I used to be that girl—you know, the one who “doesn’t see color.”
Admittedly, at a point in time, that was me.
Whether a race-related debate on social media or through a conversation with friends, I was quick to say, “but I don’t see color! I love everyone for who they are on the inside,” as if this statement was automatic proof that I wasn’t racist.
Whew…thinking I was doing others a world of good with that comment.
Like the late, great Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better,” and she was absolutely right.
In a sense, “I don’t see color” sounds…flowery. “I don’t see color” seems like an equality-based statement, and it’s often a go-to phrase when people want to minimize the strain of racism. However, the truth is, choosing not to see color is choosing to dismiss the history, identity, truth and culture that echo through the millions of people of color in the United States and across the world.
People with very good intentions have said this phrase, but what I came to understand is that this statement actually across as communicating “if you don’t see my color, you don’t see me.” That message is certainly not what anyone should be forced to internalize. The sentiment behind this commonly shared phrase is simply not helpful.
In truth, it’s problematic.
Why seeing color is important
When we choose to see color, we acknowledge racism and its many layers. When we choose to see color, we identify the cause of race-related hate crimes and racially profiled situations, too. When we opt against seeing color, we not only push away the truths of the past and present, but we fail to recognize the fear, anxiety and deep-rooted pain in our African American and Hispanic counterparts. When we opt against seeing color, we fail to show up, make a change and improve the climate of the culture.
People of color not only encounter subtle racism with phrases such as “I don’t see color,” but they also feel inherent stress from mainstream culture and its respective naivety to these stressors. Everyday comments, despite their unintentional stings, reveal harmful messages toward marginalized groups.
“There’s only one race—the human race!”
“I don’t see color!”
“I’m not racist. I have black friends.”
These statements are just a few of the microaggressions I’ve downplayed in the past, comments I thought were—dare I admit—inclusive. Yet, they are anything but encompassing or covert. These are overtly racist triggers that perpetuate stress and produce harmful emotional effects.
Without seeing color, we can’t work toward eradicating human mistreatment because we aren’t acknowledging the reasons these issues exist—one’s skin color.
If we dismiss the experiences and stressors of racism that plague this world, both individually and on a large-scale level, we are unknowingly electing not to do the work in righting these wrongs.
Not only was there a time when I used those above-mentioned statements, but there was a time when someone educated me on the toxicity of those statements, too. I thank God for that person’s grace and patience, as they guided me from a space of harmful cluelessness to a place of awareness.
Let us self-reflect and continue to educate ourselves to be sure that our personal and collective narratives do not strip away someone’s identity or deny anyone of their cultural truths. After we self-reflect, may we stand as allies and focus our attention on the community, as opposed to ourselves, so that we may elicit change to this long-standing battle.