Welcome to Let’s Talk About That! The pieces in this series cover hard questions and topics. Some are educational. Others are personal experiences straight from the person who lived it. You will be challenged, moved and maybe even angered. One thing I ask, please read to the end. You might be tempted to skim or stop halfway through. Don’t. Amazing things happen when we take the time to listen to the hurts and heart of another.
Sharing our stories and experiences is crucial to cultivating compassion and empathy. It’s hard to hate up close. When we take our shoes off to walk in the footsteps of someone else, we gain a better understanding for what they’ve been through. We learn what it felt like for them and how it affected their identity. By taking the time to listen with the intent to learn, we begin to deepen relationships, birth empathy and move towards reconciliation. But it has to begin with a conversation. A question. And there has to be a safe space to authentically share. That’s exactly what this space offers. So kick off your shoes and Let’s Talk About – Colorblindness.
What is Colorblindness?
Colorblindness is a the idea that racism is no longer an issue and we are all the same. Those who follow this ideology “don’t see color” implying all people have the same opportunities, advantages and privileges. Some common phrases associated with colorblindness are:
“I don’t see color.”
“We’re all the same.”
“People are just people.”
“Color doesn’t matter to me.”
“I just see you as __________ (fill in the person’s name).”
Meet “Whitley”. She asked I not use her real name. For many, it’s very hard to share their personal experiences. It takes a lot of vulnerability and honesty. Even more, it requires them to relive a painful situation they would most likely prefer to forget. Yet, Whitley is willing to endure the discomfort of her memories because she knows the deep value in having this conversation. I will always honor the request of my guests if they prefer to keep their identity private.
Whitley is in her mid 40s and identifies as biracial (one parent is Black and the other is White). She has lived most of her life on the west coast. Although she’d lived in large, diverse communities, she still has encounters with discrimination.
I asked if she’d be willing to share an experience with us. Here is our Q & A.
“Did you have a history with the person?”
“Yes. Our close friendship became distanced at the height of the racial tensions in our country back in June 2020. Instead of talking about these tensions, both of us distanced ourselves from each other. Nothing was said or done to warrant the distance, but we both felt it.”
“What happened to strain your friendship?”
“While having a conversation to address the distance, she said, ‘I don’t see you as ethnically different than me. When I describe you to others, I don’t say ‘that person of color over there’. I just see you.’ I thought the distance we were experiencing had to do with unspoken racial tension. Her statement confirmed my assumptions.”
This is very common . Many people of all ethnic backgrounds struggle to see the importance of another’s culture and ethnicity as an identity factor. Over the past several decades, our society has valued the idea of unity (we’re all the same) over recognizing we are not the same. We each experience the world in different ways. Yet, rather than allowing those differences to divide us, we should learn about them, embrace them & celebrated them.
“How did her comment make you feel?”
“It caused me to wonder why they didn’t see my color. Were they uncomfortable with our differences? Did they think I was uncomfortable with our differences? Was this statement partly informed by society’s pressure to practice political correctness? Initially, I felt a little frustrated, as I believe God desires us to celebrate each other’s uniqueness; not assimilate into one blended category.”
“Has there been any further attempt to communicate / reconcile?”
“Yes. Recently, we met to have a conversation. Although never easy, these conversations are necessary if we are to move towards a deeper level of understanding. We were able to listen to one another. I expressed that we experience life differently based on our difference in color. She expressed that everyone has different experiences regardless of their race. I ended up feeling misunderstood. However, I’m hopeful to continue this conversation with her and have the opportunity to understand each other a little more, knowing that this friendship is precious and has plenty of room for future, grace-filled conversations surrounding race.”
“How do incidents like this make you see your own identity?”
“It actually reinforces what I believe about creation’s purposeful and unique design. I am more frustrated by an ideology that says we are the same.”
Where do we go from here?
These stories aren’t easy to read. However, they are necessary. We have to be willing to listen in order to learn. We have to be willing to share in order to teach. So what’s next for you? Maybe it’s time to be brave and have a conversation with the person your’ve been avoiding. They might not understand the powerful effect their words have on you. It won’t be an easy conversation, but it’s not easy hiding who you are or walking on egg shells either.
We have to be willing to listen in order to learn. We have to be willing to share in order to teach.
Maybe your next step is to become more aware. How do you see people of color? Do you see them as all the same? What phrases come to mind when you think of race? What steps could you begin to take to learn and celebrate the ethnic and cultural diversity of those in your circle of influence?
We all have work to do, areas of unconscious bias that need to be addressed. But together, when we are open, honest and willing to learn, we can use our experiences to propel us towards compassion, empathy & action. So let’s keep talking about it!
For additional examples of what people experience when confronted with colorblindness, read this article at The Every Girl.
Learn more about being colorblind, as well as, additional terms & resources in my FREE Beginner’s Guide to Racial Reconciliation