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What It’s Really Like to be Color Blind. Plus: Test Yourself

What It’s Really Like to be Color Blind. Plus: Test Yourself

How Well Do You See Color?

Nobody told me I was color blind. I was in art class and wanted to paint my rendition of peanut butter green. The kid next to me was repulsed. He said that peanut butter was brown, which repulsed me.

And that was my first clue that something was off about how I saw color… 🎨

As I calmly grew to accept my colorblindness, I realized people have a misconception about it: colorblind people often see vivid colors, we just don’t know what the heck to call them!

How does it affect the day-to-day life?

As for careers, anything that relies on color is out, like piloting a plane.

Also, street lights can be scary.

The green stoplight looks pretty much white (maybe off-white?). I remember as a child, asking when the traffic light was going to turn white. My friend just kind of grimaced.

One danger is real when stoplights are not arranged from top to bottom (red on top, then yellow, then green). If there’s just one blinking light, I’m in trouble… Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s yellow or red. As flying through a red light can be deadly, I assume it’s red until I see another car drive through it confirming its yellow.

Another danger is distinguishing whether food is safe to eat. Is that a pinkish hue still in the chicken meat? I don’t trust myself, so I either ask someone, or I cook it to the point where it be impossible have any pink, which sometimes means overdone, sigh.

There are plenty of social faux paws. Like, I’ll say, “Hey, where’d you get that blue shirt?” A common confused response: “It’s purple.” Sometimes they’re even offended, until they realize.

Or, someone will say, “Can you grab my drink off that green table?”
I’ll look out to a sea of tables, and wonder which one is green.

But the biggest effect is actually kind of fun

The biggest response to being colorblind is how everyone wants to ask me what color something is, just to laugh or be perplexed when I’m wrong.

Some enjoy teaching me the true color of things, as if colorblindness is more a memory problem. However, memorization is key, once I know what color something is, I do try to remember that.

But there are very strange everyday occurrences. Today, for example, when I got the idea to write this, I saw some blob in the middle of the road. I couldn’t tell if the blob was a hunk of dirt or roadkill. I decided not to care. And that’s what it’s like to be colorblind, disregarding personal judgements and perceptions — or at least taking them with a grain of salt. I found out later, that’s a healthy psychological response to all stimuli.

In the end, colorblind people don’t attach value to the colors, but we still enjoy them. I’m captivated by the radiant colors of a sunset, even if I can’t tell what they are.

The best metaphor I can conjure: it’s like listening to a great song that’s in a different language. You can still enjoy the music and even the rhythm of the lyrics, even if you don’t know what they’re saying. You can feel them.

In the end, colorblind people end up living a more abstract life, because we can’t pin down colors. We allow things to just be as they are, and still enjoy the colors without assigning labels.

PS: I’m fascinated by how people who see color correctly will argue over the subtle color of a shirt… that’s because it’s all about these rods and cones in our eyes. And since we’re not computers, each combo is as unique as a snowflake. That means we’re all seeing stuff in slightly different hues!

Take the Test

Find out how well you see color, and what type of color blindness you might have. My results were strongly color blind with Deuteranopia (red-green) and Protanopia (red) — and just a touch of Tritanopia (blue-yellow). Take the test here!