This past week I have had the opportunity to reflect (again) on the way we have been taught to not see skin colour – specifically, the way we have been taught to not see non-white skin colour. Somewhere along the line someone decided that this would be a good idea, and would show acceptance. It does not.
Not seeing someone’s colour means you are ignoring an important part of who they are. And, more insidious, it means you also are not really seeing the negative impact of not being White in a world that values Whiteness.
This tendency to really see people goes beyond race to all marginalized groups, but I’m choosing to focus on race because I’m brown, and because people actually say things to me and other racialized people like “I don’t see your colour” or “your colour doesn’t matter to me” or “I don’t even notice you are Black/Brown” – like it’s a good thing.
I’ve been pondering this for quite some time, and I recognize that it’s difficult to see and understand the importance of something we have no concept of personally.
If you are White, you live in a world where YOUR skin colour doesn’t matter. You don’t have to think about it, question if it’s the reason you are experiencing barriers, and more devastating, feel and see the impact of the devaluing of who you are – simply because of the colour of your skin.
So it stands to reason that you will not understand the importance of recognising skin colour in this world. Preferring, instead, to believe that saying it doesn’t matter makes our experience like yours. It does not.
I understand where the impulse comes from – my mother is White and I have heard this phrase from her a few times in my life. I know she loves me, and I know she is trying to say, in a way, that although the world may see me differently and treat me negatively because of my brown skin, she doesn’t stop there and sees me. That’s beautiful. But incomplete. Because my skin colour is an integral part of who I am. And if you’re not seeing it, you’re not seeing all of me.
As parents, colour blindness is even more devastating because we have an added responsibility to help our children navigate the world. And when our children are not White, we have to teach them to navigate a world where racism is alive and well. If you have a brown or Black child and you are not doing this, you are doing them a disservice. You are missing the opportunity to instill a vital skill for them to thrive – and in some cases, to survive.
In the context of child welfare, foster parents and adoptive parents who are White take on Black and brown kids and believe – really believe – that love is enough. Yes, love is SO important. But it is not enough in the world and context we live in today that sees, values, and treats people differently based on the amount of melanin in their skin.
Love is a really great start, but we have to really recognize experiences and lived realities – ours and other people’s – in order to be able to support each other and create change. To do that, we have to really see and acknowledge people for who they are: all of them, because it all matters.
To learn more about this in a parenting context, please listen to my interview with Judy Stigger of Adoption Learning Partners on Transracial adoption (when you get to the page, scroll down to Nov. 20, 2015).
In the context of other relationships, it’s colour blindness is dismissive and we miss so much about each other, as well as opportunities to connect, and to be allies.
And I want to add that what I’m saying here is not to be confused with a belief in how things should be. Skin colour shouldn’t be a predictor or disparity. But saying you don’t see colour in a world that so clearly does, doesn’t change this. Seeing colour and being an ally in outlook, word, and deed is what will help to make the world an equitable place for people of all skin colours. Educate yourself about racism and anti-Black racism. Be an ally. Speak up and stand up. Make a difference because you see colour and the devastating impact of being racialized in a world that values Whiteness.