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Seeing yellow

Imagine for a moment you are a blind person. You have been blind for your entire life and have never seen anything in this world.

Now think about the color yellow. For the blind you, yellow is simply a word. It doesn’t mean anything. You might know when you use it in a conversation, and because of those around you, you certainly are aware that it exists. But you probably can’t explain it and you definitely don’t understand it — it is a vague and theoretical concept that remains permanently out of your reach and non-existent line of vision.

Once you (the blind you) realize that yellow exists, you might get curious. You might decide that your nonchalant use of the word isn’t enough anymore and that you want a more complete explanation. You might start researching the color yellow. What does it feel like? What does is taste like? What does it smell like? You can ask questions of the people around you and begin to build an explanation of the color yellow. It is sour and bright and warm. Jarring and cheerful. Fatiguing.

With research, you come to a point of explanation. You know, perhaps as well as a sighted person, how to explain the color yellow. You can speak intelligently on the subject, and yellow has significance beyond being just a word to toss into a conversation when appropriate. But it’s still at arms length because your eyes are still closed.

Because despite your best research and explanations, for the blind you to really understand yellow, you have to experience yellow. You have to see it. No matter how good your theoretical definition is, the first time you open your eyes to bright, real, un-ignorable yellow will radically change your perception. Your old definition will become useless as you strive to put words to what you are now witnessing for yourself.

Suddenly, the facts don’t matter quite so much. The data and adjectives, while still true, somehow fail to paint the whole picture. They miss the living reality— the experience—of the color yellow. Seeing the color yellow with your own eyes leads to an understanding of yellow that surpasses any explanation or awareness research and conversation can provide.

When I think about yellow, I don’t want to rely on facts I gathered. I want to reference the reality that I have seen. I want to paint my own picture based on my own experiences. I don’t want awareness or explanations; I want an understanding that challenges everything I have previously known. I want to open my eyes after years of blindness and come face to face with the bright, jarring, happy, shocking, fatiguing, inspiring reality of yellow.

(In case you were wondering, I’m not a color theorist or a blindness expert. In fact, this story isn’t about yellow at all. Go back and replace every “yellow” with “poverty”. That is my story.)

Written by Allison Kooser.