Maybe you don’t know that you’ve said something racist because you’re just ignorant to racist things around you. Not ignorant in rude insult way, but in the “I just never knew” way.
If you’ve never experienced racism first hand or tried to identify with people that have experienced injustice, then you will never know how difficult it is to live with. It’s always there underlying some experiences from your past. It’s possible to get over it, but it’s crippling and definitely changes your outlook on everything.
It may be tempting to tell someone that they are being over sensitive or reading racism and prejudice into a normal situation, but think of it this way- if you’ve never had racist things happen to you or noticed racism around you then are you the best person to be the judge of what is and is not racist?
3. Colour Blind
What about being colour blind? I’ve heard people say that with the best intentions but is that really the answer?
Telling people that you are colour blind is a wonderful statement if you lived in world where everyone was actually colour blind. The truth is we are not blind. We notice everything and we judge it all. We judge what people are wearing and make assumptions about them. We notice their colour and age and we put people into categories. Even if you are really good at ignoring colour for positive reasons it doesn’t mean that the rest of the world around you is the same.
Although it’s noble to love everyone the same the idea just isn’t attached to reality. The rest of the world continues to see colour and so there may still be legitimate things happening around you that you are not able to see because of your own belief system. If you claim that you don’t see colour you might assume that others don’t either and you would have essentially added to the injustice that people of colour feel.
There have been too many racist acts that have been excused because people chose to attribute the act to anything other than what it was. If you are told colour just doesn’t exist then when matters of colour come up you will always believe it is because of something else. For example. A young black man get shot and killed by police officer. You might readily believe they must have done something wrong rather than believe that someone acted in a way that was potentially racist or prejudice. A black person on the other hand might think of racism first without knowing the facts based on their previous experiences. It may not be the right response and may not be based in truth but it is a valid response.
You may be able to get off not noticing how colour relates to a situation but a coloured person cannot. A coloured person’s life and experiences are shaped by the colour of their skin and the country they live in. A black person that grew up in a part of Africa may not attribute many dealings with the police to racism.
Someone who is white can say they are colour blind but actually feel self- conscious about their colour if they are picked up and dropped into a country where they are the minority and treated in a position that lacks power. Even simply putting someone into an establishment where they are a minority can have a huge affect. I attend a very multicultural church that is intergenerational (in my opinion) but in the past I’ve had people tell me that it was a very black and young church. Some have felt uncomfortable with this. I can honestly say I didn’t notice but maybe it’s because I was not the minority at that time.
I’ve been the only black person at gatherings and not felt like I stood out and at other times felt out of place. It usually depended on the kind of people that were in that environment. Was I made to feel awkward by little reminders that I was different or did they treat me like a regular person with no barriers between us? Did we have other things in common that transcended colour? These factors all changed my perspective on how comfortable I felt. When I am with people I know I see them -and their colour is not at the forefront so I can understand where people are coming from when they say they are colour blind. But again just because my friends and I have that experience doesn’t mean I expect the rest of the world to treat me that way.
As a black person I’ve never wanted or expected people to un-see my colour to somehow help me feel more secure or welcomed as a black person. I am a proud black woman. By all means, see my colour and see my culture. Just don’t make negative assumptions about me based on my colour. Instead of allowing yourself to be ignorant of other cultures and saying that you are colour blind a better way at looking at the world would be to see and appreciate the differences between colours and cultures. Immerse yourself in different aspects of others lives. Don’t just learn about the surface of a culture – Get to know them and try to identify with their experiences instead of dismissing them.
Nana Abraham is a speaker, youth activist and author of For Black Girls: The Shaping of a Young Woman– a handbook for life that discusses relevant issues for young women today.