It is not hard being color blind in a world that only sees black and white

Bird Droppings November 9, 2021
It is not hard being color blind in a world that only sees black and white

It has been nearly fifty-three years, actually a bit more since I found out I was color blind. I had been in college at West Chester State College for my freshmen year back in 1967. I found that driving to the New Jersey beaches and missing school was much more entertaining than sitting in a classroom listening to a chemistry professor we could not understand go through his roll of transparency film like it was on fire. However, on the downside, my grades did indicate my absence as I received my letter not permitting me to return to school. Only a day or two passed, and a draft notice was in the mail since my student’s deferment was now voided. A new system of draft selection was underway using a lottery. I was in the first round of lottery numbers pulled. All Saints day, my birthday, was selected as the number three draft. Additional dates were set through one hundred and fifty-three, adding more soldiers to be drafted.

I was playing ice hockey for West Chester State College, and somehow my grades and letter to not to come back to school never made it to the Hockey team, and I was still playing. I had severely injured my right shoulder early in the year and had been in the hospital for surgery just before my draft physical. I still had stitches in my shoulder as I went to be examined. I could not raise my right arm, and as I made my way through the lines, I kept being redirected to repeat the color blind test. The Ishihara Color Blind Tests are a series of round, almost camouflage-looking patterns with numbers placed within the designs. I could only read one or two of the numbers. By the end of the four or five hours, I had several check marks on my physical against me. I found no people with epilepsy were allowed, no color blind soldiers were wanted, and no one who could not raise their right hand to salute was even considered. The sergeant came to me and said, ” Son, you failed, and I smiled, and he then yelled at me, “Why are you smiling, boy.”

So here I was, color blind and never knew it and what trade do I go into after a few years of teaching in the early seventies but graphic arts. Every day I made choices and decisions on color and numerous designs that involved color. For some reason, being color blind never seemed to bother me as I went through life. However, as I matured and continued in my journey, I began to see how limited I was and how so many people were in how they looked at life. Writing on this cold November morning, I found several song writer’s words had significance. These lines hit me as I cannot see some hues and tints of color but always seem to make what I choose just what is needed.

“Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8-color boxes, but what you’re looking for are the 64-color boxes with the sharpeners on the back. I fancy myself to be a 64-color box, though I’ve got a few missing. It’s ok though, because I’ve got some more vibrant colors like periwinkle at my disposal. I have a bit of a problem though in that I can only meet the 8-color boxes. Does anyone else have that problem? I mean there are so many different colors of life, feeling, and articulation.. so when I meet someone who’s an 8-color type.. I’m like, hey girl, magenta! and she’s like, oh, you mean purple! and she goes off on her purple thing, and I’m like, no – I want magenta!” John Mayer

I found this quote on a Facebook page several years ago and liked it. Few people outside graphic arts and the art world know what color magenta is. Still, magenta is one of the four colors along with yellow, cyan, and black that make up the colors used in printing four-color process printing and color copying.

We live in a world of eight-color crayon boxes where most people only see what they want to see and only in a few shades and, on the most part, in black and white. As a teacher, I have found more than sixty-four colors and many more shades in between. If we look and listen and me color blind, I may not see many of them. It has been many years since I first heard Harry Chapin in the Fox Theatre on Peachtree Street. A song that has stuck with me is about a little boy who sees the world as a rainbow of color. I have included all the words to this very poignant song, and if you ever get a chance, find a tape or CD and listen to the Great Harry Chapin singing the tune. When I first came home with some magic finger paint for my grandchildren, the first picture we painted was a rainbow, red, yellow, green, and blue shining yellow purple too.

Flowers are Red
by Harry Chapin

The little boy went the first day of school
He got some crayons and started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw
And the teacher said.. What you doin’ young man
I’m paintin’ flowers he said
She said… It’s not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red
There’s a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done
You’ve got to show concern for everyone else
For you’re not the only one
And she said…
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Then the way they always have been seen
But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower, and I see every one
Well, the teacher said.. You’re sassy
There’s ways that things should be
And you’ll paint flowers the way they are
So repeat after me…..
And she said…
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Then the way they always have been seen
But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower, and I see every one
The teacher put him in a corner
She said.. It’s for your own good..
And you won’t come out ’til you get it right
And are responding like you should
Well, finally he got lonely
Frightened thoughts filled his head
And he went up to the teacher
And this is what he said.. and he said
Flowers are red; green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Then the way they always have been seen
Time went by like it always does
And they moved to another town
And the little boy went to another school
And this is what he found
The teacher there was smilin’
She said…Painting should be fun
And there are so many colors in a flower
So let’s use every one
But that little boy painted flowers
In neat rows of green and red
And when the teacher asked him why
This is what he said.. and he said
Flowers are red; green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Then the way they always have been seen.

A few days back, on a Facebook page, the question was asked which great musician would you bring back, and while a fan of many, one stood out, Harry Chapin. A few years back, a group of four-year-olds from our ECE program came into my old room to see the snakes and lizards, and other creatures that lived there. I immediately started. First of all, it is a great question, and we went on to discuss where snakes go to the bathroom. As little children do, they ask question after question until one little boy blurts out where snakes go to the bathroom, and one of the high school students working with the little ones says, that’s a stupid question, don’t ask that. After the group left, I talked to the high school student and explained never stop the questioning. When kids today get to high school, they have been taught not to think or question coming up through the grades. It is through questions we learn.

“A camera is not a creative thing. Cameras themselves don’t produce works of art any more than a paintbrush produces a work of art. They have to be in the hands of people who know what they’re doing with them. Therefore all the tools that are available are wonderful, but you still need to have the confidence to use them and to know how to use them, what the processes are that are involved. That’s where I think there is often a crisis. There are too few opportunities I believe, now for people to develop the necessary skills to make these tools really helpful and useful. There are plenty of ways of using them which are more or less trivial, which pass the time, and it would have passed anyway.” Sir Kenneth Robinson

I shared with a great photographer friend is who constantly asked about her top-of-the-line cameras that is your secret, the camera isn’t it? I was introduced to Sir Kenneth Robinson by a good friend. He is known worldwide for his work on creativity and imagination in education. As I have been researching for my dissertation, I have read and found Elliot Eisner, known for his work on the aesthetic applications within education, and others who see our educational system stripping away imagination and critical thinking for common core goals standardized test scores. Robinson uses the illustration of the rise in testing and ADHD diagnosis in the US. An interesting thought as I go deeper into my research.

I went out last night just before dark. The sky was finishing a gorgeous sunset and all about me as I sat in my quiet spot listening to the sounds of crickets and tree frogs, trying to get a few chords in before the chill sets in again. I was listening to old Bob Dylan songs and thinking about the John Mayer quote. It is not just about artists; it is about people and how they see and hear the world about them. I worry as I watch politicians say one thing, then do another, and tomorrow do something different, all in their own interest and the interest of those who financially support them. So many politicians, as I discussed with another teacher the other day, are acting being who they need to be to get what they want. It is a sad world as we rip the soul from children telling them not to ask questions and limiting what they can see or hear. So for another day, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts, and please always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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