Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Color-blind versus Race-blind

I've never understood it when people talk about being color-blind, in terms of race. As if in order to be non-racist, one must be so completely unobservant they don't notice the color of another person's skin. Or eyes. Or hair.

And I've watched all of my children. By about 3, they begin noticing everything. This person has curly hair, this person has red hair, this person has brown skin. And they have an appreciation for the differences, as anyone who has seen a toddler stroke the soft hair of another can attest.

But yesterday, I got my a-ha moment.

Color-blind and race-blind are two different things.

First, an earlier anecdote: The Princess (age 8) has a boyfriend, "Stan." I had been hearing about Stan for about a month. Apparently he thinks The Princess created the sun, so, hey, good man in my book. So this one day, I'm picking her up from school, and she points out the car window and says, "See, see, the boy in the green jacket??? That's Stan! That's my boyfriend."

Stan is a handsome little black boy, at that moment in a sea of white faces.

But the way she identified him was "the boy in the green jacket."

Well, about a month after that, she comes home, a little sad. Kids are teasing her and Stan. Eh, she's in 3rd grade, and that's when they tease you about having boyfriends and girlfriends. She shakes her head. "It's because he's," (she strokes the skin of her arm), "brown. And I'm ..."

"White?" I prompt.

She looks at me, a bit confused.

"Um, pink?" I ask.

"Peach," she says with the confidence of one who is arty and familiar with crayons.

Which brings us to last night ...

I was showing her the will.i.am "Yes We Can" video, and telling her a little about Obama, and why I like him. I mention that he's brown, too, like Stan.

She looks dubious. It's a black and white video. "He doesn't look brown."

"Well, we're all different shades of different colors," I say. "But people call him 'black' even though his skin isn't literally black ..."

She still looks confused, her forehead puckered. Suddenly, she sorts it out in her mind. A big smile appears. "Oh, you mean, he's like Pops!"

My dad is "white" but because he's spent 75% of his life outside, he's pretty dark.

Race-blind. Not color-blind.


Kaleigh said...

Good story! My daughter took two weeks to mention to me that she was the only white kid in her first grade class. I don't know if it took her that long to notice, but it wasn't important enough to mention for that long. The kids are still much more race-blind than I remember being at their ages. I've decided to give their UU upbringing credit for that. Because I don't think I deserve the credit.

Shelby Meyerhoff said...

I would describe the goal of anti-racism differently. Both children and adults see color (of course), but it's also important for us to acknowledge and understand racism. We should not be "race-blind," if that means denying the reality that racism still exists and is still being used to oppress. Your daughter is already learning about that reality, as evidenced by her experience of being teased.

There's a fascinating book on this subject called "The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism," which argues that contrary to the conventional wisdom, children recognize differences in both color and race (as a social location) at a very young age, and employ their understandings of race and color in their interactions with one another.

The authors (Debra Ausdale and Joe Feagin) also assert that children may seem more "race-blind" than they really are because they are have learned early that there is a social taboo against explicitly identifying themselves and others by race, especially around adult authority figures.

Comrade Kevin said...

Much like whether we'd like for it to be a factor of not, the Obama versus Clinton dynamic was arguably partially about race particularly when you consider the black turnout he received. And it was also about race in that Latinos turned out for Clinton more. But it was also arguably about gender as well since more white women turned out for Clinton and more men in general turned out for Obama.

Will said...

I thought that in the spirit of black history month (and your post on color blindness) I thought I'd send you a link to a short film I made about a group of young activists who use a person of color for selfish propoganda. It sound harsh, but it's a comedy. It's called Color Me Blind. Hope you enjoy! Keep on blogging.



Lizard Eater said...

Will, I love it! Thanks for sharing.

Sonja Heinze Coryat said...

Hi Lizzy: I am overwhelmed by the two videos about Obama that you have on your blog. They made me cry, and it takes a lot to do that. I love them. I hope I can find them on youTube so I can send them to others. Also, thank you for your visit to my blog. Do come again! Sonja Coryat