Why Tomi Lahren “Doesn’t See Color”
I know what you’re thinking: “Yay, another article about race from a no name blogger!”. But correction, I’m a no name blogger with personal experience in the matter. And yes, I agree, I too am excited about this article. But what really excites me is talking to people about their viewpoints on race because, often, people’s resolve that they’re “not racist” will evaporate quicker than all the disappearing reservoirs in California. Once faced with facts, of course. And the other reason I enjoy talking about race is not because it’s “fun”, it’s because I love breaking down the arguments that aim to restrict me of my basic human right to be treated just like everyone else. Yay!
But back to Tomi Lahren. I have to admit that when I first learned about Tomi Lahren, I was a bit entranced by her white, hot, fury against all things Liberal and the Black Lives Matter movement. Her stream of consciousness rants are delivered well and I can sense that she is genuine in her passion for this country. But she’s also very blind to what people of color face every day and this makes her rants exceedingly cringeworthy to watch. So when I saw that Lahren was going to be on The Daily Show talking with host Trevor Noah about her position on these matters, I expected her to bring her fiery style to the table and go head to head with Trevor Noah (self-awareness be dammed). And though I enjoy Noah as well as the new iteration of The Daily Show, I’ve noticed his interview style is a lot more placid than Jon Stewart’s; he doesn’t go after his guest or challenge racism with the gusto of a comedian of his caliber. What I got however, was quite the opposite of what I expected to be a softball interview. I also immediately got the distinct impression that Lahren doesn’t really have a dog in this fight, and she knew it. How could she confidently sit across from a man who was literally born a crime in South Africa because he is half black? A man whose mother had to serve jail time for fraternizing with Noah’s white father? Lahren’s whole appeal is that even though she is the perfect embodiment of white privilege (she’s blonde, has her own TV show, and is arguably the Eurocentric beauty ideal), her hot takes deserve to be taken seriously, dammit — even though what she is fighting against couldn’t possibly shatter her privilege anyway.
And though the whole interview was like watching a toddler trying to make himself an omelette while standing next to a Michelin chef, the best part was seeing Lahren explain that she “doesn’t see color”. This is a defensive argument that only serves the kind of individual who insists they can’t possibly be racist. I know this, because I used to believe this very thing about myself growing up. I grew up in Mexico by the way — and I know, that sounds strange. How could a Mexican be racist? Well, we are. But not against white people. I was racist the way a white person was. Black bad, white goooood! I grew up hearing, seeing, and experiencing casual racism like any ordinary person in the United States. Except I had the good fortune of not being the other (because I have light skin) and truly believing that the world was fair — LOL. And good old-fashioned racism isn’t restricted to the Americas of course, it’s everywhere! Asia, Australia, Europe, even Africa have been ruled by systemic oppression based on the color of a person’s skin. Don’t believe me? Look up any Asian beauty magazine online and notice they are obsessed with Western style beauty: almond shaped eyes with eyelid creases, blonde hair, cheek implants, light eye color, large breasts — you name it.
And this was the case in Mexico too; I grew up in both Mexico City and Guadalajara and in order to see just the small instances of racism, I had to look no further than telenovelas. Yes, those cheesy soap operas that often get mocked by SNL and other comedians for having over-the-top story lines and melodramatic acting. In Mexico, however, these tv shows exemplify the unofficial caste system of Latin America. Almost all the lead actors have light skin, light colored eyes and European features; conversely, the darker skinned characters are often relegated to smaller roles and stereotypes such as criminal, maid, and vixen. Sound familiar? Another “fun fact” about Mexico is that poorer neighborhoods are pretty much exclusively made up of people descended from indigenous cultures (diluted by Christianity, of course), while rich neighborhoods were mostly populated by lighter skinned folks who are descended from the “saviors” AKA Spanish Conquistadors. Politicians and CEO’s also are mostly lighter skinned while the uneducated working class tends to be darker skinned. But as I mentioned before, I have the good fortune of being light skinned (for a Mexican — and I don’t say this in jest, this is something people still regularly point out to me). And from what I understand about my ancestry, I am actually almost entirely European, my Native American ancestry is minimal. But in the United States, that means nothing to a lot of people, all they hear is that I’m a Mexican immigrant, and boom, I have instantly been Othered.
Now, let’s rewind to when I moved to this country: I came here a few times throughout my childhood and enjoyed the feeling I got here. I felt safe, the laws worked, streets were clean, and pizza was everywhere! But when I moved to the U.S. permanently, something strange happened. I was no longer at the top of the skin color food chain like I was in Mexico. Children at the predominantly white Presbyterian school I attended didn’t pay attention to anything about me except that I was a Mexican immigrant. I was called every name in the book by peers — even in front of faculty members. “Are you an illegal?” was a frequent question. My 6th grade teacher didn’t even blink when a fellow student raised their hand during science class and asked “When Christiann goes out in the sun, does it still burn like mine?” I was flabbergasted. Embarrassed. And alone. No one ever intervened in these situations. Even my own family didn’t believe that these events were happening on a weekly basis. As for me, I had never been “the other” before, WHAT THE HELL?! I was angry. But I was a skinny 11 year old girl, what could I do? Well, the silver lining of this ironic ordeal was that I became determined to lose my accent, master English, and assimilate as quickly as possible. No one was going to fucking other me. From that moment on, when people asked where I was from (which was constantly, due to my Spanish accent), I’d say “Spain”. Never mind that I didn’t have the distinct lisp accents that most Spaniards have. And it worked! The conversation quickly moved on, people seemed more satisfied with me being from Spain, than being from that country with all those negative associations. Finally, the infuriating comments/questions dissipated and I kept that strategy for a few years.
It was during this part in my life that I finally admitted to myself that I did “see color”. I slowly started to challenge my parents when they’d say something racist. And by the time I was in college, I started to fully confront the effects of racism in my personal life and my school life. I had a black roommate, Monica*, and she would share her experiences as well as those of her friends and family. I had never really talked to anyone about race before. My family had a lot of dysfunction/distractions growing up, so race was the least of our problems. If it ever came up, my feelings about it where often dismissed because I was “just as good as anyone else”. But in practice, it didn’t look like that. I rarely saw Latina women in power, or even on television and film. The only Latina I ever saw on TV was JLO, and I couldn’t relate to her brand of good girl/bad girl feminism. Another place in which I rarely saw myself was in the theatre department of my university. Lead parts in any play (especially any play that wasn’t contemporary) or musical at the school were normally doled out to Caucasian students. A faculty head once told me I was “the worst actor in the department”, which infuriated me because how could I get good if no one ever gave me a chance? All of the faculty members who directed plays (except for one) where white, and their casting choices reflected their biases. Nonetheless, it was actually good preparation for the constant stereotyping and blatant racism I eventually experienced as an actor with a Spanish-sounding last name in Hollywood. And I am incredibly privileged because I can at least seem ambiguous enough to play other parts. And yet, I still rarely play my own ethnicity unless I put on the heavy accent I worked so hard to get rid of. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.
Anyhow, as I continued my education, I attended classes about feminism, journalism, theatre, art, and sociology and learned more about the roots of racism in America than I had ever really bargained for. I wasn’t yet ready to face all this, but as I’ve gotten older and experienced the latest presidential campaign, I’ve been forced to further recognize my own racism as well as the racism in the world around me. I’ve also processed that a lot of the arguments many people use to defend their perspectives on racism are straight up bullshit. Everyone is racist towards people with darker skin — yes, this is controversial, but I am not afraid to double down on this — everyone is.
The moment I truly accepted this was when I took Harvard’s implicit bias test. It’s so simple: we all have a bias to dark vs. white. Hell=black; Heaven=White. Imagine a “thug”. Go ahead. Ok, now what ethnicity was this thug? Was this thug a black or Hispanic male? Imagine someone described as “spicy”. Is this person a sexy Latina? Or a white working class woman? Now imagine a studious person. Lemme guess, they don’t have the same skin color as the thug.
Now, some of you reading this are pissed off right now. You’re thinking, even if I am racist, it’s not my fault! Of course it’s not. It’s really no one’s “fault”. But by admitting our own racism, we may think more critically about our choices when we interact with strangers, write headlines about people with different skin colors (even if one is a killer and the other is a victim), rent our homes on Airbnb, or even kick U.S. citizens out and send them to a country they’ve never even been to based on their culture alone. The latter is exactly what happened to my paternal grandfather; he was born in Arizona after the United States had acquired this territory. It didn’t stop the U.S. from forcing him to move to a country he had never lived in and learn a language he was not familiar with. As far as they knew, he was Mexican and they were stealing “real” American’s jobs.
Which brings me back to Tomi Lahren. Lahren doesn’t see race because she doesn’t have to. Race is an inconvenience she only has to grapple with when those pesky Black Lives Matter are protesting about well, black lives mattering. She equates BLM with the KKK, but fails to acknowledge that the KKK’s main objective was to oppress people of color. Black Lives Matter wants to start a peaceful conversation about the way black people are treated by police and the criminal justice system, but I doubt she’s even gone on their website and read their mission statement. But Lahren isn’t alone in her blissful ignorance, a lot of people in this country (and the world) make this argument about not seeing color constantly. A friend and I had this very discussion only a year ago while discussing why black face is completely unacceptable. By the end of our argument about this, it was revealed that she simply had never learned about the disgusting history of black face and how it was used by whites to humiliate and demean blacks. I empathized with my friend; I too had been in this place, unaware of just how damaging it is to tell ourselves that racism isn’t as pervasive as it really is. It creates uncomfortable moments in public, makes us blind to how we oppress others without meaning to, and often results in a fractured society in which fear-based decisions overrule logical ones.
And it goes without saying that people have very strong feelings about this stuff. I believe it’s because people correlate being a bad person/being a full blown skinhead with being racist. This is a simple fallacy. Even liberal leaning celebrities such as Jon Stewart will argue that some of his friends who served as 9/11 responders couldn’t possibly be racist just because they voted for Trump. His argument is that they saved people’s lives regardless of race in the heat of the moment. But he is wrong. Just because someone isn’t willing to commit an unspeakable act of cruelty during an emergency situation in which their whole job is to save everyone, doesn’t mean they don’t harbor feelings of racism and/or apathy to those who have issues they can’t possibly relate to or are directly affected by. This false equivalence is as common as it is problematic. Let’s look at Thomas Jefferson. By most accounts he was an exemplary human and helped create a just set of laws. But he also advocated for slavery because it suited his desires and needs. Sure, he will be remembered for the good he did, but his support of slavery will forever be a stain on his legacy. A person can commit good deeds and also commit evil ones. People can be opposed to violent acts of hate and still act passively in the face of more subtle racism. Trump supporters may end up being remembered for whatever success they achieve after Trump has been in power, but history will not look kindly on their indifference to his hateful rhetoric. The same can be said of Lahren.
And while people like Tomi Lahren don’t “mean” to hurt people, their lack of support for those who are marginalized is part of the problem. What does it really cost Lahren to have the self awareness to admit she sees some people of color as untrustworthy? Could it be that she simply is avoiding the humiliation and self-hatred that may result from this realization? It’s possible that realizing that these are not really even her own thoughts but just a perspective taught to her and that these views would vanish if she was living under different circumstances. The realization that her passionate rants are almost like a computer program installed inside her by someone else might really trip her out — scary! Maybe Lahren will never get to this level of self awareness and cause much damage without ever realizing what she has done, and then history will only remember her as yet another problematic public persona. Now, when you ask yourself, “Ok, fine, what I can I really do about any of this anyway?” Here is a handy dandy list on how to not only not be racist, but help those who are marginalized. Now go enjoy your day and definitely watch the interview in question.