I used to imagine that I was color blind. Not literally, of course. I know a few people who are color blind and it is difficult for me to imagine seeing the world in only a handful of colors. I’m speaking figuratively of the idea that I could or should be “color blind” to racial differences. I thought this was a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, racial color blindness is meant to be a good thing but the more I thought about it, the more derogatory the term sounded to me. Rather than sharing my thoughts on the matter, I decided to listen to some of my black friends, to see how it felt for them when a white person says that they are color blind.
Here is what I heard from them.
“It feels dismissive. You’re blind to my color.”
“Doesn’t make sense – how can you say you don’t see something that is so much a part of who I am. Are you ashamed of my color?”
“Being blind means you don’t SEE me”
“It would be like being gender-blind. I don’t see gender. I treat everyone the same.To some people they would be just fine with that BUT the majority of people would say NO, see ME as a woman. See my unique beauty and strength. See how different I am from men but yet how I can do just as many things and succeed because I am a woman.”
“A world devoid of color is what color? White. I am not white, and I am. My color is not invisible.”
“It’s like saying ‘I see you, just not that part of you, you know that part that makes us different, that makes me uncomfortable maybe?'”
“White people talk about THEIR color all the time and obsess over it. Who’s pale, whole tan, how long they have to lay out to get darker. Who can’t lay out because they’re just getting red…and yet somehow can tell me, they’re colorblind”.
While we mean to say we don’t judge people based on their skin color, what they hear is that they don’t exist. That we are ashamed of them. That we are afraid of their color. That they are invisible.
When I look at the breadth of color in the world around me, I can’t help but believe that we are meant to notice color and take it in with every breath. Color is not meant to be ignored.
As one of my friends eloquently said, “May we be color-brave, not color-blind”.
Brave enough to see color and not judge.
Brave enough to celebrate differences and not label people.
Brave enough to say, “I see you and you matter to me.”
* For a scholarly discussion on the pros and cons of “color blindness” as it relates to race check out this article in the Atlantic.