'I Don't See Color': Why You Should Start

11/06/2015 04:54 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2016
Group of business people standing in row, portrait
Group of business people standing in row, portrait

"I don't see color." This is a phrase I hear often, along with "I am colorblind," used interchangeably and invariably by well-meaning persons of Caucasian descent, who generally wish to convey that race and/or skin color are not foremost in the mind when encountering other human beings. Many people who use the phrase are doing what they know to do to prevent the subjugation of other people. This is a statement of probable good character. They tend to believe that racism can be minimized or even eradicated in union with enough other folks who have adopted the same "colorblind" sentiment.

That prepossession is troublesome.

In the minds of many, racism is often associated with awful thoughts, acts steeped in hatred. In "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," author Peggy McIntosh writes: "I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group." McIntosh was not initially taught to "see color" in others. Most of us were not.

But what if by not seeing color, we detract from the struggle of other human beings who desperately need us to acknowledge theirs? To walk in their shoes? Could acknowledging variances in color, ethnicity and culture allow our eyes to become unveiled to a truth new to us if we are only brave enough? What if the truth isn't about blame-shifting, but could be, instead, a way for us to simply and beautifully evolve? Conversely, what if we unwittingly reside in a society we've so attempted to homogenize in the name of oneness, for the sake of unity, that we've actually been feeding a slithering, subtle snake of a movement so divisive, so systemic, so institutionalized, that it is causing the complete opposite of what any of us intended?

For the purposes of this article, I challenge you to close out everything you think you know about illegal immigration, those damn Liberals, those arrogant Republicans, requested reparations from Black and Native Americans, Obama, the welfare state, "white guilt," all the "what about's...."-- just long enough to consider the ways both stifling and entertaining the recognition of differences could potentially change the core of our existence.

Consider: when one is actually color-blind, he cannot tell the difference between certain colors. There's no point in sitting and staring at them for long; they won't suddenly be defined with the same kind of aesthetic clarity they are for the rest of the populace, so the person most likely accepts what he sees and moves on. He may not ever see an extraordinary hue of velvet red or a fluid azure blue, but had he a choice, would he deliberately choose that condition? Would anyone choose not to see an apex of beauty? This is like selecting a kaleidoscope with only clear crystals that cannot intermingle with others on the spectrum to form the unimaginable.

"I don't see color."

"Not seeing color" results in conversations never had. Not seeing color removes identity from someone who, I can promise you, does not want to lose his identity in any shape or before the eyes of anyone at all. Not seeing color strips away stories, histories, futures. Not seeing color is a one-sided concept: a person of color does not have the power to impress the same sentiment upon another of Euro/Anglo descent. Not seeing color makes everyone a default color: Pretend White.

"I don't see color" is a lie. You see the colors. I see them. Everyday. Whether you decide to mull them over, or ask about them or ignore them, the differences are there for you to see and celebrate.

I write this as a half-Hispanic/Native American, Irish, German, Italian woman who looks as Irish and fair as dear old St. Paddy himself. Mine is a largely Eurocentric point-of-view, because outside of the little racial designation check-boxes on documents that label me as "Hispanic" or "Other," this is how I have been classified. And yes, I see color. All the time, and I find it irresistible not to explore. More often than not, others are happy I desire to do so.

This is only one of a million discussions we should be having with each other about race. Our colors and racial makeup should not be everything, nor everything predicated upon them, but they should be more. We are not far enough away from the era of desegregation to be so careless. "I don't see color" enables avoidance of solid, enlightening discourse, makes us less aware, less informed.

This avoidance doesn't just affect people of color, it also disables and disempowers us all by stripping us of our own ability to shape and enrich our own society. Walking around in the dark causes bumps and bruises, and is entirely unbecoming of a country as progressive and as capable as ours. We shouldn't choose the darkness electively when the opposite could put us all so far ahead.

We must see color. If we don't, we will never, ever understand the walk of anyone who doesn't share the same skin tone or culture, nor will they understand ours. If we don't, we will never understand this society, because we are one palette burgeoning with colors many won't acknowledge.

If we don't, we stand to become estranged from each other, our own society, and in doing so, will become estranged to ourselves.