Going unseen means going unheard: Why you shouldn’t be colorblind

Going unseen means going unheard: Why you shouldn’t be colorblind

As a person of color, I’m often confronted with a well-intentioned viewpoint from my friends, family, and community members (usually white) who purport that they are “colorblind.” They idealize a world in which no one is able the see the color of people’s skin. This vision is built upon the idea that we should judge and appreciate people based on their morals, how they treat others, and whether or not they are an upstanding citizen. I can say that personally I use the same philosophy—but I am not, in fact, “colorblind.”

Seeing people’s skin color does not make you racist. After all, most of us can detect the level of melanin in someone’s skin (unless, that is, you have been diagnosed as actually, clinically colorblind).

Proclaiming that you’re unable to see race can sound like you don’t see the challenges and merits of being Black or brown—especially when speaking to a Black or brown person. Not only do people of color have experiences like questionable traffic stops and being followed around department stores, but also we have unique cultural and social histories which have been shaped by the color of our skin. Such rich backgrounds deserve to be learned about, celebrated, and respected. There is a long and important-to-understand global history around race relations, and we cannot digest events effectively if we do not see color.

Being Black or brown is a permanent, visible, and beautiful characteristic that shapes how people of color experience life. My experience with race proves to me that even the nicest, loving people can see color. I’m never confused as to why someone asks me if I’m Latino or from India: it’s because they can see my skin.

The most offensive version of this question is “What are you?” as if I’m something other than normal. (So, for the record, don’t ask people that.)

Unfortunately, there are people out there who make more damning assumptions when they see my race. Black and brown people are aware when white people clutch their purses tighter and lock their car doors as we approach on the sidewalk. We’re also are aware when we are profiled by law enforcement. The numbers do not lie: nearly 50 percent of the people currently incarcerated in the United States are Black and this is despite only making up 13 percent of the population and engaging in criminal behavior at the same rate as whites.

We notice when strong, intelligent, and successful Black women die “mysteriously” when in police custody like Sandra Bland. And, make no mistake: just because we live in Maine doesn’t mean we don’t experience racism. For some, it’s a daily struggle.

As someone who engages in racial justice organizing, having participated in the recent movement for Black lives, I can tell you that when we take to the streets and proclaim “Black Lives Matter” we want to be seen and more importantly, heard. We want the world to know that we’re tired of our Black sisters and brothers dying during encounters with the police. We want everyone to be outraged when they learn of atrocities that happen in predominately Black communities such as the current situation in Flint, Michigan.

Especially in a predominately Caucasian place such as Maine, we need support and, to a degree, affirmation from our white friends, family, and community members in order to solve the challenges we face with regard to race relations. We need our allies to not only hear our voices but see the color of our skin. Because Black is beautiful.

Photo via Portland Racial Justice Congress

About author

Teddy Burrage
Teddy Burrage 8 posts

Teddy Burrage is a Portland native and local activist. He was formerly a congressional intern and organizer with the Portland Racial Justice Congress. Teddy hopes contribute to positive change in Maine by promoting social justice and civic engagement.

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