You May Not See Race, But You Better See Me

“I don’t see race…”

“You’re not like the typical [fill in a race other than White]…”

“I don’t even think of you as [fill in a race other than White]…

Wait, what?!

You don’t see race? Do you have a problem with your vision?

I need you to see race. I need you to see me. Race is a part of my identity. It is not the only part of me, but it has surely, undoubtedly impacted the experiences that I have had, which in turn has made me the person who is standing, visibly or not, in front of you.

When you say that you do not see race, you are enacting your White privilege; you are afforded the opportunity to live in the United States and not think about your race. Why would you? You are the norm. Your hair, eyes, nose, and petite figure are the perceived standard of beauty. You see yourself positively represented in the majority of cultural and social aspects. All things good and desirable are conflated with whiteness. When I attended an independent school, filled with academic rigor, my friends from my less affluent neighborhood joked that I went to a “White” school. While they highlighted the predominant demographic of my school, they also insinuated that being in a “good” school meant that it had to be “White.” Further, when I enunciated my words in a certain way, I was told that I “talked White.” Once again, the connotation that the”proper” (whatever the hell that means) way of speaking had to be “White.” All things good are conflated with whiteness. There is a scene in the autobiographical book, Malcolm X, when Malcolm Little, while incarcerated, starts to learn the teachings of Islam. One of the jailed Muslim men gives him a dictionary and tells him to look up the words, “white” and “black.” What Malcolm quickly discovers is that the denotation (dictionary definition) and the connotation (feelings associated with a word) of both words shroud blackness in evil and despair, while purity and excellence illuminate whiteness.

No accident there. The language and feelings associated are all apart of the system.

When you say that you don’t even think of me as black, you are making me invisible. While your intention is to compliment me on my articulate speech or snazzy attire or whatever warranted the comment, you are essentially telling me that the good that you see in me is non-black; once again, recreating the narrative that only white equates good. Conversely, you strip me of my blackness, unintentionally bleaching me, which is apparently needed to make me visible; you can only see me when I am non-black.

No accident there. The language and feelings associated are all apart of the system.

As a society, we focus on the intent of statements. People often defend hurtful statements with “But-that [your hurt]-was-not-my-intention.” So what? There is no point in arguing intention because one can never defend or prove intention. Yet we often spend time focusing our energy on it.

How much air space and energy was devoted to Sen. Brewer’s intention in the above photo. Who cares? What needed to be discussed was the impact of a senator defiantly pointing her finger in the face of the POTUS. Oh and please do not think our country’s understanding of her white femaleness and his black maleness were not deeply entrenched in this conversation. Those two, white female and black male, have been involved in a long and complicated dance throughout our history.

Focusing on the intention is done to deflect the conversation from the real issue, the impact of the statement. Thanks for clarifying your intention for me, but, more importantly, my feelings are still hurt and your words caused that pain. Many people try to avert that responsibility when they hurt feelings because there is an implication that one is somehow a bad person. And who wants to be a bad person? Thus, the intention disclaimer becomes more apt, a way to save one’s soul. It screams, “I am not a bad person.” Since intention does not matter, one’s use of intention to soften the impact has an adverse affect. It demonstrates that you are unwillingly to acknowledge my pain that you caused. It magnifies your selfishness, only showing concern with your feelings and your desire to protect your sense of self, removing my feelings from the conversation. Moreover, your avoidance of that responsibility once again enacts your privilege, now placing the onus of recovering from the hurt solely on me, as if I hurt myself. A not so subtle way to blame the victim.

So while you may claim to be an ally and think that race should not be seen, you are damaging the same people you want to help while reproducing the same system of privilege that your comment intended to interrupt.

What do they say?

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

 

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One thought on “You May Not See Race, But You Better See Me

  1. Well put. People should see and not ignore race, but in the same moments see themselves and the biases they have internalized previously. Without facing these inner stereotypes and challenging them, ignorance-is-bliss prevails, and there is no real progress.

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