Saying, “I don’t see color” is not the answer to racism

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I am not blind and I am certainly not color- blind.  That’s not what the race-less gospel means or aims to accomplish.  I am not hoping that the world will turn a blind eye to the different physical appearances of human beings across cultures and the globe.  Please don’t tell your eyes that they are lying.  They see color.

In a recent CNN townhall, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said, “As somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see color as a young boy and I honestly don’t see color now.”  He is also seriously considering a run for president of the United States of America.  But, he really can’t be serious.  In a move that made my stomach turn and made me turn down my usual tall cups of Starbucks chai tea latte,  two African American men were falsely arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend before ordering beverages.  They both later settled with the company with a symbolic $1 each.  In response to the fall out, Starbucks closed its doors for business to solve the issues of race, prejudice, stereotyping, profiling and racialized preferential treatment in four hours.

Clearly, they needed more time if Schultz can’t see color.  I think that it was better said that as a young boy, he did not see race.  Race is a social system based on the hierarchy of flesh,  skin tones specifically.  The lighter, the so- called whiter you are, the higher you go up the ladder and in the eyes of society while darker complexions are kept close to the ground.  This social agreement is explained and agreed to over time.  Schultz was too young then to enter into this social arrangement of relationships.  Saying he does not see color does not make it go away.

I am not blind.  I am also not color-blind.  But, what I can see is that the amount of melanin or the lack thereof in a person’s skin as a determinant of inherent worth, undeniable beauty, unearned economic privilege and social status and the inalienable right to live with dignity and to be treated with respect is wrong and unjust.  We are literally prioritizing people based on their flesh.  Consequently, when I see a person, I don’t see their socially constructed race and treat them according to its prejudices.  Because I don’t agree with that.

I also don’t find race to be a credible or unbiased witness to our shared humanity.  Pretending that color is the problem and not the way that we use color to make some human beings a problem is what must be acknowledged, addressed and changed.  Saying, “I don’t see color” just backs away from the conversation.  It’s not a response and it is not the answer.

1 thought on “Saying, “I don’t see color” is not the answer to racism

  1. Well said. I do think people would rather keep a “safe distance” and say “I don’t see color” when the conversations may benefit from a starting point of “I didn’t realize I was biased against this race, that culture.” We need a new starting point. A clean slate–though I am not sure if that is possible.

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