Note to my white self…

You are not color blind.

I know you want to be.  You think being color blind is your goal.  You were taught that an equitable society is one where everyone is judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.  Convinced of this principle, you’ve spent years trying to evaluate every person, behavior and situation without reference to their color.  Unfortunately, while this commitment has kept you from blatantly racist behavior, it has not altered the deeply embedded prejudices within you, prejudices of which you are often unaware.

Every day, you make judgments about people based on the color of their skin.  When a black man in a hoodie approaches you on the street, you’re nervous.  When a passenger on an airplane speaks Arabic, you’re suspicious.  When you meet a Latino, you assume they’re illegal.  You do this so quickly and unconsciously that you can’t avoid it.   Though you may feel guilty after having such thoughts, you are not color blind.

Nor should you be.

Striving to be color blind is unnecessary.  People of color want to be seen for who they are.  Their race and ethnicity is not some deformity you should politely ignore.  It is part of their identity.  Ignoring the color of their skin isn’t noble.  Indeed, in a nation plagued by systemic racism, being color blind can actually make the situation worse.

If you’re color blind, you may not see the inordinate number of black men who have been incarcerated.  You’ll miss the injustice of Muslims being profiled by airport security.  You won’t see the inequities in how people of color are treated by the police.  If you’re color blind, you may assume the color of their skin had little to do with their mistreatment.

Sadly, being color blind is a white luxury.  People of color can’t afford it.  They can’t assume the white police officer will treat them fairly.  They can’t expect their efforts and achievements to be as valued by their white bosses.  They can’t depend upon getting a fair trial in a system run by white prosecutors and judges. Assuming that people with white skin will treat them equitably is naïve at best and dangerous at worst.  They know color matters.

So stop claiming you’re color blind.  When you do so, people of color have every right to be suspicious.  They know when someone claims to be color blind, they can expect to be blamed for whatever happens next.  “The fact that you didn’t get the job had nothing to do with you being a person of color.  You were simply unqualified”  “The reason I pulled you over had nothing to do with race.  I pulled you over because of your broken taillight.”  “The reason we’re not renting to you isn’t racial profiling.  It is solely because by your credit rating.”  It is the pretense of color blindness that justifies so much of our present systemic racism

Here is what you need to understand.  No matter how much you try, you are not color blind.   Striving to be color blind distracts you from the vastly more important task of being aware of injustice and inequality.  Pretending to be color blind is often camouflage for racism.  What the world needs is not more people who are color blind, but more people who see and acknowledge how race and ethnicity influence personal and societal attitudes and actions.

Think about it.  In every other aspect of life, being blind isn’t something to brag about.  It is a loss and an inadequacy.  We mourn our blindness for it diminishes the quality of our life.  When we celebrate, it is because “we were blind, but now we see.”

 

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