Years ago, I stood at a table in Burger King, snapping an unwilling toddler into a high chair while trying to keep an eye on my preschooler who had gone in search of napkins to clean up the sticky table. The toddler arched his back in protest, legs kicking and chubby hands pushing me away, then opened his mouth to scream. I offered him a french fry, and turned to see my four-year old come back with a pile of napkins and three straws.
Surprised by the success of his mission, my face must have asked the question. He smiled and pointed toward the front. “A black man helped me,” he explained. “He was nice.”
I looked up toward the front and saw an African-American man filling his drink. He looked up towards me and I smiled, nodding in gratefulness. He nodded back and went on about his day.
End of story.
Fast forward seven years to today, when I wake up to Facebook, to a feed that is blazing with hashtags and stories and sentiments revolving around race. Our nation is bubbling over with racial tension, and I can barely drink my morning coffee from the way it all turns my stomach.
I’m a Christian. It’s part of who I am and what defines me and what makes up my Facebook feed. And right now, my feed is full of people who are making the plea to stop the “Black lives matter” rhetoric and remember that everyone matters, and, even more than that, how about we just adopt the idea that skin color doesn’t matter at all? We are all souls, all hearts, all the same on the inside. Let’s drop all the labels and be completely colorblind.
I can appreciate this effort. I know that behind those statements is the belief that all people are equally valued, made in the image of God, and worthy of respect and deserving of dignity. But I want to push a little on the idea that the ultimate goal is to be colorblind.
Let me gently offer this idea:to ignore someone’s race is to ignore a piece of who they are. As a white person, I do not really identify strongly with my own race. That is to say, if I had to list ten words to describe myself, I would not use the word ‘white’. Now hold on a sec- don’t celebrate that fact. Don’t say, “Yes, can’t we all be like this? Why do people have to make race an issue?” The reality is, I do not identify strongly with my own race because it has not strongly shaped the way I see life. I have not had a sense of being treated differently because I’m white (besides a few experiences- I’m speaking about my life as a whole), I do not have a strong cultural heritage of whiteness, and I do not have a sense that being white is attached to some kind of value or judgment in particular from society. The fact that my whiteness is not a thing to me is not some sign of a higher level of thinking, it is simply proof that I have been part of the majority culture.
But to many others, their race is part of their story, their heritage, their identity, their own unique personhood. To look at someone and say, “I will not see your race; I will only see you on the inside,” is slightly ignorant. Because, while you mean it to say that you are trying to see what counts on the inside, what you are accidentally saying is, “Your race does not matter to me. I am not interested in how your skin color has affected your life and opportunities and how you’ve experienced the world. I only want to talk about how we’re similar.”
Oh friend, I do not think that is what you mean to say, is it?
What if instead you said, “Hi. I see that your skin color is different from mine. I believe that those differences are beautiful. Can you tell me about that? Can you help me understand what your race means to you? Can you tell me how that has shaped you?”
Imagine those conversations; those courageous, open, vulnerable conversations. They have to start from a place of humility and move to a place of genuine openness to each other.
Back to the first story I told. I could have said to my son, “Honey, don’t call that man ‘black.’ Don’t talk about his skin color.” But why? Why would I say that? At four years old, my son met another person, described this stranger by the feature that stood out to him, and then made a judgment based on how that man treated him.
You guys, I think that is the goal.
Do we see color, race, differences? Yes. We’ll never really be blind to it.
But do we make snap judgments, have negative presuppositions, assume things about someone based on their race? We do. And that is the thing we need to fight, to pray against, to ask forgiveness for. Let’s not be colorblind; let’s be judgment-free.
In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. did not dream of a day when no one would even know his kids were black. He dreamt of a day when they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
So please, please, please- stop the rallying cry to ignore race altogether. Instead, let’s redeem our minds and humble ourselves and strive to value and cherish each race equally.