“I’m color blind, I don’t see race.”
I’ve heard it and read it many times before. It is, whether anyone wants to deny or argue the point, a completely illogical and impossible feat. Surely, the extreme witticisms of the every day contrarian would say, “What if someone is color blind?”
Technically, individuals should state, “I am race blind.” That would make more sense but would still be an outright lie. People, even the most tolerant and righteous individuals, still see race. It is not shameful to categorize, it is shameful to add conditions to categories.
I have many friends and acquaintances. I do not know off-hand the number for the different races and ethnicities that I have befriended and have befriended me, but I would imagine the number is relatively high. I am closer to some of those individuals than I am others. How then did I get to this place?
When my Dad was on a meth bender, incarcerated, or in rehab, it was his black friends stopping by and asking my Mom if she need anything. Money for laundry, gas, or food, my Dad’s black friends were there. However, that is part of my recollection for this article, not for some specific file system in my mind where I feel the need to categorize. It is merely a qualifying statement to create perspective.
The key to “race blindness” is whether our parents, our family and our friends are willing to act as our own personal Oedipus and blind us for the sake of being able to actually see. I would rather be the empathic learner, the individual that will assess others based on what they present to the world from within. It is hard for those that are not raised to appreciate the value of the individual when it is much easier to formulate opinions and label individuals based on something as generic as race.
Imagine if science took the same archaic, lazy approach to labels.
In Chemistry, O=Oxygen, K=Potassium, H=Hydrogen, U=Uranium. Without H mixing with two O’s, life would cease to exists, pool parties would just be parties, and Adam Sandler would have one less movie to his credits. According to doctors, K is pretty important and without it, I would not have an excuse to eat bananas, a fruit rich with potassium. Now, put in me in a room with U and, well, all the H2O and K in the world will not help me. At best I grow a tail, at worst I develop cancer and possibly die.
I listed a few examples from the periodic table of elements. Uranium is not a good element when exposed to it directly. However, when further studied, scientists figured out that uranium can become a solution for energy concerns. It can also be harnessed and used for weapons of mass destruction. I can’t just say Uranium is bad because it kills. Too much of, or in mixture with other elements, all the examples listed can be fatal. If I subscribe to bigoted views and used that “logic” for hating a specific race, I would also have to use that same line of narrow thinking when it comes to chemistry. Down with the elements. (Shortly after that statement, all things composed of elements would be taken from me and I would suffocate because of that pesky combination of two O particles making oxygen.)
Too loose of an argument?
Remember the cute acronym our teachers taught us growing up in order to remember the taxonomy of organisms? My sixth grade science teacher taught me: King Phillip Came Over For Great Spaghetti. (Kingdom – Phylum – Class – Order – Family – Genus – Species). The taxonomy stops after species. You can’t get away from it. When labeling animals, unfortunately for some, there’s no R in the acronym for narrow-minded people to squeeze in race. I know, it’s heart breaking, but sometimes truth and science, two constants that many people ignore because it flies in the face of their own views, cannot be ignored.
I am also aware that many groups have used illogical science to argue matters of race and the biggest example I recall were the Nazis. If that’s your argument, then there’s really no room at the table for your type of discourse. (It may sound exclusionary but if we are talking race, we must discount illogical and self-serving science that argues only on behalf of an exclusionary debate.)
If it is history that we must turn to in order to argue the need for race blindness, then our examples are endless. Olaudah Equiano, a slave that bought his own freedom and became a prominent abolitionist in England, serves as a tremendous example of the equality of man. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a prime example of the commitment and sacrifice one must endure to overcome inequality and hatred. (Yes, he was also a known womanizer but Thomas Jefferson, a revered forefather of America and the author of the Declaration of Independence whose hypocritical words that professed all men are created equal not only owned slaves, he fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.) Great people are not beyond reproach; after all, they are still, according to King Phillip and the rest of his acronym, all part of the same species.
Sadly, race blindness may never be a universally accepted and practiced ideal. Though this Utopian idea may never be the standard for people, I always wonder if somewhere in the Garden of Eden there wasn’t a spotting of crab grass or intrusive ivy. We can labor endlessly trying to root out that which we do not want or we can admire the beauty in that which is already beautiful.
I will never know what it means to be black. I do know what it means to be discriminated against. I’ve walked through GAP and, poetically, had a black employee follow me around because I am tattooed and look more comfortable shopping at Hot Topic than at a store known for its khakis and collared shirts. This does not put me in the same echelon of race discrimination but it is just as maddening. I know what poverty looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes like. As an educator, I’ve attended funerals of young black men shot and killed and sat bedside at the hospital of those students caught in the crossfire of violence. Pundits will argue my experiences are simply more examples of black on black crime. What a convenient argument for a much larger issue.
Poverty is not just a black issue in America. There are droves of white people who are dirty faced, under-educated and neglected that exist only because of welfare. There are those that cheat the system and I say shame on our government for ever getting so big that it would rather let itself spiral into an existence of institutionalized racism than to work towards taking care of its people so those people can work to take care of themselves.
It is impossible to get a straight answer from a racist or a bigot. They know the answer to our questions. They recognize that if they respond honestly, that their provincial views become vessels of intolerable ignorance and hypocrisy. Yes, America has a race problem. No, it will not go away overnight.
I know individuals that are racist and bigoted because of singular events that led them down the path of intolerance. Unfortunately, I too have an experience that I will never shake. At twelve years old, five older teens jumped out of a mini van and beat me with boards, stomped on my face, kicked me, spit on me and laughed. I will never forget those five white faces. Yes, I know it seems unbelievable and wholly impossible, but I was part of white on white crime. Even more outlandish is the fact that not only do I still love white people, I married a white woman. (For the sake of full disclosure, I actually married two white women.)
Before we, as a Nation, continue to debate the issue of race, remember that we respond to the opinions of individuals while lumping them into a much larger group. We want answers and solutions while dismissing the tremendous work that must go into the great shift so many people idly hope and pray for one day. Ignorance is pandemic and though many argue it is a case of histrionics at its worst, we cannot change the past. We must be willing to live proudly in the present and work ferociously to change the future.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSmith215