Teaching children not to observe race devalues the human experience
He is a good friend of mine, so when he said it I cringed.
“I really want to raise my son to be color blind. I don’t want him to see race. It’s important that he treats everyone just as a human, you know?”
I did know. I knew that he was saying this with good intentions. He did not want to raise his child to have prejudice for another based on their race or the color of their skin. He was trying to say that he wanted his child to be accepting of everyone without the potential obstacle of race. I knew because there was a time in my life that I felt the same way. To be “color blind”.
“I don’t think that is actually what you want,” I said.
“Do you think I’m racist?” He snapped.
I did not. What I argued is that what you believe to be a helpful approach to raising a child without prejudice is in fact, potentially detrimental to their own development and their understanding of race in general. Racial color blindness influences the way a child comes to understand people and their experience. That can create prejudice and misunderstanding, perhaps down right ignorance.
“I want my daughter to see race, to understand race, and to value her own race and seek understanding in the racial experiences of others.”
“What do you mean’ her own race’?” He looked at me a bit dumbfounded. “What race is that?” He made imaginary quotations with his fingers, as if “race” was being misused in this particular context.
This is not an uncommon experience among white people, such as myself. More specifically I am of Scottish and German decent and, incidentally, I am a racial being. It took me a while before I understood that as a white male, I have a race. My race, however, was never something that was talked about while I was growing up. It was not until I was in college that I began to value that I possessed race and a specific identity as a result of that. I always thought that “race” was something that only “others” had. And it was clear to me that this was identifiable by the color of their skin, which I was, with good intentions, raised to ignore.
By being color blind (which is impossible) and by “ignoring” the color of another, I was in fact, segregating my thoughts about them based on color. I was devaluing their own experiences with race and not acknowledging the realities of power and privilege I received as a middle-class white male. Most detrimental, I did not view myself with race. I truly was colorblind and ignorant as a result. Looking back, did that make me racist? I do not believe so although I would respect others opinions to the contrary. Did it make me prejudice? I believe it did.
Dr. Shelly Tochluk, in her book, Witnessing Whiteness, suggests that being “color blind” has unintentional outcomes, even when done with the best of intentions. Being “color blind” tells people that race doesn’t matter and in turn, we ignore their lived experience. It devalues their reality. Being “color blind” tells people that we will ignore them when they talk about their experiences of racism, which prevents us from truly acknowledging the privilege that exists in society and institutions.
I am attempting to raise my daughter to value and celebrate race, cultures, and pluralism. I hope that she recognizes that her friends in school are black, are Hispanic, are of Asian descent, and I hope that she seeks to understand more about what that means for them. What that means in comparison to her experience. I hope that it opens her eyes and I hope that this known reality, which has come to her by first acknowledging race, will be her education. Most important, I want her to see that she possess race and to understand what her race and culture mean. All the historical triumphs and all the historical failures.
At five years old, she knows that her friends, parent’s friends, her uncle and her cousin, all have different colored skin; but she has not yet begun to connect that with stereotypes and prejudice. I value the importance of open dialogue and exposing her to culture as an attempt to begin shaping her knowledge of race in a way that will allow her to challenge those stereotypes that she will one day confront. Mindful of the racial and cultural representations she sees in her story books, television shows, and in her toys, my spouse and I attempt to create a multicultural environment for her to experience, to learn, to grow. As she grows and becomes developmentally able to understand, we will dialogue about racism, about privilege, and about the social constructs and biological realities of race. I cannot assume that this approach is full proof, but I know she will not be colorblind.
—photo by ankakay/Flickr