(Disclaimer: Because I have to say it, please be smart and know I did not write this post about the actual inability to discern colors. I also read an article recently about an Autistic person who cannot discern race; not about that, either. You know what this is about.)
Let me give you a quick thought experiment, an online quiz if you will. What race are the children in this picture:
Answer key to the world’s easiest online quiz: Black, White.
You see race. You see the level of melanin in people’s skin. You know why this picture would be posted with the caption “I don’t see race!” like some kind of hyper-enlightened, hyper-woke person who lives somewhere above everyone else.
Why not choose a picture of children of the same race? Right, because you do, in fact, see race, and everyone else does, too. In White schools all over the country, though, they teach children to say things like “colorblind” and “I don’t see race.” The education system teaches us to ignore differences and create a homogenous society.
Which does not work. Before we get into race, let me guide you to thinking this issue with a more generic issue: bullying.
We all have a child in our life who gets bullied – or a friend who got bullied as a child. Go find that person, ask them what advice their teachers gave them to fight bullying, and if it worked.
No really, if you did not experience profound bullying as a child, literally go find someone who did – or who current does – and ask them what their teachers told them to do about bullying and if that thing did anything to lessen their experience of bullying.
Did you go ask? If you did, good; if not, well, I will answer for you, and my answer will match almost anyone else’s answer.
“Ignore the bully.” “No, it did not help.”
(Honestly, if you did not ask, go ask now. The internet will wait for you to get back.)
Unless you acknowledge the problem and take steps to actually fix the problem – education, rules, enforcement, systemic changes – it will not go away. Without changing who I was inherently and situationally – poor, unathletic, intellectually gifted, weird – bullying would not stop without someone intervening and addressing the problems that allowed it to happen.
And it happened because of what and who I was, not indiscriminately. Only acknowledging reality and changing the system would fix it.
When you say things like, “I am colorblind” and, “I don’t see race,” you only deny the real lived experience of people of color and pretend you have universal lived experience without any connection the privilege of your race.
You deny history. You deny the destruction of Black Wall Street. You deny segregation. You deny chattel slavery of Africans in America. You deny that the very country whose flag you worship got built by enslaved people taken from their homeland and sold as property – and denied their humanity. You deny everything that happened to lead us to this point.
You deny statistics. I know I grabbed a strange source, but I have mostly – if not universally – white readers and the super-white Ben and Jerry’s website has a surprisingly comprehensive set of statistics of racial disparity in the United States.
You deny the lived experience of the beloved Black people in your life.
When you deny these things, you empower those who enforce a system of racism and White supremacy. When you deny these things, you give the system a free pass to keep oppressing people of color. When you deny these things, you allow racism to continue to exist.
Notice I said racism and not prejudice. I did not use the word prejudice for a reason. Humans will have prejudices against people forever. I have prejudices against “woke” pastors, lead pastors, Princeton graduates, and generally anyone in leadership at a presbytery, synod, or denominational level.
Racism requires something prejudice does not: power. Racism in America goes one direction because of power and racial history. This country built itself upon the ideal that white skin = human and dark skin = animal, or less than animal. At its highest ranks, this country still functions on that belief and uses race and prejudice to continue to control.
When you say, “I am colorblind!” you enable the system of oppression to continue, but when you finally acknowledge that no, you are not colorblind because that is impossible, and that you benefit in a lot of ways – safety from the authorities and provided by the authorities being pretty freaking major – systemic racism, you can start helping. When you acknowledge race, acknowledge racism, acknowledge American White Supremacy, and say, “This is not right and I refused to willingly participate in it any longer,” then you threaten the powers that continue to oppress, and you weaken their ability to oppress.
If you want to see this end, if you want to see rioting end and police brutality end, if you want your middle class, White experience of America to be given to all people, then you have to confront reality. It really hurts initially, keeps hurting, and feels really uncomfortable in the best moments – and, when you make some headway in your own journey, it starts to feel hopeless when you watch the world’s journey (or lack thereof) – but only acknowledging and refusing to allow this system to continue will help fix and heal things. You can fight this in your voting, in your speaking out, and, for those in positions of power and authority, in your hiring practices, justice practices, and education practices.
You are not colorblind. Saying you are colorblind empowers the system of racism. You do not get to absolve yourself from the difficult conversations and the reality of your own prejudices by saying this; you convict yourself and show how little you care about the reality of racism and American White Supremacy.
Christians, our savior was murdered by religious authorities, given the permission to murder him by the (likely) White Roman authorities. Do you follow a poor, first century Palestinian Jew who died a horrific and painful death on a Roman cross, or White Renaissance Jesus who looks really buff and powerful nailed to a pristine wooden cross?
If you view racism like you view bullying, do you stop bullying by saying bullies do not exist and you do not see any difference between the bullies and the bullied? No. Stop pretending that, by saying you see no difference between the oppressors and the oppressed – the perpetrators of racism and the victims of racism – you magically fixed all the racism in the world.
I see race, and I want to see how our country can help every race shine brightly without fear.