“I don’t see color,” some white people say. Case in point: Tomi Lahren, a blonde millennial host on Glenn Beck’s conservative The Blaze TV network. On a recent Daily Show appearance, the pretty young thing sat down with Trevor Noah and spouted off all manor of incendiary racial rhetoric—false equivalencies like “more black people shoot white police than visa versa”—all while the liberal audience let out one gasp after another, listening to the bullshit coming out of her mouth.
The biggest gasp came after her biggest piece of bullshit: “I don’t see color.”
To which Trevor Noah had the best response: “Then what do you do at stoplights?”
It’s a valid question. Of course, you see color. We all see colors. And just as the color of stoplights influence our decision making, so, too, does the construct of race.
We all see people in black, white, brown and yellow. Oh, and Redskins.
It’s the colorful world into which we were all born, the world into which every human has been born, more or less, since really big ships and colonialism.
So, if you don’t see color, white person, it’s probably because you don’t actually look at people of color the same way you look at your fellow white man, woman and child. You don’t actually look people of color in the eyes and take them for what they are: human beings just like you. (That’s why any one group all looks alike, by the way.)
Example: a conversation between a white friend and myself once upon a time.
Black person (me) asks: “Is he good looking?”
White friend scoffs: “No, he’s Asian!” (Translation: automatically disqualified from consideration. Not even in the running for good looking. Not sexy/human!)
It’s what you don’t see, when you don’t see color.
When you don’t see color, you use terms such as “boy and/or girl next door” and “all-American” to describe someone who is white, because—sports accolades aside—what else could an “all-American” person be but white? Who else does America dream of living next door to but a white person?
When you don’t see color, you look at people’s Facebook photos and friends lists and don’t take note of the fact that most white people on Facebook have few, if any, black friends or black people in their photos.
That’s because they don’t see color. People of color are just blurs in the backgrounds of the movie of their lives, not people you look in the eyes and take them for they are: human beings just like you.
For non-colored girls only.
At my late-70s-era high school, all the pretty white girls had their own versions of college sororities. Instead of Greek names, they were called Dolls, Queen of Hearts, Gals. Just like their collegiate counterparts, these clubs were social, philanthropic and all white. This—despite the fact that my predominantly white high school was integrated enough to avoid integration by court mandate.
During my time at North Central High School in Indianapolis Indiana, never did I heard one word about this institutionalized racism—even as hordes of girls roamed the halls in hoodies and T-shirts that proudly bore the symbols of their all-white clubs. Never a peep about this thoroughly ensconced practice.
In retrospect, I, of all people, I could have boomed an entire collective dialogue.
Throughout high school, I was on newspaper staff. Senior year, I became (the first black?) editor-in-chief of the Northern Lights. I could have done an in-depth feature for the front cover— my front cover—the one that was entirely up to me to create.
But not once did it ever occur to me to broach this topic in a story that surely would have done what many a journalist/writer strives to do: strike a nerve, start a conversation.
Instead, I ran stories about the philanthropic and social endeavors of the clubs, even had one of my classmates and friends supply me with pictures of her and her all-white friends at one of their outings.
Neither one of us brought up the whitewashing of her club, but it was plain as black and white: no matter how many sisters I had, no matter how beautiful and popular they were—they were not going to be considered for these girls clubs because of the color of their skin.
That same, damning silence occurred when I visited that same friend a couple of years later at her college sorority. Picture it: myself and a Jewish friend, sitting in her sorority’s living room, chatting it up with her and her sisters without any acknowledgment of the fact that this popular white sorority wasn’t about to allow the sister of any nigger or Jew up here in this house.
That’s what it’s like to live in the white man’s world, to accept the white man’s thoughts, infrastructures and institutions as the default setting for life.
That’s what it’s like to not see color.