Pastoral Thought of the Day: Please don’t say “I don’t see color.”
I was in a conversation recently with a friend who said to me, “I don’t see color.” The person who I was speaking with thought that this was a noble statement, which communicated a sense of solidarity, and ethnic equality she supports and promotes. It was said in a way that implied she had moved beyond the cultural tensions and had achieved a moral progress that transcends beyond racial stereotypes and mistreatment. Others, she communicated, have failed to achieve this progress, while she had moved into a post-racial world, which is why we still are struggling with race. My friend, though well-intentioned, however, failed to think through how what she said is heard by others or just simply it’s own kind – or a new kind – of perpetuating our national problem.
Given the recent outcry over George Floyd, we are are again experiencing the extension of a long history of racial aggression, exploitation, discrimination and criminalization in the United States, and saying that “I don’t see color” is not a painful and disrespectful thing to say, its simply not true.
Please don’t say “I don’t see color”. To say, “I don’t see color” in the context of the United States is to disregard the country’s racist history of white supremacy and white privilege. I say this as a white man – who has enjoyed this privilege and still do. White supremacy erroneously asserts the superiority of white people and the inferiority of non-white people. This is the blood-stain of the American soul. It is a wound created by a world-view that continues to re-open and bleed with every news cycle. This worldview shapes political, economic, religious and social systems that disadvantage non-white people and over-advantage white people. White privilege is the inheritance and enjoyment of unearned benefits because people are white. These assets do not accrue to non-white people in the same way. The advantages accumulate because cultural systems are shaped to preserve and advance privileges of white people, which in-effect diminish and destroy lives and livelihoods for non-white people.
Please don’t say “I don’t see color”. To say, “I don’t see color” in the context of the United States is to ignore centuries of catastrophes experienced by large groups of people. To look at someone from a Native American heritage and say, that “I don’t see color” means that you do not acknowledge the wide scale displacement and broken treaties, even genocide, made by the U.S. with American Indian nations. It conveys indifference concerning the horrors that indigenous communities faced as their ancestral lands in what is now the southeastern United States were confiscated and the people forced to relocate to western lands – mostly west of the Mississippi River. The “Trail of Blood” occurred as some 46,000 indigenous residents were forcibly relocated in order that white settlers could occupy some 25 million acres of land, much of which would grow cotton and see the expansion of the enslavement of African people, and create generational systems of financial and cultural profit for those new “owners” of the land, at the expense of others.
Please don’t say “I don’t see color”. To say that “I don’t see color” in the United States context is to discount the history of slavery, post-slavery peonage, lynchings, Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation, and the criminalization of color in which black and brown people are overly policed, overly arrested, overly prosecuted and overly sentenced. The statement “I don’t see color” carries implicit or explicit sentiments that black people do not have the same value as white people, and they do not deserve equity and opportunity because of their humanity.
Reconciliation, or the bringing together people once separated, is only possible when privileged people (me) acknowledge both the present and the history of people who have been marginalized and mistreated. People are not chronically impoverished and generationally incarcerated because of their internal inadequacies. Our history is a history of creating systemic conditions that result in disadvantages and ecologies – literally and figuratively – that work to diminish and destroy individuals, families and communities of color.
Please don’t say “I don’t see color”. We can be reconciled – brought together again – when we see each other and acknowledge our personal and collective stories. We can live in God’s household in ways that no one has too much and not a soul has too little. We can enjoy a shared prosperity that makes the world more humane and habitable and peaceable. This requires an imagination shaped by abundance, and not scarcity. That world is worth the risk and the work. It is a vision of the beloved community which is a reverberation of the Kingdom of God. That is the kingdom of Jesus, who is the King. It starts not only with a good dream or vision, but a desire and a will for the vision to be lived in an embodied community for all.