Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Myth of Being Colorblind

I've often heard it said from well-meaning individuals that they are "colorblind." The reality is that we live in an extremely race-conscious society in the United States. I honestly don't think it's possible for an individual to escape the legacy of race that has been passed down throughout our country's history and not be affected by it in some way. Many people may claim to be colorblind, but once their daughter brings home an African American date or they get lost in another part of town that is made up of those different than them, the "colorblindness" quickly fades to the back as their personal prejudices bubble to the surface.

In my experiences, I've found that there are two sorts of colorblindness that people refer to -- one of these is good, the other...not so much. First, there's the notion of being able to see beyond someone's race or ethnicity in order to treat them with fairness, justice and equality. This is a good thing. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. Referred to in his "I Have a Dream" speech when he envisioned the day that his children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." To treat individuals as individuals and not mistreat them based on stereotypes or racist notions is something that we should all strive for.

Secondly, there's the mindset of colorblindness where people claim to not notice someone's skin color. These are typically the same people who proudly proclaim that "there's only one race -- the human race -- and that's all I see." Because racism is seen as such a horrible sin in our culture, many white people do everything they can to distance themselves from any accusations of racism. Thus, the comments of "one of my best friends is black" or "I don't have a racist bone in my body" become the punchline lines for jokes in our ethnic communities because they hear these lines so often. It amazes me that evangelicals that firmly believe in the sinfulness of man, and can readily admit their own struggles with pride, lust, greed or jealously, cannot acknowledge even the remotest possibility that they may have personal prejudices towards ethnic minority groups.

The reality is that America has a wicked and atrocious history when it comes to race. Racism is an unfortunate part of our country's history...and it continues into today. Though we've made many strides, racism is certainly not a thing of the past. To assume that we have grown up in a country that has a history like ours and feel that we remain untouched by it personally is both delusional and naive.

Because of our history, white people can struggle with a superiority complex and those of ethnic minority groups can suffer from self-hatred. When a white person claims to be colorblind, that can be interpreted as wanting others to lose their distinctiveness and just become like them. This is why I don't like America being referred to as a melting pot. I much rather prefer to view America as a stew. You see, a stew is a dish with distinct ingredients that each have their own flavor. But when you put all these ingredients together, it tastes better. But a carrot is still a carrot; a piece of beef doesn't become an onion. Each ingredient retains its own qualities.

So, instead of us attempting to be "colorblind", we need to learn to do two things. First, we need to recognize, celebrate and esteem the diversity in our cultures. By not ignoring our differences, but by embracing them, we can appreciate one another's backgrounds and values. God made our people groups uniquely different and the ability to appreciate those different than us is a wonderful thing.

Second, while celebrating our cultures, we need to acknowledge that people are individuals and not assume that just because some is of a certain ethnicity that we can predict behavior or "pigeonhole" them based on stereotypes. Not all black people like hip-hop; not all Asians are proficient in karate; and Lord knows, I don't like country music. We can appreciate and value the differences between our cultures, yet still allow individuals be who God made them uniquely to be.

This combination of celebrating diversity and allowing people to be themselves can move us forward in helping to share the love of God with millions of people that need to meet the One who made them.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article...however, I have also found that we are color blind with in colors...that is to say when we speak of racist we think of black vs white. We don't always think of Native Americans which are one of the more oppressed peoples in America.

scottmcrocker said...

I do agree with you that Native Americans are oftentimes neglected and ignored. Because there are only about 2 million American Indians, they are underrepresented in government and the media. It could be reasonably argued that their problems are the greatest of any ethnic group in America -- the suicidal and alcoholism rates are quite disturbing. My experiences have been primarily with African Americans and that is what I comment on most frequently, but I do think your comment is true.