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Color Blindness All Around Us

Updated on September 23, 2019
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Can you see the red and green?
Can you see the red and green? | Source

Where to Start

You may be totally unaware of this affliction. It could be hiding in your family without you even knowing about it. Women are carriers but rarely have the problem themselves. And then out of the blue, there it is. Someone is born who cannot see color. For some, it is most commonly red and green that they cannot see. This is the most common kind of color blindness. For others, more colors are affected turning their world into a black and white movie from the ‘30s. This is extreme and is much less common but it does happen. You may have seen the heart-wrenching YouTube videos showing someone who is colorblind receiving the new glasses that help them see colors they never could see before. Unfortunately, even these are not 100% foolproof. They are only effective about 80% of the time.

Being different gives the world color.

— Nelsan Ellis


My father had a colleague who became a close family friend. Clancey was my first introduction to the concept of color blindness. His family and ours often went camping together. One camping trip Clancey had purchased a new tent. I overheard him make several angry remarks before he called me over. “Neesie, you’re going to have to help me put this together.” I didn’t know how I could be of any help putting together a tent at 10-years-old. He held up two poles and asked, “are these the same color?” Sure enough, the poles were all color-coded for “easy” assembly. I remember so vividly looking up at him astounded that he could not see the differences in the colors.

Clancey has an extreme case of color blindness. He can see only one shade of green but all the rest of his world is grey. He bought cars or trucks only in dark green. This is why his home only had green carpeting, and green comforters on the beds. Green was the only color he could see in a world of grey. When I was painting, I started calling that shade of green “Clancy green.” You may be too young to remember this but in the mid-‘60s color, TVs became very popular. Everyone was trading in his or her old black and white for a color TV, but Clancey couldn't see the point. The color TV looked the same as a black and white TV broadcast to him.

The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of color.

— Hans Hofmann

My Brother

My brother cannot see red or green. It first came to my attention when he was 4 and I was almost 12. Like pesky little brothers can be, he kept asking questions. First, he asked if two socks matched. They were red and green. I was sure he was making a joke or just being an irritant. Then he came back with two green socks and asked the same thing. Now I knew something was not quite right. He was being sincere. He couldn’t tell they were the same. That’s when my mother took us to the optometrist. I am near-sighted and needed glasses, but my brother turned out to be colorblind. This didn’t mean he couldn’t “see” just that he couldn’t see red and green. The very nice optometrist let me see the test with the dots so I could see what my brother was seeing, or not seeing. I had to ask why my brother couldn’t see the obvious 5 in red dots among all the green dots. What is he seeing? The optometrist told me he sees the same shade of grey instead of red and green.

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight... the truly wise person is colorblind.

— Albert Schweitzer

Practical Solutions

My mother’s solution was to stop buying colored socks. Okay, so the sock problem was solved, however, I was never the same. I’m an artist. My whole life is color and to think of not seeing color made me so sad. It was unthinkable. Of course, he never complained about it. How can you miss something that you never experienced? I couldn’t imagine biting into a large juicy grey apple. Or a bowl of big grey watermelon. At Christmas, I thought about placing shiny round grey ornaments on a grey Christmas tree. Really, what’s the point?



The more I thought about it, the more questions I had. How does he know when to stop at a stoplight? He had to tell me that the “stop” light is on top and the “go” light is on the bottom. Yes, of course. I never really paid attention to that before because I stop on the red and go on the green. Had you ever noticed?

When my brother’s sweet bride chose Burgundy red for the invitations and decorations, he just smiled and said: “whatever she wants.” It was all grey to him.

Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.

— Allen Klein
Black and white movies
Black and white movies | Source

Classic Movies

I love old black and white movies. I think they are so artsy and classic. However, most people I know (young people especially) hate the old black and white movies because they are old and lacking in color. Can you imagine everything was a black and white movie for the rest of your life?

I took out the color from the red ornaments and some of the green of the tree.  This is how it looks to a colorblind person.
I took out the color from the red ornaments and some of the green of the tree. This is how it looks to a colorblind person. | Source

My New Artificial Christmas Tree

It was a good year when we bought our own 8-foot artificial Christmas tree. No more needles, no more pinesap, and making sure it had water, not to mention the fire hazard. That first day, I pulled out the instructions and noticed all the branches were color-coded, just like Clancy’s new tent. I immediately thought of my brother and Claney. They could put in the branches that were coded with a white stripe and the black stripe. But after that, they would both have to call on a toddler who knew his colors for help.

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.

— Georgia O'Keeffe

Right Next To You

People with colorblindness are usually quiet about it. They don’t complain so you may not even know they are standing next to you. They simply, quietly cope. Most of us don’t give it a thought. Our entire vocabulary is peppered with color. It’s a red-letter day; I feel blue; you have a yellow streak; green with envy. People with color blindness memorize those sayings like everyone else and are assured there must be some significance even if they cannot see it.


Statistics on Color Blindness

Red-Green color blindness is common and predominantly found in men. It is connected to the X chromosome, so even though women don’t often have it, they are carriers of the trait. Statistically, 1 in 10 Caucasian males has the defect. Other causes are trauma to the eye and even some diseases but usually, it is an inherited trait. The color blindness tests are known as Ishihara’s Test for Color Deficiency.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I think we need to be more sensitive to those who quietly go around without the use of red and green. We need to stop making things color-coded.


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