When I was a girl, my family lived in a home that had an amazing view of the valley. I spent countless hours out on our deck, watching sunsets. The layers of reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows contrasted by the blues of the sky were awe-inspiring. Even now, as an adult, a sunset can stop me in my tracks. The diversity of colors adds joy to my life.
I have always needed diversity. I spent my teenage summers volunteering at our local world folk dance festival, where people from across the world came to stay for a week, performing their cultural dances every night. I made friends with people from all walks of life and dreamed of visiting them in their home countries. Some of my fondest summer memories are of those weeks spent with my new friends. I would cry at the end of every festival, as our time together came to a close and they returned to their homes on the other side of the world.
I grew up and married a wonderful Filipino man. His large Filipino family embraced me, and I enjoyed the diversity they brought in their food, their language, their traditions, and their laughter. We have biological children who love claiming their Filipino heritage (though by all accounts, my two biological sons look white.)
When we were hoping to adopt, we checked all the boxes on the paperwork that asked what races we were open to. For me, it was easy. It didn’t matter. I knew I could love a child, no matter their race. If you had asked me then, I would have proudly told you that color didn’t matter to me. I loved people just because they were alive. I mistakenly believed that I did not need to see a person’s color—as long as I loved them, that was enough. It seems like such a great concept, in theory.
In 2012, through the miracle of adoption, I became a mother to the most amazing boy with beautiful dark skin, and I realized how much his color mattered. It mattered because it was who he was. He was a beautiful black boy. Why on earth would I want to ignore such a huge part of who he was? Love alone wasn’t enough. I wanted nothing more than for him to be comfortable in his skin and proud of who he was. No longer could I claim that I was “blind to color.” I wasn’t. I didn’t want to be. I couldn’t be. His color mattered greatly. The color of his skin was going to affect his entire life experience. My eyes were opened to the fact that the world in which we lived was not made for my son; it was built upon centuries of policy and procedure that actually fought against his success. If I chose to “ignore” his color, I would be doing him a HUGE disservice. The “rules” are not the same for him and it is imperative that he learns how to navigate this world as a black male.
My son is now three years old. He’s smart. He’s kind. He’s funny, happy, and confident. Family, friends and neighbors all love him. But life is changing for us in September. He’s starting pre-school. For two and a half hours, two days a week, he won’t have me there to observe, to defend, and to help navigate the sticky situations that might arise because of his skin color. When he’s with me, his white mother, my privilege is like an umbrella that extends over him and protects him. But in the fall, he’s starting to take tiny steps into the world without me—and my privilege.
One day my son and I were at the grocery store. As we turned a corner, a woman was coming in the opposite direction. She stopped to tell me what a beautiful little boy he was. I thanked her and continued on. Suddenly, tears welled up in my eyes; I was thankful he had been seen for the beautiful boy he is, but I realized that within just a few years, that same woman may turn the corner in the store to see him there, and instead of thinking he was beautiful, her first instinct would be fear. I won’t always be there to shelter and protect him. My heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces for my son, and the millions of other black men and boys in this country whose only “crime” is the color of their skin.
The world sees color. But, seeing color doesn’t have to be negative. In other aspects of life, color is something we admire and celebrate. Why does a person’s color have to be any different?
Can you imagine trying to describe the majesty of a sunset while using words that ignore the vibrant colors it exhibited? Doing so would completely negate the beauty and the power of what you had witnessed. Being “color blind” to the different skin tones, ethnicities, and races that surround us, does the same thing. Being “color blind” ignores an individual’s beauty. It minimizes their life experience. Being color blind is not anti-racist, it’s a quieter form of racism.
The mentality of “not seeing color” is a coping mechanism that we, as white people, have developed to help ourselves to feel more comfortable in the presence of diversity. We just pretend a person isn’t different because we’ve been socialized to feel uncomfortable, afraid, and threatened by things that are different. We’ve been subconsciously, and in some instances, consciously, taught that being black is a negative thing.
Let me share an example.
After we adopted our son, it was very interesting to see the ways in which people—good, kind, educated people—would avoid using the word “black” when talking to me about my son. For some reason, it felt uncomfortable for them to state the obvious. They were very creative in their methods of describing his skin color without actually using the color, as if it was somehow offensive to say that my son was black. Those situations alone have showed me how ingrained racial inequalities are. White people can’t even say the word “black” in describing a person without somehow feeling that they are saying something offensive. By dancing around the fact that my son is black, they hope to be perceived as “color blind” when in fact, they are very aware of his color. It would be almost comical, if it wasn’t slightly offensive. Harlon L. Dalton, a black professor of law at Yale law school described it best when he said, “‘I really don’t think of you as Black.’ The erasure of my Blackness is meant to be a compliment, but I am not flattered. For when I am de-raced, I am denied an identity that is meaningful to me and am separated from people who are my flesh and blood.” [Harlon L. Dalton, 1995] The color of a person’s skin should never be spoken of in hushed tones as if it is something negative. It is part of what makes a person who they are. Don’t fear it. Embrace it. Feel free to address it in positive ways. Help all people to feel respected, valued, loved and included—the same things you want for your own children. You don’t have to be color blind to achieve this.
Just as the layers of color in a sunset bring awe, beauty, and wonder, so can the diversity of the people who surround us.