Do You See in Color? // Lauren Jacobs
Photo from: http://atlantablackstar.com/2014/02/22/video-7-things-colorblind-racist-friend-might-say-respond/
I was recently on a panel with several other individuals for a discussion led at my university by The Association of Black Psychologists entitled “It Takes a Village: Raising African American Youth in a Colorblind Era.” During this discussion, we explored many avenues of what it means to be Black, White, colorblind, and how it impacts a multitude of people. Being a white female, I had to reflect on what this meant for me during the conversation and the answer I came to discussing was: that being white means I don’t have to think about this stuff. I don’t have to worry as much about how my future family will be treated. I don’t have people who look like me in the news often for being killed by cops. How unfair is that? Then came the bigger question, what do I have? I have peers who have said, “I don’t see color” or “We are all equal as people.” I have family who don’t acknowledge their stimulus value in society. I have a role in all of this. A newfound responsibility in understanding what it means to be white. I reflected on how these phrases play right into the theory many people have about this country being a “big melting pot.” While initially that idea was created to help integrate the differences that exist in our society, it, along with the aforementioned comments, is ultimately a precipitant to racial avoidance. Colorblindness.
From an early age we learn that talking about, or even just acknowledging race and differences, is a big no-no in society. This makes sense considering our country’s racial history is extremely uncomfortable. Unfortunately, similar to many other lessons we have been taught – eating vegetables is good for you, having manners is always nice, asking people who don’t look like you where they are from is okay – the ideology behind colorblindness is full of pitfalls. Now, before I elaborate, this is the disclaimer that I am not writing to judge others for concepts that they have adopted over the years – I mean, how many of us wouldn’t after years of societal training? When it comes to my own training, I have spent the last 9 years in academia, surrounded by peers and professors, with some whom I’ve cringed at the words they’ve spoke and some who I proudly stand beside in support of this cause. Overall, they are the ones who have provided an abundance of evidence that when it comes to this topic; we’re in desperate need of alternative training. I am of a firm faith that it is the responsibility of White individuals to become educated about this, and to educate each other. Expecting for people of color to be our trainer’s sends an unfair message about who had responsibility for what. Lets encourage each other to learn more and dismantle racism, advocating for justice in our communities.
Learning how to become a white ally is a notion that has been reinforced time after time over the past several years as the list of person’s of color killed by the police has increased. During his acceptance speech for BET’s Humanitarian Award, actor and activist Jesse Williams made a statement, reminding white people “the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.” His words help shape what our role—white allies—needs to be in taking supportive action toward long-overdue change. Let’s begin to consider a practical list of actionable ways to become the people that others need us to be.
1. Have difficult conversations with the people you care about, and even those that you don’t.
That one cousin who “means well” but tells a racist joke at a family get-together. Your peer who says, “I’m not racist,” but lately is posting #AllLivesMatter on Facebook. Speak up. Know it will be awkward and do it anyway.
2. Check yourself. No ally is immune from exhibiting racist behaviors or from being unhelpful even when their intentions are the opposite. Be willing to listen. Refrain from working as an ally as a means of earning capital to counterbalance your white guilt or as a way of seeking accolades for how not racist you are. If that’s your foundation, stop taking up space at the table.
3. Bear Witness & Participate. Download the ACLU’s mobile justice app and prepare to record police interactions if you find yourself witnessing an encounter. Show up at a protest or rally. Donate. There are so many ways to help.
We can’t take back the unnecessary deaths, violent acts, and historical pain that has occurred, but we can work towards preventing this list from growing longer.