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Don't Say That Because You Do

“I don’t see color, or I was raised not to see color,” declare so many whites who are working hard to be conscious and progressive. It is a noble proclamation, but don’t say it because you cannot help but see color in a society organized around skin color and race as ours happens to be. Thus you need to remove that sentence from your vocabulary and never use it again if you truly wish to proclaim your intention to be open to relationships and friendships with people of every color.

The major problem with such a notion is that first of all, it is not true because it is impossible to look at someone and take in who you are seeing without seeing the color of their skin. Actually it is usually what we notice initially. Along with this, if you were encountering me for the first time and made the deliberate choice to ignore my skin color, it would amount to making the decision to ignore an important part of my personhood. My skin color matters though race is an illusion. It matters because we live in this world where it has been made to matter and in order to honor the way in which I have had to navigate that reality makes it important to acknowledge that my skin is not white. It is equally as important to acknowledge that it does not define my total being and that it does not make me more or less valuable than anyone else on the planet. So, when whites say,” I don’t see color,” the hope is that their intention is to make it clear that they do not want skin color to determine their interactions with folks who are not white and that they wish to see people as humans with whom they want to engage.

Think with me about this for a bit. The way in which we have developed our country along lines of difference and the role that skin color has played in that development and continues to impact so much of our life together cannot be put aside as a non-issue. And proclaiming that you don’t see color appears to depict a desire to do that which is something only a white person can attempt. People of color have no such luxurious privilege. There is no escaping the way in which a person of color will be engaged in the daily journey of living life with skin color. There is really nothing that we can do about that, the reactions and responses that come our way are mostly not based upon our behavior, but so many times seemingly more upon the mere fact of skin color. Of course we can work to manage how we respond, but we cannot avoid micro aggressions and macro-ones and all of the other ways in which life is complicated simply on the basis of skin color.

It is interesting to think about what life would be like without the skin color dynamic to consider. My personal experience with that was during the time that I spent in West Africa. I realized for the first time in my life that folks were not relating to me on the basis of my skin color because for the most part, black and brown people were the only folks that I saw. So to be able to think, “nothing is going to happen to me today on the basis of my skin color” was truly a virgin thought and it was liberating. If there was any projection it would have been around my being a foreigner and as long as I was silent, folks rarely thought of me in that way because I looked so kin to them. And in addition to that, they imagined me as their sister who had returned home. It was truly an amazing space to occupy for those short periods of time that I spent in Gambia and Senegal, W/Africa.

The point is that it is important to acknowledge who is in front of you and that includes their skin color, their clothes, and everything about them. This is the first step in saying, come and walk with me and let me see who you are and what this encounter might mean for us both. It is important to be prepared to pay attention to what they tell you about their identity, and to listen to them with all of your capacity to do which begins with that initial acknowledgement of the color of their skin and what that means in our journey together.

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