Yes, Race Matters…Kinda

A response to a reader who asks "What's wrong with being colorblind?"

Recently I wrote an op ed at the Federalist about a stupid Gap ad that had all the special snowflakes and social justice warriors in a tizzy for supposedly being racist. In that piece I said that while race shouldn’t be an obsession, it makes me laugh when people say they don’t see color. An engaged reader named Jason was curious about that statement and he took the time to write to me and ask me about it. Here’s a snippet:

You said you laugh when people tell you that they don’t see color.  It made me laugh because I really don’t see it…I could care less the color of someone’s skin.  There’s way too many important things in life to deal with to focus on crap like someone’s skin color.  But when you said you laugh at that statement, and knowing I’ve said it, it made me wonder.… I understand some would use “I don’t see color” as a crutch to avoid comfortable discussions…but for me, that’s really how I am.

First – thank you, Jason for your curiosity and taking time out of your day to write me. I’m glad you asked.

When I say that, I don’t mean that I think everyone is secretly racist or bigoted. I most certainly don’t mean that race should be the first thing you notice or the first judgment you make upon meeting a person. You and I agree that of course it is ridiculous and even offensive.

However, I find the idea of being “colorblind”, at the very least culturally…clueless (for lack of a less harsh word). I might add that I only ever get this inquiry from white people (and I do get it quite a bit). I have never, not once in all my years as a writer and pundit, heard this from a black person or Asian or anyone who isn’t white. I suspect this is because as the “dominant” culture, modern white Americans don’t think much about what race means to other people. They don’t need to. Also, within white America are housed many different cultures – Polish, German, Italian…the list goes on and on. Race isn’t the same thing as culture to them.

It’s the opposite for black people. For better or for worse, our culture is tied to our race. Even those from different regions share common factors. We see things through that lens. Sometimes, when black people hear someone say “I don’t see your race” what they hear is “I don’t see your culture.” It’s not a good thing or a bad thing…it’s just a thing.

I don’t want you to think of me as “black” every time you think of me, and you’ve made clear that of course you don’t. Thank you. But I also don’t want you to pretend I’m not black. I’m proud to be black. I love my community and all the culture and craziness housed within. Being black in America has a lot of other issues that come with it. Just like being white.

Don’t you hate being blamed for all of humanity’s cruelty? Don’t you hate being the scapegoat for every missed opportunity or the money woes of others? Those things happen because you’re white. So yes, your race matters. It’s a piece of who you are, not the totality.

I find many white Americans are unwilling to admit that race means something to other people. That doesn’t mean that it has to mean everything. If you’re a regular reader of my work you know I speak strongly against race-baiting and obsessions.

You say you don’t see race at all but I don’t believe you. It’s just that it doesn’t affect how you see people and you think that’s the same thing. If you were describing your friend at work who happens to be black you would eventually use that term in your description. “Oh you know Jerry, don’t you? Tall guy, black guy? Always wears work boots in the summer?”  You know darn well Jerry’s black. If you went to a cookout at his house you would see all kinds of differences from a BBQ at your Aunt Harriet’s (I always imagine every white person has an Aunt Harriet).

It’s ok. Knowing that Jerry is black isn’t judging him because he’s black. It’s simply appreciating his differences as part of the fabric of this great nation.

God made the human race in an incredible array of colors. You would never think to look at a rainbow and say “I don’t even see color when I look at that rainbow.” Of course not! Color is what makes the rainbow so astonishing in the first place.

We don’t need to run from that. That’s all I’m saying.

I hope I’ve cleared this up a bit, or at least explained myself. Thank you again so much for your email. As long as people like you and I keep asking the hard questions the future looks bright.

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3 comments

  1. AnnieLiz Reply

    Thank you for this Kira. I’m white so of course I see things differently than you or my friends Loan, Ruth or Trina … You have your lens, I have mine, Loan’s heritage is Taiwanese and that is her “lens”, Ruth’s heritage is Mexican and that is her “lens”. Trina is Black and that is her lens. But for me, those cultural lenses are just that and they’re fascinating. They keep things interesting. We have far more in common that we do in differences but those differences are worth sharing and celebrating when appropriate. Thank you for acknowledging people are not necessarily being racist by noting cultural identifiers.

  2. AnnieLiz Reply

    Thank you for this Kira. I’m white so of course I see things differently than you or my friends Loan, Ruth or Trina … You have your lens, I have mine, Loan’s heritage is Taiwanese and that is her “lens”, Ruth’s heritage is Mexican and that is her “lens”. Trina is Black and that is her lens. But for me, those cultural lenses are just that and they’re fascinating. They keep things interesting. We have far more in common that we do in differences but those differences are worth sharing and celebrating when appropriate. Thank you for acknowledging people are not necessarily being racist by noting cultural identifiers.

  3. Jason Wert Reply

    Hi Kira. Thank you for the discussion. 🙂

    “It’s just that it doesn’t affect how you see people and you think that’s the same thing.”

    That sums it up perfectly…amazing when you have discussion how you can find simple solutions to things. 🙂

    It’s impossible not to see someone is a skin color, whatever it may be. Well, unless you’re blind. Hey! That’s another question! What if… (just kidding)

    I appreciate what you’re saying about culture being tied to color. I honestly just don’t think of “white culture” when I’m going through my day. When I was a kid, I saw a movie where a character said “any man who judges a person by their race is a pee-wit. You take a man one at a time.” I’ve kept that as my creed through most of my life and I realize how your subtle but significant difference in how I view the world. Impact vs. recognition. Similar, subtle but not identical.

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