Being color blind
With riots and protests against the deaths/kill-ings of numerous black Americans, I feel compelled to join the voices of common people from around the world. My family may not be multiracial, but I am a mother. I don’t need to be exactly like someone to be able to find common ground with them. I mourn the loss of George Floyd because I am a mother. I mourn the loss of Ahmaud Arbery because I am a mother. Sadly, the list is too long.
The senseless loss and continued prejudice bring to mind two different conversations about racism that I’ve had with friends. Both were from people I considered to be worldly and intelligent. Please keep in mind just because these stories sound familiar, doesn’t mean I’m writing about you or your neighbor. It means that these are common myths about our society presented to a white woman living in America.
One person labeled himself as color blind. He believes that he doesn’t see people’s color when he works, plays, or converses with people of different races. I asked him if he is also hijab blind or eye/hair color blind? The reason I bring up those physical identifiers is that you actually have to be blind to not be able to see how people look and dress.
In our household, the only person who can call himself colorblind is my son and that is because he has a genetic condition where he actually can’t see certain colors on the full-color spectrum. Yet even he can see skin tone. I’ve always felt that denying someone’s skin tone is denying who we are as people. We are all different. I’ve tried to teach my children to appreciate the individual look of someone. It shouldn’t matter the color of our skin. But it does matter, doesn’t it? I do understand that this person was implying that he treated all people the same regardless of skin color. I disagree. When we can’t acknowledge that we are all different, we can’t learn from one another. What do I have to learn from someone who looks like, acts like, and is exactly like me? Nothing. By promoting the myth of being colorblind, we are already ignoring racial disparities.
The other conversation concerned the nonexistence of racism in small towns. What? Racism is everywhere people are located. Racism is part of our language that we’ve learned from friends and parents to products that still line our grocery shelves. It’s the “just kidding” aspect of name-calling where we don’t have to place ourselves to a higher standard because of our sheltered community. Being from a small community makes racism easier to exist and grow because there are very few checks and balances. We can become so comfortable in our existence that thoughts of what is acceptable become deeds.
For me and my family, I want us to continue to be uncomfortable. I want us to understand that all our actions and deeds have consequences. I want us to learn and grow and never accept that we know everything. I want us to reach out if someone needs help and to call out if someone isn’t treated fairly. I don’t want to be stagnant or complacent. I want us to use what we were given by birth without our knowledge or acceptance. I want to use the color of my skin to protect another mother, another child, another family from another senseless loss.
For anyone wishing to help their children see skin tone, Lakeshore Learning has been making People Colors crayons for at least 25 years. (My kids used them growing up. FYI, I’m the color of toast.) Crayola just came out with its own version. Local organizations like John Brown Lives, Adirondack Diversity Initiative, and North Country Standing Up For Racial Justice are constantly providing opportunities for rural communities to unite against racism. We can all do better.