Thursday, November 04, 2010

Should Color-blindness Be The Goal?

Back in February a friend of mine described a situation that made her sad. The platform was her Facebook page. The subject was colorblindness, or lack thereof. In relation to race.

This friend is a white woman who is married to a black man from Africa. They have two young daughters. We have been friends with them for probably at least 13 years, since they were just dating. They are lovely people.

The friend described a situation where she had her three year old daughter plus a friend at a play place in the mall. Her daughter accidentally ran outside the boundaries of the play area, and the mom was not aware of it. A man within the area said to her, "Ma'am, is that black girl with you?" (I assume he was trying to alert whatever adult was responsible for the child that was getting out of the safe area.)

So, the fact that the man described her daughter as black caused my friend to be sad, because she thought we were not supposed to "see color" in our country now.


She had a ton of comments from people who saw this man's comment as ignorant, cruel, rude, stupid, and many other negatives. They wondered why didn't he say, "Is that little girl wearing purple with you?" or, "Is that beautiful little girl with you?"

Honestly, I thought it was absurd.

Here's a guy in the play place, trying to watch his own kid, and he sees a child getting out of the play area and no adult seems to be aware. He's looking around, trying to figure out which adult goes with the child. He makes a guess, and asks my friend if the child is with her. Except he dares to use the description of her apparent race.

He's a guy, for goodness sake. He's not going to mince words and describe her as "the girl in purple" any more than he's likely to notice her cute shoes or red hair bow. He's not going to risk seeming creepy by describing a stranger's child as "beautiful" or "adorable." This is Kentucky, you know. The guys are pretty down-home about stuff.

I wasn't aware that there was some move in society that actually discourages us from admitting that we can even *see* race. For some reason people OF COLOR are allowed to see race. I read and hear comments from people "of color" all the time that say racially distinctive things like, "For a white boy, he sure can play ball" or "for a white girl, she sure does have soul" or "I'm a strong Latino woman!" And then let's not forget Black History Month, or various black achievement awards. Why are these things ok, but a man describing a child as a black girl a horrible thing?

The idea that our society should be color blind is, to me, one that hasn't been thought through. It's like the short-lived "African-American" title, which quickly reverted to "black" (since not many "black" people living in this country have ever been African). There's nothing wrong with being whatever race or color that you are. When used solely as a description, there is no stigma or judgment attached to it. Choosing to be offended where none was intended is wrong.

Today a different friend on Facebook expressed her frustration of wondering if we are truly trying to be a color-blind society, why are surveys asking about our race? She was somehow equating this with inequality.

Again, it set off my BALONEY meter. Here is what I wrote:

I have seen people siting that we are "supposed to be a color-blind society" as a reason to be offended when people do still see color. I guess seeing color or identifying someone by color does not strike me as the same thing as not seeing people as equals. I was a part of a discussion about this awhile back and I am still trying to understand the point of view of those that posted there.

In the case of a survey, there are many pieces of demographic information collected such as race, income level, educational level, and zip code. All of these things are used, but I don't find it offensive that someone would identify me as a part of a larger group of people that I have factors in common with. Maybe it's true and maybe it isn't. That's the survey person's problem, not mine. :) Surely some surveys find that there are sharp differences between people that seem to fall along lines of these factors or others. Right? Are we supposed to pretend that people living near a border crossing would not have different opinions about immigration than people living far from the realities of the situation? Of course there is a difference. Same with a lot of other things.

Yes, humans share a lot in common. We also have a ton of variety. The point of most surveys is to understand where the varieties are and which groups of people tend to have which opinions.

The other day one of my daughter's friends at school made a comment, in jest, remarking that she was "such a white girl." We find stuff like that funny, not offensive. (and I felt vindicated that we had yet another example of my belief that Yes indeed, people do point out the whiteness of people, not just other colors or races. This is not automatically a put-down. Noticing the color of others is not a bad thing. I fear that this color-blind agenda is actually causing people to feel less comfortable around people of other colors, because they are not sure what is ok to say, if they constantly have to pretend that we are all the same color, and are unsure if they can ask questions pertaining to racial heritage or experience. I feel like it is a bad move that is not actually in favor of people being united. In this country, part of what our unity needs to be includes accepting and acknowledging differences and various heritages, not pretending they don't exist and don't matter. Each piece of the differences contributes to the whole.

I have no desire to live in a color-blind society. I do not believe that it would be positive or uniting for our society at all. Mutual respect does not mean that we must ignore differences. The end.


Alana said...

Bravo, well said! I agree, 100%.

Anonymous said...

Good for you!