The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow: Three Myths of the "I Don't See Race" World

So I continue this conversation on race that I started a few weeks ago here. Would love to talk on twitter or you can venture over to the cross posting on SF Gate where the conversation gets even more feisty.

TV comedian Stephen Colbert has a great shtick about race when he says, "I don't see race. People tell me I'm White because . . ."  and then he goes into a series of stinging indictments on racial realities in the United States.  His humor is brilliant because in this on-going by he basically pushes on the idea that the world is anywhere near being color blind AND even pushes on those who think this idea to pursue in the first place. Brilliant.

So today, I want to take on this idea of being "color blind" or more commonly known as the "I don't see race" posture.  While I do get why folks want to go there, quite honestly I think it is lazy. Sure, we may be weary of the conversations and we may be cynical about their outcome/s, but that is no excuse for us to avoid diving deeply into the conversations about racial diversity.  

When one says "I don't see color," then we no longer have to acknowledge the realities of our own prejudice and privilege as well as the real experiences of the others.  We stifle conversations that must happen around race in the US and squelch the possibilities of discovering together the one of the greatest gifts of US culture . . . our diverse racial and ethic backgrounds.  

And quite honestly, it seems to me to be a luxury of the privileged to determine what "the norm" is in the first place.  As a male it would be easy for me to say, "I don't see you as a female. I just see you as a person." in order to not have to deal with the realities of sexism that still exists in today's world as well as the deep joy that the women of the world bring to our collective existence.  But I can't do this, in fact, I must work to make sure that I don't unintentionally perpetuate a reality that confines women to a reality that I may think is gender-neutral and pure, but is really male.

So, let me offer three myths to the "color blind" posture or at least why it rubs me the wrong way when people try to tell me that he/she does not see "color" but he/she see people as people.

Myth #1: It is possible to see anyone simply as a "person" devoid of color, race, ethnicity, etc.

Again, I do get WHY folks want to be able to do this, but US culture and our humanness being what it is, I am just not convinced that the "true person" who we are trying to get to has moved beyond some homogeneous form of some ambiguous White US culture.  I simply do not buy that we can - or should - get beyond our particular lenses to reach some place of perceived "objectivity."  This getting to the "true" meaning of anything, including the humanness of someone feels like some kind of hangover from the enlightenment when we began to believe that intellect and reason should and can see through all things. No thank you. Folks will disagree, but I just to not think it is possible, and would go as far as saying that by NOT realizing that we cannot see beyond our own lenses of race, gender, etc. we perpetuate unintentional and institutional injustice.

Myth #2: People of color do not want to be seen as people of color.

On more than one occasion someone has said with the best of intentions, "Bruce, I do not see you as Asian, I see you as a human being." Umm . . . first, I never asked you to NOT see my Asianness.  In fact when you say that to me you are in fact say that everything about who I am, my family's immigrant history, the nuances of my Filipino/Chinese culture, my experience of being a person of color in the US, the complexities of being an Asian American male, etc. do not exist in your eyes.  So what is left?  Again, going to Myth #1, I am left as some vague version of something. Don't want to be seen in that way and am not asking you to do so, in fact quite the opposite, please see my Asianness and take the time to explore the nuances of that existence both through my eyes as well as the eyes of the deep Asian American history in the US.  Most people of color in the US, I dare say do this work every day as we navigate the institutions and communities of our life where in number or culture, the norm is not us.

Myth #3: Seeing color must lead to negative stereotypes and assumptions.

I think this may be THE most important thing that we must understand about race and how we see people.  There is a HUGE difference between judging or making power decisions based on race and understanding that race and ethnicity are important and real aspects of the human condition that must be and can be used to grow and thrive as a community of people.  Sometimes having an insight into the POSSIBLE experiences of a person will not only help others to be more aware of those things that may create negative situations, but understanding the possibilities of what different people may bring to the table could broaden our understanding and experience of community.

Okay, so there you have it, some early morning musings on race and being "color blind" in today's world.  If nothing else, what I hope folks will hear is that I believe it is more important to have a nuanced understanding of color, race, ethnicity, etc. than live as if color does not exist. Harder world, possibly more frustrating, but in the end I firmly believe we see the beauty of humanity . . . so it is worth it. 

[Originally posted on Bruce Reyes-Chow's blog. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow]