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Mar 09

Colorblind

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”    1 Corinthians 13:11

Above is one of the few verses I like in a book I despise. I start with an analogy of growth to begin a story of growth.

I grew up with a fairly racist grandfather and a family hell bent on not giving me much exposure to him.  I lived with him for my youngest years but family members always tried to keep us apart.  I would like to imagine that they were trying to shield me from his bigotry but I know it was mostly because he didn’t like me very much. That is ok. He is the one who missed out. I got lucky.

Because of their protection, I came into this world without preconceived notions of racial stereotypes. I was able to go to a school with a fair amount of diversity and find early childhood friends of multiple hues. My first several years of life I was as best what you could call colorblind. Eventually concepts of race distinctions began to creep in. That is not to say that I let those distinctions turn me into a racist. I have a distinct inability to hate without a just cause. Actions are just causes. Race is not. So while I never felt the slightest inclination to view people that did not happen to match my particular color as less or unequal to me, I did start to notice those attitudes in the world.

From the beginning I knew they were wrong.

I couldn’t articulate it as I can today ( I spake as a child), but I knew.

Along with the concepts race creeping in on my life, the ideas and rhetoric of inclusiveness did as well. I began to learn of terms like racism and bigotry. I also learned a new word or rather a new meaning to a learned word.

Colorblind.

Eventually this word would be my holy grail, an endless search for the nonexistent.

Once I knew what it meant to be colorblind, I wanted nothing more than to become it. I understood as a child. I believed it to be possible to revert back to a time where I had no concept of race. I thought as a child. I thought there was something wrong with me that I could not look at the person beside me and not be cognizant of their differences from me. It burdened me the same way that the concept of salvation burdened me. There was an aspect to this whole colorblindness concept that was untouchable, unreachable and I couldn’t understand why. With no one else to blame, I blamed myself.

Eventually I put away childish things. As I grew, as my reasoning grew, I realized that I was wrong in my original assumption that colorblindness could be achieved. I was wrong to think I could simply override all that evolution built into me to recognize the differences in people. I was wrong to try and view everyone as exactly the same.

And I was wrong about the most basic assumption of all.

Colorblindness is something to be desired.

No it isn’t. The only thing colorblindness does is make you blind to systemic privilege. Colorblindness makes it easy to ignore how race-based privilege affects us all by making us blind to the distinctions that coincide with those privileges. How can I tell that my employer discriminates against Hispanics if I am completely blind to race? How can I possibly empathize with the effects of racism on people of color if I cannot see the color everyone else sees?

The very adult truth is that we can’t. The skepticism of adulthood taught me that seeing color is not wrong. Allowing a color to erroneously bias me into unfounded assumptions is wrong.

Attempting to ignore that which we are incapable of ignoring does not make me better and blind. It only makes me weak and bland.

 

 

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