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[twenty twenty-four day thirty-four]: chromodivergent and chromotypical

centaur 0

I sure do love color, but I suck at recognizing it – at least in the same way that your average person does. I’m partially colorblind – and I have to be quick to specify “partial”, because otherwise people immediately ask if I can’t tell red from green (I can, just not as good as you) or can’t see colors at all.

In fact, sometimes I prefer to say “my color perception is deficient” or, even more specifically, “I have a reduced ability to discriminate colors.” The actual reality is a little more nuanced: while there are colors I can’t distinguish well, my primary deficit is not being able to NOTICE certain color distinctions – certain things just look the same to me – but once the distinctions are pointed out, I can often reliably see it.

This is a whole nother topic on its own, but, the gist is, I have three color detectors in my eyes, just like a person with typical color vision. Just, one of those detectors – I go back and forth between guessing it’s the red one or the green one – is a little bit off compared to a typical person’s. As one colleague at Google put it, “you have a color space just like anyone else, just your axes are tilted compared to the norm.”

The way this plays out is that some color concepts are hard for me to name – I don’t want to apply a label to them, perhaps because I’m not consistently seeing people use the same name for those colors. There’s one particular nameless color, a particularly blah blend of green and red, that makes me think if there were more people like me, we’d call it “gred” or “reen” the way typical people have a name for “purple”.

Another example: there’s a particular shade of grey – right around 50% grey – that I see as a kind of army green, again, because one of my detectors is resonating more with the green in the grey. If the world were filled with people like me, we’d have to develop a different set of reference colors.

SO, this made me think that, in parallel to the concepts of “neurotypical and neurodivergent”, we could use concepts like “chromotypical and chromodivergent”. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this: here’s an artist who argues that “colorblind” can be discouraging to artists, and other people think we should drop the typical in neurotypical as it too can be privileging to certain neurotypes.

I’m not so certain I’d go the second route. Speaking as someone who’s been formally diagnosed “chromodivergent” (partially red-green colorblind) and is probably carrying around undiagnosed “neurodivergence” (social anxiety disorder with possibly a touch of “adult autism”), I think there’s some value to recognizing some degree of “typicality” and “norms” to help us understand conditions.

If you had a society populated with people with color axes like me and another society populated with “chromotypical” receptors, both societies would get on fine, both with each other and the world; you’d just have to be careful to use the right set of color swatches when decorating a room. But a person with a larger chromodivergence – say, someone who was wholly red-green colorblind – might have be less adaptive than a chromotypical person – say, because they couldn’t tell when fruit was ripe.

Nevertheless, even if some chromodivergences or neurodivergences might be maladaptive in a non-civilized environment, prioritizing the “typical” can still lead to discrimination and ableism. For those who don’t understand “ableism”, it’s a discriminatory behavior where “typical” people de-personalize people with “disabilities” and decide to make exclusionary decisions for them without consulting them.

There are great artists who are colorblind – for example, Howard Chaykin. There’s no need to discourage people who are colorblind from becoming artists, or to prevent them from trying: they can figure out how to handle that on their own, hiring a colorist or specializing in black-and-white art if they need to.

All you need to do is to decide whether you like their art.

-the Centaur

Pictured: some colorful stuff from my evening research / writing / art run.

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