I know I am going out on a limb speaking on racial issues, and I’m probably going to say something wrong, but I'm going to speak what I think is truth anyway. Particularly in light of the current political climate, I have been trying to educate myself more on racial issues, to confront this idea that, as Ta’Nehisi Coates would say, I think I am white, to acknowledge my white privilege, and to deal with my own subtle prejudices. So, please forgive me if I step on toes while I try to work this out in words and force myself to take a good look at myself and the world I live in and, in doing so, make myself a true advocate for racial justice.
I have a favor to ask all my friends who, like me, think we are white: please stop sharing the story of that cute little boy who got his hair cut. On its face, this is a sweet story: boy cuts his hair to look like his best friend's hair and is gleeful that on Monday the teacher won't be able to tell them apart because of their identical haircut. Only here is the twist for us adults: he is white and his friend is black! There is a lesson to learn here! Clearly kids don't see color like we do! There is hope for the world!
This is an example of one of the lies that we who think we are white like to tell ourselves. We, “enlightened” white people, like to tell ourselves that we can raise children who Don't. See. Color. Racism is thereby eradicated! Pat yourself on the back because your child is colorblind! But the story is sweet because we adults know it isn't true. Kids are naive. That kid with his new haircut is going to school, and his teacher will easily tell him and his friend apart because one appears white and the other appears black. (And do you think this story would get nearly as much airplay if the races were reversed in the story?)
As I understand it, the Japanese language does not have separate words for blue and green. Leaves, grass, the sky – all the same color. (I assume they are shades of the same color, but I have no idea, not being or speaking Japanese.) But we, who speak English, do have separate words, and, as a result, we can't “unsee” leaves and the sky as being different colors - green and blue. Similarly with race, maybe there was a time in ancient pre-history when people didn’t have separate words for black and white (though I bet we did or at least for other differences among humans) but even so, we do now, and, culturally, we cannot “unsee” that difference.
While we get an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back when we share this story and congratulate ourselves for being good white people who raise good white children, what we lose is the opportunity for real discussion about race and difference and marginalization and equality. Because the fact is that we all SEE color and notice race (and lots of other differences but let's focus on race here since it is at the heart of the story). And what we want are not necessarily clueless children who “just don't see color” but children who see it but don’t make JUDGMENTS about it, who don’t make ASSUMPTIONS based upon it, who even appreciate and understand that their friends may be treated differently BECAUSE of it.
There was a time when I comfortably thought that I didn’t view my black friends as “black,” just as my friends (who maybe happened to be black). But when I started examining my white privilege and the subtle stereotypes and prejudices I had absorbed in my Southern upbringing, I realized that that was BS and not only untrue but unfair to my friends because that view ignores and diminishes their experiences that have arisen out of being viewed as black. These are experiences that make us different (that maybe make us seek out friendship with each other because of appreciation of our differences, sure), but they are experiences that simply are not the same, even if we live in the same place at the same time and do the same things. True friendship doesn’t allow us to ignore our differences and focus on liking each other on some shallow level. It forces us to acknowledge our differences and learn from them and TALK ABOUT THEM and come up with ways together to keep them from having us or our children lead drastically different lives with drastically different opportunities and risks because of those differences.
We who identify as white and benefit from the privileges that accrue to that status cannot hope to raise colorblind children because that denies the world in which we live. If we want to do right by our fellow humans, we must hope to raise children who see color and all that it means in this world and try to see beyond it to a real person with a real background and experiences and who will strive to make sure those differences don't mean different treatment. It’s great to have children who think that it is totally cool to have a haircut (or a shirt or a common interest) with a friend of a different background, but it really isn’t ok to have children who don’t see and understand the differences. Because the reality is that children who are viewed as black have different experiences than children who are viewed as white – even if they have the same haircuts - and we do a disservice to ALL of our children when we encourage them not to see those differences. We do a disservice to ourselves and to our black friends when we lie to ourselves that colorblindness is possible or, more importantly, desirable.