Daymaker - a person who performs acts of kindness with the intention of making the world a better place.
~ David Wagner
, author of Life as a Daymaker; how to change the world by making someone's day ~

DayMaker - any thought, word, or deed that spreads happiness, compassion, or fruitful ideas.
~ Annis Cassells ~

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Conversations about Race: Colorblindness

Teachers shift their eyes left and upward as they mentally go along the rows or seating groups, counting on their fingers when asked how many Black or Latino students are in their class. In our teaching mode, we notice who seems to be understanding, who looks puzzled, who is not paying attention. We look at the whole, see our class as one entity, but when working with individuals, we often need to pay attention to their ethnic and cultural variations.

A generation or two ago in America, we heard people -- mostly White people -- say, “I’m colorblind.” They meant a person’s skin color didn’t matter to them. Peace. Love. Brotherhood.

Today, Black folks flinch when they hear that phrase. Some view it as a sign of disrespect. Others see it as racist.

I’m not colorblind. I notice other people of color -- on the street, in a hallway, in a store, at a highway rest stop. But, I don’t think, “Oh, there’s a White person.” when I see one. That is, unless I am traveling in Africa. When in Mexico or South America and I see a White person, I wonder, “Do they speak English?”

I’m not colorblind. I notice whether a newly-met person is Black, White, Asian, or Latino. For one thing, I’m human, curious, interested in people and who they are. As a writer, I observe physical features, voices, accents, and mannerisms. On observation, I may speculate about people’s historical background and what they might have experienced in their lifetime.

Regardless of a person’s ethnicity, I look for ways we can connect. I see them, but my decision to interact with them or to become friends is not based on skin color or cultural group. It’s about our commonalities, whether we have similar interests, values, or upbringing.

Do we automatically become friends? No. But we have a starting place and a good chance. How they treat me and others, whether we can laugh together, our ability to listen to and respect each others’ point of view when our beliefs and experiences are not in harmony, the truth of our words, and the trust we build. These factors nurture friendship.

How comfortable do you feel in stepping outside your own group to make new friends? Has doing so affected your outlook and thinking? And, how do you think being your friend has affected them?
~ xo A ~


  1. As an online college student, I 'meet' fellow students on the discussion boards each term. I don't know what they look like or sound like. I can only judge them by the words they post and how they interact with others. I've become close friends with many never knowing anything about them until we become friends on Facebook. Many times we are of different ethnic backgrounds and countries.
    I consider it a privilege to get to know someone for what their heart says, instead of possibly prejudging because we look or talk differently.
    Because of this, I've learned to step out of my comfort zone because it's changed the way I think about other people.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Joan. I love this line:
      "I consider it a privilege to get to know someone for what their heart says, instead of possibly prejudging because we look or talk differently." If we could get to know what's in people's hearts before judging -- that would solve a lot of problems before they even start. Hugs, xoA

  2. Annis, thanks for continuing this conversation. You bring up an interesting take on the conversation today. I agree. people are not "colorblind." Obviously, we notice race, ethnicity, etc. in most cases. Sometimes specific ethnicity is not as obvious as race if we are not familiar with the characteristics of a particular culture, but yes...we do see differences. I am sure the people who claim to be "colorblind" have the same ability to see race that we all have. I am guessing that what they mean is that color doesn't matter to them in terms of accepting people as equal, friends, whatever. However, somewhere along the line, I came to learn, as you write, that saying one is "colorblind" is offensive to some.

    I did, however, have a shift in my perception of race as I taught at Emerson. In that very multicultural environment, I was, in the early months, very conscious of race, especially as I had gone to schools with very little diversity. After getting to know the kids, I obviously still knew their simply wasn't the first thing I thought of when I thought of them. I became more focused on their personal qualities. But I also understand, that in our country, and due to the way blacks have been treated, their race is often the first way in which they define themselves. (I am not feeling that I'm stating this very eloquently.)

    In answer to your questions at the end of your post, I feel a little uncomfortable stepping out of my comfort zone when making friends with ANY new person. I usually form friendships based on common interests, personalities, the decency and goodness of the other person. When those things fall into place...when there is a genuine connection with another is all easy, no matter what their race. When those things don't fall into place, the friendship doesn't grow, no matter how similar we might "appear."

    1. Joan, how brave of you to share with us about your "shift in perception of race." Thank you. I think a lot of factors, especially unfamiliarity or newness, bring the matter of another's race to consciousness. But as with all things, becoming familiar, spending time, and learning that though folks look different they want and need the same things as us help us to shift our ideas. I sure appreciate your insights about your experiences, Joan. Hugs, xoA

  3. Hi Annis,

    Interesting blog! I can remember working at Shelby State Community College ECE Center, where I was in the racial minority. Friends would ask me, "Which teacher? The bright one?" I'd think, well, she's a college professor, so, sure she's smart--and everyone would laugh. I was busy being the best teacher I could be, and it never occurred to me to spend time noticing how dark/light a person's skin was. There were also many questions about the texture of a person's hair there, that seemed a little rude or intrusive having grown up in Rancho Palos Verdes.

    As a member of a multi-ethnic Polynesian dance group, I was also really taken aback by the racial slurs that were routinely, good-naturedly thrown around.

    A final reflection from my own life: A principal once intimated that my mistreatment by a computer tech might be prejudiced. I asked, "Because I'm white?" He answered, "Because you're a woman!" We decided I should just ignore it.

    People ARE interesting. There are so many ways to be. Having grown up very racially isolated, I determined to provide my daughter with a DIFFERENT experience. It's been easy, because my particular hobbies (especially dance) surround me with such a variety of very cool people--who come in all colors, sizes, shapes, ages, and sexual preferences. I think really, it's not colorblindness we seek, but simply openness to different ways of being. My life has been so much richer than it could be, if I didn't look outside the tiny box!

    Thanks for always being such an awesome friend,

    1. Thanks for posting, Sandy. Your remark about the hair texture reminds me of a story my sis tells about the white students in her college dorm standing around the communal bathroom to watch as she removed the towel from her freshly-shampooed hair. Hair IS a big thing in black culture.
      I wondered whether the racial slurs you mentioned in the dance group were directed towards members of the same ethnicity or generally from and to anyone.
      "t's not colorblindness we seek, but simply openness to different ways of being." I'm sure this is true for many.
      Thanks again, Sandy! xoA

  4. My story if funny. I taught for six years in an all African-Amerian school - all my kids were black, different shades and sizes. My world was mostly black during those six years and color kind of disappeared - until I was assigned to teach in an all - white school. Wow! all the kids were the same color…it was so hard to tell them apart - the "they all look alike" stupidity was shifted….

    My black kids were poor. dirt poor. open to learning and loving. I taught 8th grade - the best aged kids. They taught me lots more than I taught them - about joy, resiliency and the evil/stupidty of the racial divide.

    1. Oh, Joanne! Your story IS funny! And, yes, isn't it wonderful what the kids taught US while we were teaching them. Thanks for sharing this story. xoA

  5. As a youngster, we took a road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to San Francisco, California. While navigating the congested traffic, my father suddenly pulled out of traffic and onto the sidewalk. The abrupt jolt and bump shook me awake. I peered over the front seat in just enough time to see both my parents quickly throw open their doors and call out, “George! George! Is that you?”
    George was apparently the parking lot attendant at the booth. The three hugged, then hugged again and again. Tears of joy welled from their eyes.
    They talked about the old times in the old country. They talked about the trip on the boat. They talked about the difficulties found in their new country. Eventually my parents remembered they had four kids in the car. They said their good-byes and returned to the car.
    I leered at my mother with a suspicious eye, “I thought you said we were not supposed to talk to black people!”
    “You mean George? George is not black. He is Dutch.”
    “I have never seen anyone that black!”
    “He is not black.”
    Discrimination due to race was something I learned as part of assimilating into the american culture. My mother always told me I would have an easier time in the USA as I was so light skinned. My brothers and sister, as well as my parents, did have a more difficult time. I was able to pass. I resented that ability . . . the ability to allow color blindness in others. It meant I lost a part of my identity.

    1. Anke, what a great story showing perspectives -- your parents' and yours based on what you'd been taught.
      "I resented that ability . . . the ability to allow color blindness in others. It meant I lost a part of my identity." This is a powerful line. It's exactly why "I'm colorblind." offends. The person it's directed to feels stripped of their identity.
      Thanks so much for sharing your story and experiences. xoA