Recently, some people have called themselves "colorblind" in making claims that they don't see race. Ruby Liles discusses the intent behind these comments and the issues that come with claiming to be "colorblind."
“I am NOT black, and you are NOT white.” These bold and controversial words were spoken by Prince Ea, a YouTube sensation, who says his videos promise “inspiration, creativity, and music”. In his video, he goes on to argue “I am not Black. I mean, that’s what the world calls me, but it’s not me. I didn’t come out of my mother’s womb saying, ‘Hey everybody I’m Black.’ No, I was taught to be Black, and you were taught to call me that, along with whatever you call yourself. It’s just a label.” Prince Ea’s videos are ones that I love watching and deeply agree with, but this one in particular got me thinking. At what point are labels not strippable? At what point is disregarding a label less of a “reject the status quo” situation and more of a situation of ignorance? At what point does equal opportunity become “colorblindness”?
There are some labels which I choose to disregard both in myself and in others I meet, but I also believe that there is a fine line between disregarding labels and ignoring someone’s identity. I talked with Isabella Townsend (12) about labels and race and how we should hold conversations about them, and here’s what she said. “Of course I agree that some labels can be divisive, but at some point you need them to define your identity. No one can describe herself without using labels related to race, gender identity, sexual preference, profession, or even hobbies. Labels can put a name to what we are experiencing, or help bring us together. It is really the way you use the label that’s important. The idea of ‘colorblindness’ or ‘not seeing race’ perpetuates the idea that race needs to be looked past in order for people to accept one another, or that race is a hurdle that we have to jump over. No. Race exists, plain and simple. No one needs to pretend like they do not see race, we just need to be tolerant of one another.”
Back to that word “colorblind.” When I hear the word, I am personally reminded of the “All Lives Matter” apologists in response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. To me, they both ring with the underlying message that race needs to be overlooked in order to treat people as people, which seems just as dangerous as using race as a barrier to divide people and keep them apart. In response, Isabella says, “I think that people who say that they are colorblind mean well, and are definitely not trying to be racially insensitive. But my opinion on ‘all lives matter’ is different. It can seem appealing because of how inclusive or obvious it sounds. But, it’s in opposition to raising awareness of and campaign against the violence and systemic racism that exists toward black people.”
Regardless of whether race was invented in the 15th century as a means of dividing people as the video points out, race is real because we have accepted it to be, and it deserves to be noticed, just like any other label with which we heavily identify. Discrimination against women, for example, is obviously a very real thing and something I hope that we as a society are striving to move away from. However, this doesn’t mean we have to suddenly become “gender-blind” in order to treat everyone with respect. We should acknowledge the differences that we share and work at ways to reach liberation and peace, rather than totally glossing over these labels which play such a pivotal role in a person’s life.
To conclude, Isabella says “Some labels have definitely shaped parts of my life and who I am, but they’re definitely not everything about me,” and I couldn’t agree more. I think the I Am Not Black, You Are Not White video really brought to light to me the fact that we all need to be more accepting of one another and become more unified as humans, but we don’t have to ignore race or any label of such magnitude in order to do so. It’s true, some labels do divide us, but to blind oneself to any label anyone may identify with is to obstruct oneself from seeing the whole picture. Awareness is key to improvement, and though I whole-heartedly agree that the color of one’s skin doesn’t make someone greater or lesser than anyone else, this spectrum of skin color that humankind embodies is what makes us diverse. Science tells us that we are all human, and we all have that in common. But science also tells us that diversity is what makes us as a species excellent. When we stop trying to “get over” our different labels and start embracing each other for who we are, we will all be excellent, and I think we will be more united than we have ever been.