"I don't see race."
By Chip Chang, July 20, 2017
"I don’t see race."
Four incredibly dangerous words, often spoken by people with the best of intentions. But of course, most of us also believe we’re not racist. Unfortunately, when you’re born into a system of white supremacy and cis-heteropatriarchy, you’re immediately subjected to experience racism and sexism - as oppressed or oppressor.
Another way to think about this is through an ultimate team. There are several ultimate programs out there that have a bad reputation. We’ve played against those teams. You roll your eyes when you see they’re in your pool and during the game, when they make a bad call you think, “Of course they made that call.” The game simply isn’t fun. But what happens when you suddenly find yourself on that team? If a team has a bad reputation, but you justify your own actions by saying, “Well, I’m not that way,” does that change your team’s reputation? Likely not. It doesn’t really matter what you think as an individual because this is a larger, team issue, or a systemic one if you will. Similarly, if you think, “Well, we’re not that way anymore, things have changed,” that’s also not good enough because again, your reputation precedes you. Instead, what you need to do is actively show that you’re not that team. You need to go out of your way to fight against your previous reputation and go above and beyond. (Check out Dylan Freechild’s twitter thread about that.) And it doesn’t matter how many strides you’ve tried to make. If you or your teammates make what’s perceived to be a bad call or a dangerous play, then a lot of that work you’ve put in to change your reputation has just been tarnished and the road ahead proves to be even more difficult. The system is stacked against you and in order to make any kind of progress you must actively try and continue to be persistent.
So bringing it back to the larger conversation. Because we’re all part of a system where racism and sexism are prevalent in the most overt and subtle ways, it’s not enough to claim we’re not racist. Instead, we must be anti-racist - actively and intentionally fighting against racism or sexism - otherwise the only thing that persists is the status quo.
But you might be asking, why is it so bad to say, “I don’t see race”?
I’ll pose these two questions for you. First, do you support racial diversity? Second, do you believe that skin color doesn’t matter? If you answered yes to both statements, you likely have good intentions, but unfortunately, it is logically impossible to answer yes to both.
If you do not see race or color, then racial diversity inherently cannot exist. If the human race is the only race that matters or exists, then fundamentally racial diversity does not exist because there’s only “one race,” and diversity necessitates more than one. And despite your best of intentions, while you individually may not think skin color determines anything about a person’s character, personality, or how they should be treated, unfortunately we live in a world that says it does. In order to combat racism, we must first acknowledge that skin color does make a difference, because the system deems it so.
In other words, racism functions at a systemic and an individual level, thus we must keep both in mind.
The “I don’t see race” argument is dangerous because it argues that we live in a post-racial society where color doesn’t matter. You’ve heard this before. We had a Black president so now racism doesn’t exist because Black people can do anything too. There is the rule and there are exceptions. The Obamas are the exception. This color-blind logic not only fails to be anti-racist, but it also tricks those with the best of intentions into thinking that they’re allies, when in reality, their allyship is a facade and they don’t even realize it.
Color-blindness is another tool of white supremacy, guised as a tool of liberation. Color-blindness erases racial difference as a way to say racism doesn’t exist. Because if color doesn’t matter, then the white police officer killing another unarmed black man or woman isn’t a hate crime. But if we acknowledge that racism does exist, that our society is built on slavery, genocide, and imperialism, and manifests itself into every facet of our society, then we’re able to understand how these larger structures have historically created unequal opportunities and bias. Then we’re able to see how racial bias is embedded in every fiber of our society and has led us to believe that black bodies are read as dangerous and threatening. Because even if they’re unarmed, their hands are up or cuffed, their backs are turned, or they’re 12 years old, it doesn’t matter because the very bodies they occupy are deemed as weapons.
And weapons are objects.
And objects have no right to life.