I thought I had it right.
I raised them the way I had been taught.
We don’t see color, we see character.
But I think I did it wrong.
After all, when I was growing up my mother started her own company in the late 80’s and hired a black woman to be one of her Vice Presidents. We loved Rita. She was bold and wise, smart and kind and kick ass at her job. My high school best friend was black. I loved her. We were friendly with the one mixed race family at church. I was friends with one of the kids. I liked her family. We didn’t see anyone as different than ourselves so clearly we weren’t racist.
Then I had kids and thought I had it right. I taught them the same things my parents taught me. All people are valuable. Race isn’t an issue. We love people for who they are, not the color of their skin. Initially it worked. When one of the oldest kids came home from school and told a story about their friend with the brown hair it took awhile to realize she meant the kid who I also knew to have brown skin. I was so proud! Look! She doesn’t see color!
But then they started to see it.
And I was distraught.
The first time a kid came home and explained someone by the color of their skin I was perplexed and thought I had literally ruined my child for all humanity. Weren’t kids supposed to be the innocent ones? I was worried, I read more books, I looked for affirmation that I was teaching the right things. All signs pointed to colorblind being the right way to go. And all of a sudden I was keenly aware that my kid was not, indeed, colorblind.
Over time I worried less but still taught by word and by action that we were not a family that tolerated racism. I grew, my kids grew. If you know me you also know…I had more kids. It’s kind of what I do. And now we’re raising the last three kids at home with the caboose being quite an intelligent and big hearted child, Chloe. Still not racist. Still trying to raise kids in the ways of love and acceptance. Still doing the best I could or at least I thought I was.
My dear friend Kelli came into my life about four years ago give or take. She would come to my house to shop in my boutique, sometimes with a group, sometimes with her incredible mother, often just by herself. My kids all enjoyed her but Chloe in particular was always running for a hug and a squeeze from Ms. Kelli. I told Chloe one day that Ms. Kelli was coming over and she wanted to draw her a picture. When Kelli got here and Chloe pulled her picture out I was surprised to see her accurate drawing of herself with her peach skin tone and Ms. Kelli with her black skin tone and for half a second I thought to myself “Oh shoot-is this ok? This isn’t colorblind.” And being who she is, Kelli grabbed Chloe and gave her a big squeeze and told her how well she did with her drawing and how much she loved how Chloe even got the color of each of their skin right.
I would love to tell you a story of how enlightened I’ve always been.
I would love for you to see my heart and know I love people of many races.
I would love to tell this particular story and tell you it was ten or twenty years ago.
But I can’t. I wasn’t. And this was a couple years ago. It wasn’t until that moment that I fully realized that my children are not colorblind. And THAT is what the innocence of children is-not that they don’t see color, but that it doesn’t register as a way to sort people into good or bad, positive or negative, black or white. It’s just a shade of skin color to them. They aren’t impervious to it. They see it. It’s part of who we all are and impossible to actually ignore.
I was the one who had it wrong.
I thought colorblind was the best way.
I dismissed the fact the kids knew better than me all along.
I should have been quicker to let them teach me.
So my kids are not colorblind. Colorblind is not the goal. When we say we are colorblind, we are saying we don’t see the discrimination or racism, we are dismissing the experience that our black brothers and sisters have and we are pretending something doesn’t exist when it really does. I have learned by listening that colorblind is in it’s practice, not recognizing some of the most important parts of who our friends are. It’s turning a blind eye to our own blindspots and makes it easier to dismiss situations where subtle racism blossoms and grows. Colorblind makes it more difficult for people of color as a whole to express their feelings and share their stories without some of us downplaying it or doubting them because we ourselves think we’re not racist, we’re colorblind. It’s dismissive and downplays the very realities of racial injustices and inequities. Our black brothers and sisters and their children do not have the privilege nor the luxury of being colorblind or not seeing color.
So what’s the answer?
What do we say now?
“I see you. I honor you. I value your input.
I will be educated about your lived experiences.
I will work against the racism that harms you.
You are beautiful. Tell me how to do better.”
Ms. Kelli has some advice too:
“Instead [of saying you don’t see color]perhaps you could try one of these phrases:
“I don’t define people by skin color.”
“I never allow race to determine who I love.”
“I love my friends, regardless of color.”
“I love that I have friends of all different races. Variety is the spice of life.”
“My family and I embrace diversity”
I am still learning. I will always be learning. When we stay open to new thoughts and new information we can’t go wrong. But it truly wasn’t until I humbled myself to defer to the men and women with different color skin than me, that I understood at my core what was inherently wrong in claiming not to see color.
So for that, I humble apologize and promise to do better, to reinforce what our kids already know in their hearts and in their wise little heads, to stand as a witness to the stories of our black brothers and sisters and to always defer to their experiences when it comes to what racism really looks like. I will gladly offer my shoulders for you to stand on so I can amplify your message but I will also not stop speaking to my white brothers and sisters who have good hearts but maybe don’t recognize fully how harmful we can be by trying so hard to not appear racist.
It’s ok to learn and grow.
It’s ok to change our language.
It’s ok to change our entire philosophy and understanding.
In fact, it’s necessary.
It’s ok if you’ve never said black lives matter and today is the first time you’ll utter it because now you understand. I didn’t always understand but I’m determined to put in the work to understand my part. It’s ok to stop defending our own lack of racism and just start listening to see how we can do better.
I should have just taken my kids’ lead as they grew.
They had it right all along.
My kids are not colorblind.
And I refuse to be anymore, either.