When White People Say They ‘Don’t See Color’

We know you do — and you know it, too

WWhen I was a kid, my White classmates always compared me to a cookie. I remember one specifically said, “You’re like an Oreo: Black on the outside but White on the inside. You’re cool.” In their young minds, this was a compliment. They didn’t realize how offensive that statement was — and back then, neither did I.

Now that I have decades of life behind me, I understand what they were actually saying: The best Black person is one who can pass for White in the dark.

Growing up, my mother often reminded me that I could be anything I wanted, but I’d have to work a little harder because I’m Black. She warned me early on that I’d have a tougher road ahead than my White classmates because of the color of my skin.

“When you get to high school, those White kids will try to take advantage of you,” my eighth grade English teacher told me after she caught one of my White classmates copying my social studies homework. It was the first time Mrs. Powell, who was Black, had ever vocally acknowledged our shared skin color, but I knew we’d always had an unspoken understanding: We were not like everyone else in the classroom.

Mom, Mrs. Powell, and so many others raised me to know the difference between right and wrong, and Black and White. That knowledge shaped me and made me the man I am proud to be today — the Black man. If you look at me and don’t see the color of my skin, you don’t see me at all.

But did my classmates understand that concept back then? Did they think I had value only because despite my Black skin, they considered me a White person, just like them? Even though they believed they accepted me, I knew that the acceptance came with an unspoken condition: If I ever truly expressed my Blackness, there’d be no more friendship.

At least they acknowledged my Black skin. These days, a new generation of “woke” White people use different tactics when feebly trying to express acceptance of Black people. It’s common to hear well-meaning White people say, “I don’t see color or race,” as if somehow they’ve reached the highest point of racial enlightenment. In their mindset, race not only doesn’t matter, but it also ceases to exist altogether.

Yet, whenever Black people talk about race, those same people often tense up. When White people say they “don’t see color,” it seems like they want Black people to pretend that we don’t either. With all their goodwill, they seem to imply: be grateful we think you’re one of us!

“Pretending race doesn’t exist or isn’t important doesn’t cancel out centuries of Black and White, turning it into one shade of gray. Who wants to live in a monochromatic world anyway?”

In demanding that Black people be equally “color-blind,” this brand of White wokeness requires that we ignore the fundamental physical characteristic that plays such a pivotal role in shaping us — our very skin tone. The “I don’t see color” folks can stick their collective heads in the sand somewhere else. I, for one, will not compromise my identity as a Black man in order to absolve America of the racism upon which this great nation was founded. James Baldwin wrote about this idea way back in the ’50s: “American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocence, of returning to a state in which black men do not exist. This is one of the greatest errors Americans can make.”

It’s too late in American history to play innocent. It’s time to wake up and face the reality of race. Woke White people, please don’t pretend that when you see us, you don’t see color. We know you do — you know it, too. And that’s perfectly fine. The history of Black identity in America is rich and complicated, and so is our evolution. We may have arrived here in chains, but we’ve been indispensable to American culture. We invented jazz, blues, hip-hop, and rock. We’ve excelled in sports, science, business, government, and academia. White people need to see us in all our glory. We want credit for our contributions, not just as Americans, but as Black Americans.

Pretending race doesn’t exist or isn’t important doesn’t cancel out centuries of Black and White, turning it into one shade of gray. Who wants to live in a monochromatic world anyway? Not seeing color doesn’t make it free for White people to plunder and co-opt as their own while we sit silently and applaud them for cashing in on Black expression.

Black is who I am. There’s nothing woke or enlightened about saying you don’t see it. True-blue allies don’t have to fake color blindness. They see the difference between Black and White because, well, how can they not? But even if race is the first thing they notice, it’s not the only thing they see. They don’t use it to categorize, dehumanize, patronize, and trivialize us. If you’re White and truly down, you see Black in all its kaleidoscopic glory. You see power, potential, creativity, and diversity. You understand that Black means so many things, but above all, it’s beautiful. To accept Black people is to respect the uniqueness of the Black experience — not to pretend race and racism are illusions, unworthy of being discussed or even acknowledged.

The last 150 years of U.S. history after the Civil War have revolved mainly around a large portion of Americans trying to erase Black from the country’s racial color palette, using tactics that encompass various degrees of heinous. It never works. We will not fade into red, white, and blue. And we won’t be whitewashed to support some fake, packaged version of White and woke that hangs on a trite, tired cliché. If you don’t see color, you’re blind.

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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