Thursday, July 2, 2015

All the Colors of the World

“You don’t fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity.” – Bobby Seale

We are not all the same, and I thank my God for that. For years the idea of being “colorblind” has been disseminated, as if that is the solution to racism. I cannot think of anything worse. “Don’t see those color differences,” those righteous people said. I have two words for that: Bull. Shit.

What an insult to pretend the entire world is a single shade. How pompous, how arrogant of anyone to decide what shade all people of the world should be seen as. Because somewhere, someone is deciding that you – you, the person reading this – are the wrong color and they are erasing your skin tone and replacing it with the “appropriate” shade to make us all “colorblind”. Do you see the problem yet?

Making everything one color takes all the other color out of the world. And what a dismally dull world that would be.

See those colors. See all the beautiful colors we come in. It is a glorious array.

We talk about race in my classroom. At first, the students are incredibly uncomfortable and say little. But they learn that my classroom is a safe space. They can offer honest opinions, viewpoints, and insights without fighting or recriminations. We have academic debates. Eventually, in many classes they really open up and we have good discussions. Sometimes they get…lively. Overwhelmingly they tell me after class that they have never been allowed to discuss it before.

What madness is this?

Racism is a problem in this country. How can this problem be improved, and ultimately fixed, if it isn’t talked about?

So we talk even more. I’m building more and more into my college syllabus because I find that they want to talk about it and no one lets them.

Last semester, one student asked me what racial term I preferred. I told her she’s welcome to call me “white”. I’m about as pale as they come; “white” describes me pretty well. So I asked her the same question; I had a feeling I knew where she was going.

“Black,” she said, without hesitation. “I’m not from Africa. My mama is not from Africa, and her mama was not from Africa. We aren’t African-Americans. We’re ‘black’”. This set off an entirely new discussion in the classroom: “Black” vs. “African-American”. My white students weren’t as quiet as I expected them to be; several asked some great questions that day.

I told this class that I was raised with the idea of everyone being colorblind, that we should look at people as if we were all the same color. It was like grenades exploding in the classroom. Loud voices, all talking at once. Oh no, they did not like that idea at all. I held up my hand and they settled down. I had them tell me why they disliked the idea.

Student #1: “Because it’ll never work. People will always judge first based on what they see, and they’ll always see skin color first.” Many heads nodded, murmured “yeahs” and “uh-huhs”.

Student #2: “If we’re all the same color then we’re all the same. But in a bad way, I mean. Like carbon copies.” More nodding heads.

Student #3: “You know that if we’re all one color, that color’s gonna be white. Ain’t nobody gonna make everybody in this world black. I don’t want to be white. No offense, Ms. P., but I am a beautiful black woman, a proud black woman, and if someone doesn’t want to see the color of my skin they don’t have to look. They don’t have to know me. My life does not depend on them.” She got the loudest cheers and applause.

She also made the best point.

I try to teach my students how to argue and debate logically and keep their emotions to a minimum. I try (try!) to teach them that arguments based on emotion don’t last, that they have to think their way through. And that’s what we face with racism: we have to think through it. We can’t react to it with emotional knee-jerks that only fan its fire.

We used to see things only in black and white. That’s what my kids call “the olden days”. We shouldn’t do that anymore. Now we live in the splendid and superb world of high-definition where everything is bright and rich and deep and every nuance of color is perfectly tinted to our viewing pleasure. Let’s embrace every shade there is.

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