of how color blind people see famous works of art compared to “normal” people.  Check it out!

marilyn

I can hardly see any difference between these.

picasso

Again, I can’t see much of a difference unless I really focus.

sunset

I would never have known these paintings were different if I hadn’t been told.

scream

On this one I can perceive a difference in the colors of the wavy stripes, but that’s about it.

When I was a kid growing up in Arizona, my parents would talk about the beautiful fall colors of the Midwest, where they grew up. They described a kaleidoscope of vibrant oranges, reds, and golds. So dazzled by their descriptions, I decided I had to see nature’s brilliant display for myself, so I made an autumn trip to Wisconsin to visit my cousin, ready to be immersed in the beauty of the leaves. To my dismay, everything looked brownish-orangish-greenish and not very exciting. Bummer.

fall leaves

Yay! Fall leaves! Now if only I could see them like “normal” people.

Missing out on the beauty of the fall isn’t the only crappy thing about being color blind. Here are some examples of how my condition affects my life:

  • I had no idea that tree trunks were brown. I always figured they were some shade of dark green. Who knew? Oh yeah, I guess everyone but me. (Tear)
  • I often can’t tell if fruits are ripe, such as lemons, grapefruits, or bananas.
  • I sometimes can’t see the pinkness of undercooked meat, which makes me obsessively anxious about it. This leads me to ALWAYS ask someone next to me if my meat is fully cooked, sometimes offending the generous host and cook who served it to me.
Is that undercooked? I honestly have no idea.

Is that undercooked? I honestly have no idea.

  • On school spirit day, I wore our school colors, blue and gold, only for my students to later inform me that my tie was metallic green.
  • I have eaten multigrain bread that I couldn’t tell had mold growing on it because the color didn’t stand out to me. Note to self: keep bread in the freezer!
  • I have owned clothes I thought were brown or gray until someone commented on liking my “green” pants. Me: “What? These are green?!”

green khakis

  • When I park on the street, I often can’t tell if the side of the curb has faded red paint on it or if it’s just really dirty.
  • I have received compliments on some “abstract” drawings after unknowingly coloring green skin, purple water, and red trees.
  • Maps keyed with browns, greens, tans and yellows are the death of me. To me, they might as well not be labeled.
wheat map

How is a color blind person supposed to read this?

  • I know it sounds disgusting, but green mucus can indicate a sinus infection, right? When I’m sick, my poor husband has to put up with me constantly showing him my snot-wads to check for color. “Hey babe, is this green?”

snot-chart

  • I can’t tell what color my son’s (or my) poop is. This may not seem so important, but what if it’s discolored and I don’t know it? What if there is some serious problem going on and I have no idea?!? Luckily I’m not too paranoid about that, otherwise Simon would be receiving daily pictures of our son’s feces, just to be sure.
poop chart adults

Adult poop chart. What if I have Crohn’s disease and don’t know it?!?!

  • I get really overwhelmed when tasked with choosing a color from color circles like this one.

color_wheel_730

Despite all those terrible things, I think being color blind has its benefits. My eyes have a sharpened sense of light and dark, which has been helpful in creating value (contrast) in art. And just like the blind have an sharper sense of hearing, I feel my color blindness has heightened my sense of smell and taste. I have a highly sensitive palate, and, seriously, just call me over if you need me to smell something to tell you if it’s rancid.

Yes, I can tell what color the street light is. I can see appreciate colorful flowers, sunsets, and works of art, and I freely describe things’ color with words like cobalt, terra cotta, mauve, eggplant, rust, and emerald (and not to be pretentious).

sedona-sunset

This sunset is breathtaking, even if I can’t see it the same as you.

From all the frustrating times I couldn’t tell what a color was, I get great pleasure from watching “normal” people argue about a color. I tend to unintentionally provoke these arguments by inquiring about a color, but once the debate beings, I just sit back and smile while each person aggressively defends their opinion, insisting the other person is simply seeing things wrong.

  • Me: What color are your shoelaces?
  • Friend 1: Yellow.
  • Friend 2: Um, no, those are totally green.
  • Friend 1: Dude, no. They’re bright yellow.
  • Friend 2: No, they’re green. Neon green.
  • Friend 1: No, they’re like highlighter yellow. So bright that they almost look green.
  • Me: Um, if they look green, aren’t they green?
  • Friend 1: Maybe they’re chartreuse.
  • Friend 2: WTF is chartreuse?

The green vs yellow debate always seems to end in both parties deciding something is chartreuse, just like the pink vs. purple debate always ends with “it’s fuchsia.”

chartreuse

Chartreuse

Despite my limitations, color is a huge part of my life. I consciously notice and appreciate the hues around me, whether it’s brightly colored produce, an intense blue sky, or just the awe-inspiring sight of a tree covered with flowers in the springtime.

There's nothing better than the sight of jacarandas in full bloom.

There’s nothing better than the sight of jacarandas in full bloom.

Color enriches my life every day, and while I might not see things the same as you do, maybe the world looks even more beautiful through my eyes!

Please share your thoughts about color and color blindness in the comments below!

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3 comments

  1. I guess I missed this one before, but a really interesting one! Liam is color blind and it’s so interesting the way he sees things. He thought fire was green. But he really has an amazing ear for music and I never thought of it as being because of his vision being deficient

      1. Yes! My dad is color-blind too. That’s how I recognized it in liam because he kept getting red/green/brown mixed up which my dad always does
        I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show Adventure Time, but there is an episode where the main character, Fin, discovers he is colorblind and we all got very excited about it! “it’s red… reddish gray… sometimes red is gray!!”

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