Race

To All the Friends Who Say ‘I Don’t See Race’

I guess you could consider this a public service announcement.  To all the people who say/have ever said things like, “I don’t see colour/race,” this is a message for you. 

Unless you are genuinely, medically diagnosed as colour blind, you are a liar.

You can see colour because it is clearly there on display for you to see. If what you mean is that you don’t consciously (and I stress the word ‘consciously’) allow your recognition of someone’s colour to dictate your opinions of them and the assumptions you make about them, then that’s all well and good but you need to SAY THAT. You may be thinking that I’m being highly pedantic here, that I’m fixating on minor semantics, but I’m not. Words have meanings, and how we choose to put them together is important. 

You may feel that saying “I don’t see colour/race” makes you the ultimate anti-racist because you’re proving that someone’s race doesn’t matter to you at all and that you just completely ignore it. But that is just as unhelpful (to put it mildly) as those who allow their prejudices to be the driving factor in how they treat others. Why? Because we know that racism is systemic. We know that it is institutional. Pretending you don’t see race, and therefore telling yourself you cannot be complicit in racism, will not change that.  In fact, it makes it worse because it allows you to turn a blind eye to the everyday racism that people of colour face – racism that you may well be perpetuating – and it absolves you of any responsibility to challenge it. Ignorance is really not bliss here.

Those who call for equality are not calling for race to just simply be ignored. It is not wrong to acknowledge that people from different races and cultures are inherently different, from their physiology to their cultural practices. In fact, it can help to understand that person and their experience of life. Somehow we’ve managed to get to a point in society where acknowledging difference is in itself considered to be racist, because anti-racism seems to now mean that everyone is exactly the same, which is utterly ludicrous. If you want an example of how ridiculous this is, head over to Twitter and check out the NHS’s Give Blood page. Earlier this year they had to write a thread explaining to people why they put out a call asking specifically for Black blood donors, after being accused of racism because “isn’t everyone’s blood the same?” Yes, really.

What we should be striving for is an understanding of race and culture (and, where that understanding is lacking, a desire to learn), not ignorance of it. That is the one of the many – and I admit, rather basic – ways we can challenge racist attitudes, behaviours and practices, particularly where microaggressions and unconscious bias are concerned. Understanding why things are racist, even if you mistakenly think it’s harmless, will help tackle everyday racism and make the lives of people of colour just that little bit easier.  If you truly are not racist, this will not be something you object to, it will be something you embrace.