Every time racial issues arise, parents like you come out of the woodwork. You mean well. You say it on every article about race:
“I’m raising my kids to be colorblind,” you insist.
“We don’t see race,” you tell us.
“If we just all stopped seeing race everything would be a lot better.”
You believe in America and opportunity and why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along. You judge not-by-the-color-of-their-skin-by-the-content-of-their-character. You type it again, and again, in anger at the accusations you hear behind the discussions. Seeing race is racist, you insist. But you don’t say racist against whom.
You want to believe. You deeply, desperately cling to the Lady Liberty lullaby: we are all equal; we all have the same opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. American the Beautiful believes in bootstraps, and pulling itself up by them – like you did, like your father/uncle/grandfather/mother did. Colorblindness is an integral part of that belief. After all, justice is blind.
But what you really say, when you insist on raising your kids to be colorblind, is this: We don’t want to see race. Or, more accurately, we want to ignore race. When you ignore race, the default color becomes white. Colorblindness, really, means whitewashing.
I know this is hard to accept. I know it’s ugly. Racism is ugly. Oppression is ugly. But remember, being part of a racist system does not mean that you, personally, want to sew up a white hood and go burning crosses. This is not about you being a racist. It’s about reaching a place of healing, an understanding of another point of view.
Black people don’t raise their children to be colorblind. Neither do Hispanic parents, or Asian parents. Only white people can claim they want their children “not to see race.” Other parents, you see, don’t have the luxury of ignoring it.
When you teach colorblindness, you teach your children to discount the stories of the people around them. You teach them that non-white voices are not worth hearing, that non-white stories are not worth telling. Did a black boy say he got yelled at when a white kid got a pass? This incident, you tell your child, is not worth hearing.
Colorblindness teaches this scenario’s called “playing the race card”, and it means you should ignore the voice telling it. It insinuates the speaker wants special privileges because of his non-existent racial oppression. It tells your child that speaker is angry, and not worth listening to.
Colorblindness asks why we need a Black History Month. If there’s no color, there’s no sense that history is written by the victors, that there are deep gaps in our stories. It asks why we don’t have a White History Month, because everyone is equal.
Colorblindness dresses kindergarteners in construction-paper feathers on Thanksgiving. It accepts Columbus Day as a holiday about intrepid exploring and discovery. It forgets the Taino people, some of the first victims of the Native American genocide.
Colorblindness fails to question the mass-media images of beauty: the thin, the white, the long straight hair and perky nose. Colorblindness asks black girls why their cornrows look like worms; it sees afros as a threat. It insists Native American kindergarteners cut their hair.
Colorblindness doesn’t ask why black boys are expelled from preschool at a higher rate than white boys. If they are, it’s because of bad parenting.
Colorblindness doesn’t ask why there aren’t black kids living in the neighborhood.
Colorblindness hands black girls blond-haired Barbies.
Colorblindness adopts black children to white families without an understanding of what prejudices and bigotry those children might experience.
Colorblindness blames the preschool-to-prison pipeline on rotten families, on degenerated culture – on anything but historical inequality and abuse.
Colorblindness asks a Hispanic girl why her hair’s so frizzy.
Colorblindness snarfs a taco while ignoring the life of the brown man who cooked it – a life that may be lived on the margins, with no access to health care, to legal recourse, or to any of the other rights American citizens enjoy.
Colorblindness demands to end affirmative action – after all, everyone in America has an equal chance to make something of themselves, and any historical inequality has been long-corrected. It resents children of historical minorities “taking spots” from white children.
Colorblindess thinks black kids can’t sunburn.
Colorblindness makes children’s shows populated with generic white children.
Colorblindness speaks of Africa as a monolithic, monocultural landmass of lions and elephants.
Colorblindness sees Jesus and and ancient Egyptians as some kind of proto-white people – or at least, colors them only lightly tanned.
Colorblindness doesn’t flinch at the word n*gger, because that’s what they call themselves, anyway. It rolls its eyes at the furor over the Washington team.
Colorblindness tells children that favorite platitude of the old and the no-I-have-black-friends-crowd: there are white people and white trash, and there are black people and n*ggers.
Colorblindness isn’t just an act of violence against people of color. It’s a deliberate whitewashing, a deliberate eye-closing. It’s not blindness: blindness is involuntary. Colorblindness is a mask. It sees white people as the default color, the default culture, and the default arbiters of the world we move through. When we teach our kids to be colorblind, we ignore history. We ignore injustice.
And most of all, we ignore the lives of the real people around us.
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