When you don’t see race, what else don’t you see?
Ask yourself the following question: how often have you heard a person of color say that “they don’t see race/color” when they look at someone? Compare that to the number of white folks who have said the same thing. For me the ratio is very stark: I often hear white people say this and almost never hear it from a person of color. This has had me thinking and I want to share some of what I’ve found.
As we reflect on the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, it’s important to fold into his vision the idea of us all “being seen” in our lives. Being seen is important for everyone. We all need to feel seen at work, in our communities, by our loved ones, and especially in school. Claudia Rankin has written much about this notion.
Like many others, I have been told (wrongly, I think) that Dr. King encouraged us to not see color in others and, in particular, race. Although the viewpoint is probably well intentioned, it is important for those who hold it to consider an unintended consequence: i.e., not seeing someone’s race means not seeing an important part of their identity. Telling someone that you don’t see an essential element of who they are isn’t helpful in forging the society Dr. King envisioned.
My encouragement for those who are considering these words is as follows: ask yourself how much being seen, being recognized for your personal history and who you are as a person, matters to you. Find the courage to ask a friend or colleague of a differing race or ethnicity if they’d be willing to talk about being seen. Read them the paragraph above and ask for their reaction. Then stop seeing and just listen. Done properly, the exercise should improve conditions for being seen in whatever context you share.
Here’s to being brave and talking to people who are different from you.
Read Simon Holzapfel’s bio.