When People Say “I Don’t See Color”

I don’t see color.”

Really? That’s sad. Really sad. So, you don’t notice a bright crimson cardinal flitting through avocado-green leaves on a spring day? You can’t tell the difference between MAC Ruby Woo and Russian Red? Was your wedding dress purple when you thought it was champagne? Or if you are very light complected and after hours and hours of cooking yourself in the blazing sun, you have no idea that your efforts have only made you an angry shade of dusty rose as opposed to the sun-kissed bronze you’ve been working for (Also, don’t do it. Embrace your color—or lack of—before you get skin cancer and wrinkles)?

So, when you see a person of color do you fail to see the beautiful skin tones in every shade from onyx to café au lait? Because if that’s really the case, you live a very sad, bland, and boring existence. Or you have a medical condition that must be addressed (please address it). Because in pretending to see the world in muted shades of gray you fail to see something that is so blatantly diverse, it is literally popping with striking varieties of color everywhere you look.

I get what is trying to be said with those words. But here’s why that statement is not only false, it’s really not helpful.

Saying you don’t see color denies the color of a person and actually upholds racism because that notion erases who they are. (https://www.oprahmag.com/life/relationships-love/a32824297/color-blind-myth-racism/). I can hear the “But Dr. King wanted a world where his children would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, so I teach my children to see people for what they are and not what color they are.” I know what Dr. King said. And this is true—every human being should be regarded for who they are rather than what they look like. But Dr. King wasn’t talking about disregarding the Blackness of his children or the Brownness and Whiteness of their friends.

It’s perfectly ok to notice a person’s skin color and/or ethnicity or to even notice the variations in a person’s outward appearance to ask about their ethnic background. That should be noticed, and it should be acknowledged. It’s all good provided your noticing of and asking questions regarding that comes from a place of kindness and genuine interest in the person as a human being (and if the questions sounds ignorant, you can apologize), and of course, is not inappropriate.

To acknowledge that a fellow human being is a different color than you or has a unique look about them is vitally important. It affirms the beauty in the unique background that person comes from, whether because they hail from a certain part of the world or because they are a gorgeous mix of several parts of the world. I believe human beings are uniquely created beings, not colorless souls bopping around this planet. Their race or blending of races is intrinsically a part of who they are. You can’t dismiss that in hopes that by professing to not notice skin color you are doing a person some holy favor. You are only diminishing one of the most important parts of what makes them great.

Listen, “having racist thoughts does not make you a racist but failing to question your racially-based assumptions does.” (https://www.rd.com/article/why-you-should-stop-saying-i-dont-see-color/). You notice when you enter a room and, in the people, represented there are lots of colors that are different from yours. And that can cause you to make assumptions about where you are, what you are there for, and what the people surrounding you are really like. If you are doing that, you need to address it. Because denying that shows you are actually working harder to look away from a piece of someone’s humanity over anything else. And that’s not right.

See the color. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. Endeavor to understand all that it represents. And most of all, respect it.

You do see color.

America Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum: Part 2

This is part 2 and the conclusion of a discussion I had with Leonie, a German political, historical, and cultural social media creator and graduate student in American Studies. After watching one of her (very accurate) posts I was immediately interested in her observations about our (completely nutty) politics in light of the events of the past four years. Leonie’s insights are astute and very telling; something Americans would be well served to pay attention to.

Wilo:

The growth of the far-right movement in Germany, and clearly here in America. How do you interpret the connection? Trump’s ability to embolden hate groups through his rhetoric—what has that done in your country?

Leonie:

I do think it’s all kind of interconnected. I remember something I found really, really telling. When the Alt-Right party in Germany had their “national meeting,” which of course they had to do in person, because who would do it online during a global pandemic? There were people there wearing Trump 2020 masks. This is the only party that is represented in any parliament that openly supports Trump. They don’t criticize him at all. I’m pretty sure members from every party here so far have only criticized Trump, even our conservative party.

This is a global thing. I have family in Spain and England and friends in Scotland. Everyone that I have talked to, we are all seeing this everywhere in Europe, and yeah in America the far right has gained traction. The night of the insurrection at the capitol I spoke to a colleague of mine, we were like ‘Are you watching this?’ I was watching the Senate debates on C-Span and suddenly something was happening. I switched to a news channel and called and texted colleagues. One of them, who is in critical race theory, said ‘we’ve been saying this for years.’ But you know, we were all ‘snowflakes.’

Wilo:

People see this and ask, ‘Where is all this coming from?’ What do you say about that?

Leonie:

This is a development that we’ve seen before Trump, absolutely. In Germany, way before Trump. I think one of the central problems that we are dealing with is people saying, ‘where is all this racism, anti-Semitism coming from?’ It was never gone. It was never smaller. It has always been there. I’ve seen this coming for years, and I’ve been seeing this shift to the right for years. I do think that in Trump it has found the loudest voice yet. And through the Trump presidency, it has also found legitimacy.

Wilo:

There are many in America who say it was actually Obama who fed the flames. What do you think about that? Do you think the Obama years solely gave the far right the shove they needed?

Leonie:

It’s kind of the same thing as saying ‘where is the racism coming from?’ It was there all along. It was there before Obama. It was there before the Dixiecrats. We can go back, and back, and back in history. So, I do think that a very loud and very radical minority felt threatened by the Obama administration. They felt threatened in their privilege. No, they felt threatened in something they didn’t know was a privilege, and I think most of them still don’t know that.

But if you’re so used to the people in power always looking like you, and never being surrounded with anyone that doesn’t look like you, and never having to empathize with people who don’t look like you; and then someone comes in who doesn’t look like you but now they are going represent you, you feel that this is threatening your way of life, your superiority and that can readily radicalize people.

You still have a lot of people who feel forgotten and then legislation comes in pushing affirmative action, pushing immigration, etc. They feel like they’ve been waiting in line for so long and people are coming and cutting in front of them. And that is the exact narrative that Trump tapped into—the forgotten people. He legitimized their feelings and their fears, no matter how irrational they were and that needs to be addressed in the future. That’s not just going to go away.

Wilo:

So, with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and this very multi-cultural, multi-gendered, multi-aged cabinet, if you were to guess, do you think things are going to get better for us?

Leonie:

I mean, it’s hard to make predictions. I definitely hope so. But this has multiple, multiple steps to it. First of all, I can tell from German history, the past needs to be addressed.

Republicans are calling for unity right now. This is what worries me in these calls echoed by some Republicans and even by Biden. If there’s someone in the field and you’re pretty far from each other and you want to meet in the middle, you move a few steps toward them. But then they move a few steps back and tell you meet in the middle. And that’s basically what the Republican party is doing. Democrats now are where Republicans were a few decades ago.

The United States in general is much further right then Germany, for example. I cannot think of one U.S. representative on a federal level that would be considered left by German standards.

Wilo:

Not even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Leonie:

She would probably be in the social democratic party, but that’s not the left party here. Her views and what she wants [for the U.S.] are standards here. Even our right-wing party wouldn’t dare to call for abolishing universal healthcare.

Wilo:

Back to this hope for unity. Is there really hope?

Leonie:

These calls for unity. Where do you draw the line? With the capital insurrection, wasn’t that the one line crossed where you say, ok. No. That’s a huge problem. I do think a lot of problems could be solved through proper education. If you look at certain history books, there’s a lot of work to be done. It shocked me that are still parts of the United States where its taught that the Civil War was basically about state’s rights.

We all have chapters in our history that aren’t addressed. I think that talking about these issues builds empathy and gives you a much different perspective from these types of discussions. There is so much to be done.

[In addition to the past needing to be addressed], I think the democratic party as a whole needs to reposition itself, and to be completely honest, I don’t think that the political system and the election system, the way it’s working or not working right now in the U.S.—I don’t think can be reformed. The two-party system, gerrymandering, the general election, how districts are drawn, it’s just the entire system. I mean the systemic racism alone that is entrenched in this system can’t be reformed. It all needs to be broken down and built up again. And I don’t think that is going to happen. So, yeah. I’m not super optimistic. I, of course, hope for the best, but I’m prepared for the worst.

Wilo:

You made a video that I was intrigued with, where you talked about the perception of America in Germany and abroad, that we are not this stronghold of democracy anymore. Can you expand on that?

Leonie:

Especially among conservatives, there’s this self-perception of American as this world leader, and it’s something you’ve had for a very long time. We’ve had the United States basically play the world’s police. So, if you take on this position as a global superpower than you also have to deal with the global criticism. This self-understanding of the United States especially by conservatives on the right and far right. It’s just American exceptionalism on the political world stage. Whereas a lot of countries are watching the U.S. right now and we are worried.

We see that a lot of people don’t have healthcare. There’s a homeless crisis going on. And what we see is a country that is unwilling to invest in its people and to invest in growth; that’s more worried about outward appearances internationally than its own people. Let’s hope that changes with this new administration. I don’t want to put anyone down. If I thought that everything about the U.S. sucks, I wouldn’t have dedicated by career to it. I also think that criticism is a form of love. If I didn’t care about the U.S., I just wouldn’t care.

If things continue the way they are right now, the U.S. is going to implode at some point. And that’s in regard to politics, to race relations, in regard to basically every level that you can possibly think of. Things need to change soon. This perception of the U.S. as this global superpower that other countries can only aspire to, um, that has changed. The EU also had a large role in this. Europe is starting to work more and more closely together.

The United States is the last developed country that doesn’t grant its citizens universal healthcare. That’s a medical crisis alone.

Someone posted something along the lines of: “If the U.S. was seeing what the U.S. is doing to the U.S., the U.S. would invade the U.S. to install democracy in the U.S.” I think that summed up the situation pretty well.

***

And on that very apropos note, I hope this has given you something to think about.

A key takeaway for why it’s important to hold our country up to doing better? “Criticism is an act of love.”

True patriots can see the bad about themselves and work for good.