The phrase “I don’t see color” started off with good intentions from well-meaning allies to communities of color. And for awhile, it worked — erasing the glaring objection of race from conversation and vision seemed to help add to our post-racial society and acceptance of one another.
But today, the phrase “I don’t see color” is dangerous. Here are just a few reasons why:
When you say you don’t see color, you’re saying you don’t see race and therefore racism or the negative effects of it.
If you’re white and claim you “don’t see color,” you’re kind of claiming that you don’t see your own whiteness, the effects of it, or the systemic benefits of being white. You’re not seeing how one culture oppresses all other cultures.
Not seeing color is like saying there’s something negative about being something other than white, and that it’s a problem that needs to be ignored.
There is a reason this phrase is never used when acknowledging those who are white or white passing because being white is our society’s norm while people of color are considered “other.”
If you say you don’t see color, you’re also ignoring the accomplishments and successes of people of color in a society that systemically tries to keep people of color down economically, socially, and personally.
Ignoring or dismissing the importance of race is a privilege that few people have.
By simply saying you don’t see it, you’re saying that it lacks importance or should not have any. This is not completely false, it is idealistic.
Race is a social construct, a coded language assigned to lift certain groups up and keep certain groups down. The effects of that construct are still alive in our society today, and many of us do not have the luxury of just ignoring its existence. Our lived experiences are a testament to the struggles we have faced simply because of our race.
So what can you say instead?
Start by fully acknowledging the race of individuals, their identities and their true selves head on. It is not racist to acknowledge someone’s racial makeup. It is acknowledging the history of their racial identity, their struggles as a person of color and their accomplishments and drawbacks in the present day.
There is respect in acknowledging that we do not live in a perfectly accepting world but we’re doing what we can to face and change that. You cannot begin to make changes for people of color if you cannot acknowledge the importance of their identity in the first place.
Read and research literary texts, documentaries, and listen to personal stories of people of color without judgment. Learn about the history of our cultures and respect the similarities and differences of your own.
Acknowledge there is systemic power in just being white, something that no one chooses but inadvertently benefits from. Know that you are not meant to feel guilty about that privilege but rather use it to help equalize our society for people of color, by creating opportunities for people of color, green lighting artistic ventures created by and starring people of color, hiring people of color, putting people of color in positions where they can make changes, buying from businesses started by and ran by people of color and most importantly listening to the truths of people of color.
What makes us different is what makes us beautiful. Seeing everyone as one monolith race is not only unrealistic, it isn’t helpful. Admire our differences and utilize them to create positive change. Because even if you “don’t see color” many other people do, especially people of color. Those who see our color often use it against us, and to be a good ally to us you must see us for who we are as well to truly support us.
We will never understand each other’s lived experiences if we choose to ignore how our core identities are made up of different stories. Saying you’re colorblind is not looking past race, it’s ignoring it. By being truthful one is saying that they acknowledge someone’s race and still choose to treat them kindly and respectfully because of it.
Many of us are proud of our race and proud to be who we are. Our racial identity can be a big part of our lives, the richness of our histories and lived experiences are something that we celebrate. Our connectivity to others makes us feel whole. By acknowledging our race you’re making strides to create change in our world. Conversations about race and intersectionality are really beneficial to understanding and accepting one another so start by saying, “I see you, and I accept you. I hope you do the same for me.”