The toxicity behind “I don’t see color”

Feature image from @soyouwanttotalkabout

BY CARMEN FANNING

Fanning

In my 21 years of being a Black woman, the number of times I’ve been told “I don’t see color,” as a response when I’m trying to explain something that pertains to my life and my race is truly exhausting.

“I don’t see color,” has become a response of individuals to try and explain they aren’t prejudiced or racist. Although the sentiment is nice, this a tone-deaf response and is causing more harm than good. 

How are we supposed to move forward as a nation and correct the outdated principles of prejudice and institutional racism if there are people who refuse to believe there is even a problem in the first place?

The goal for our society should not be to be “colorblind” and ignore the injustices people of color are facing, but instead to recognize and change. Race isn’t the problem, racism is. To ignore race is the solution when you assume race is the problem, and the issue is so much deeper than that.

The statement “being colorblind” is counterproductive because it belittles the experiences people of color face on a day-to-day basis. 

Although we have progressed as a society, it is ignorant to think the experiences of white people and people of color are not dramatically different.

In 1960 Ruby Bridges became the first African American to desegregate a Lousianna elementary school. As of 2021, Bridges is only 66 years old. We aren’t as far away from segregation and Jim Crow Laws as many might believe. 

If you are not a person of color, you’ve probably heard this term a lot: privilege. It can be easy to become desensitized to the privilege encountered on a daily basis.  And when you see things constantly you can become desensitized to their actual meaning.

Black people experience things such as racial profiling, having someone clutch their bag out of unnecessary fear, and stereotyping. Things white people don’t have to second guess doing such as going for a run or walking down the aisle at a store are examples of their inherent privilege. 

According to Merriam Webster, privilege is “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor: PREROGATIVE.”

It’s privilege that white women don’t have to be concerned about the tone of their voice, how they dress, or how they wear their hair. Imagine having a law over whether it is socially acceptable to wear your natural hair. The Crown Act was created to protect Black women from discrimination based on their hair. It officially became law in July of 2019, only two short years ago. 

Brittany Noble Jones was a news anchor for WJTV, a CBS affiliate news station. After years of straightening and causing damage to her natural hair, Noble decided to wear her natural fro in 2017. Within a month, her boss asked her to change her hairstyle because it was “unprofessional.” 

Noble went to HR and even tried complaining but the company told her it violated company rules of having “shaggy and unkempt hair,” ultimately leading to her termination from the news station. 

In today’s political climate, it is not enough to turn a blind eye to injustices such as the case of Noble with a blanket statement such as “I don’t see color.” It is not enough to have friends of color and ignore the very reality they face every day. It is not enough to be a fan of Black and Brown athletes and cheer their name for a couple of hours, and in the very same 24 hours deny the injustices that come with their existence.

If you claim to not see color, I’m asking that you do. See my color, see the significance that comes with it. I want to make it very clear, Black and Brown are NOT negative, I’m asking you to see the concrete difference in how we are treated and how statements such as these make us feel.

I asked six African American men and women between the ages of 20-24 how it feels when someone says, “I don’t see color.” Out of respect for the individuals and to avoid any issues or backlash, the names will be kept anonymous; however, their responses speak for themselves. 

A 23-year-old male finds the statements very oblivious. 

“It’s like they’re turning a blind eye to social and economic class problems. Because of different backgrounds and upbringings, they don’t understand that minorities have to give more effort than they have to,” he said. “They have outlets for different possibilities and networking. To them, they see it as an equal playing field. As America says, ‘Anyone can make it,’ ‘the American dream,’ ‘Land of the free,’ they tell you that you can achieve it, but they don’t give you the numbers and support behind it.”

In an ideal world, race wouldn’t even be a thought when it comes to the experiences of different racial groups – but that is not the reality. Skin color plays a huge role in decision making, experiences, lawmaking, job opportunities and so much more. Racism hasn’t been expunged but instead, it has contorted.

Image from @chnge

Colorblindness, ignorance, and color passivity all serve to support a white forward society. 

“When I hear people say that they ‘don’t see color’ or that ‘we’re all one race’, I figure that they’re well-meaning but too privileged to be aware of how in-genuine and unoriginal they sound,” a 20-year-old woman said. “I feel like those phrases brush off the serious behaviors and feelings present to act as a feel-good response for white people. Those phrases don’t further the conversation or provide comfort to anyone affected.”

She went on to say that individuals who have only ever gone to predominantly white institutions and claim not to see color rarely care beyond the surface level and either want to applaud themselves for showing some interest or use it to wrap up the conversation.

“None of my close white friends have said that and I think it’s because they aren’t trying to prove how accepting or liberal they are to me or themselves,” she said. “Ultimately, I feel annoyed and uninterested by anyone who says that they don’t see color because I don’t think they’re actually interested in acknowledging how wrong the world really is.”

James Baldwin once said, “The American idea of racial progress is measured by how fast I can become white.”

Another 23-year-old male said, “People that can’t respect and understand diversity don’t understand the world. I feel like that’s a phrase that holds the same weight as ‘All Lives Matter.”

This argument itself is very contemptuous of the Black Lives Matter movement. People tend to think there is a silent “only” in front of Black Lives Matter. The movement was meant to bring awareness and unity to the blatant mistreatment of Black people which is so evident in America.

“All Lives Matter” also inclines that having no color is the default race. That is dehumanizing to people of color. As if we aren’t as important or qualified because of the tone of our skin. There’s already an added stress of being a minority in America. Our skin can be the exact reason why we are killed, not given a job, taught differently, pulled over and so much more.

A 21-year-old woman says she feels “confused,” when she hears microaggressions such as “I don’t see color,” or “All Lives Matter.”

“What do you mean you don’t see color? Do you not see purple, blue, yellow? I feel like that’s ignorant. I think it’s impossible to physically not see color and metaphorically I think it’s impossible not to see race especially with the way structural colorism exists,” she said. “It makes me question why or how because in my life I see color and others see color in the prison, educational, and political system. They literally ask us when we fill out forms what race are you, so everything has something to do with color and race.”

These microaggressions can take a toll on people of color’s psyche and identity. For many, it can cause one to oppose their own culture or deny the validity of their personhood. This strips the very essence and being of a person’s individuality to assimilate to mainstream America’s comfort.

“I think when I hear the phrase ‘I don’t see color,’ it creates the avenue for prejudice without consequence,” a 24-year-old male said. “Taking your stance on a subject matter and justifying it by telling me your judgment was not based off the color of my skin but of some other motive as a means to create some form of ‘fail safe’ way to be racist without actually being blatantly racist. It’s the same tactic of making the counter-argument of says ‘All Lives matter’ over ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

According to this individual, it is possible to acknowledge someone’s race and still not make any prejudiced assumptions based on their degree of melanin.

“It’s almost as if not seeing color’ and ‘seeing color’ is the deciding factor on whether a certain individual can be tagged racist or not,” he continues. “The act of not seeing color has almost created a gray area where you can with prejudice or judge a black man and not face any backlash because of your choice to ignore color. Oh well… what do I know, I’m just a black man trying to survive in this world.”

This article is not meant to be an attack or belittlement of anyone, but what I do ask is for some measure of empathy, comprehension and acknowledgment that life in America is already challenging, let alone the additional challenge of race being an essential part of a person of color’s identity.

“When people say that they don’t see color, in my opinion, they’re looking past the fact that someone is different from them and ignoring everything the race and culture has done for either them or the country in general,” says a 22-year-old female. 

“Seeing color is important because I think it adds value to the opportunities that people of color have and are given,” she said. “Being a person of color doesn’t make me any different from someone who isn’t, but instead I think it makes me want to be the person of color that someone thinks about and makes them recognize how important it is to see my color and see who I am.”

If you don’t see color, you don’t see systemic injustices,
Black excellence
the discrimination me and other people of color face,
My culture,
The ongoing brutality
You aren’t truly seeing me.

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