Written by: Sevgi Fernandez
It is a luxury to walk through life not having to constantly be aware of your race. As a mixed woman, racial labels have followed me wherever I’ve gone, and I’m keenly aware that the darker a person’s skin, the more this statement is true.
“I am Colorblind” or “I don’t see color”, are statements many of you have either heard or have said yourselves. I truly believe the only people who can “choose” to be colorblind, are whites. It is a luxury not to have to think about race. In a workshop I held last fall, we watched the documentary, A Conversation with White People on Race. Some of the statements, although simple, were profound. For example, a thirty something white man said, “I don’t think about being white, I just don’t.” This was followed by a middle aged white woman who said, “I really did not know I had a racial identity. I had no idea what that meant, how that shaped my outlook on life, my sense of optimism, sense of belonging, sense of safety.”
Now, I can all but guarantee that every single black person on this earth, knows they are black and is reminded of that fact each and every day. I think black people are very aware of our racial identity, and we are aware of how our racial identity dictates how safe we are, what type of education we can get, what type of healthcare we receive and what types of jobs we can attain. Race is of course not the only factor in any one of these, but it’s often the deciding factor.
Racism is a social construct developed to oppress. It has evolved over the centuries, but in essence, the process of labeling and stereotyping a person based on the color of their skin to keep them subservient to the dominant white race, has stayed the same. I’m going to share a pivotal event in my childhood that truly awakened me to the fact that the world saw me in the context of “race” not “person”.
Standing in line at school, the red faced white boy in front of me asked,“What are you?’
“Im half black, half white.” I said, feeling a little uncomfortable. The boy then scathingly stated,
“Well at least I can respect HALF of you,”And he turned to laugh with his friends. At that moment I felt a myriad of emotions jumping rapidly from one to another, shame, embarrassment, humiliation and when I landed on rage, my 12 year old fist connected with his 16 year old face. I’m not sure who was more shocked!
I share this as a way of illustrating that even as children we are shown we are different, we are less than. That certainly wasn’t the first time I became aware that my race, my skin color, played a part in how people would treat me, and still to this day, as a 43 year old soldier in the war on racism, I know that the future holds much more of the same.
We run every person through a set of implicit and explicit biases that we have developed over time. Implicit and explicit biases have been part of history since our inception. We are seeing the implications of these biases throughout the world and here in the United States. It seems to me that as we make more strides in this country towards tolerance, inclusion and equality for all i.e. electing our first Black President and legalizing same sex marriage, we become more divided as a society as race and racism become more prominent.
The effects of this systematic racism are apparent in the African American community across the country, wherever you look. It’s in the hopelessness of our youth, in the violence within our communities, and at the hands of the police. It’s in the educational system that is set up to fail our children and the healthcare system that is either unattainable or so discriminatory many fear ever seeking out the care they so desperately need. Rather than educating and nourishing the minds of our young people of color, the system is feeding the school to prison pipeline. So it is unlikely that you will come across a black person who says they are “colorblind”.
Black people have been systematically oppressed, discriminated against and brutalized simply because of their race since they were brought to this country as slaves. The system was set up to deny what should be our human rights, and that system is still at play today. We as people of color certainly believe All Lives Matter, yet All people haven’t had the daily struggles faced by blacks in this country. All people aren’t being shot, hung and choked to death by police. These are facts that cannot be denied. The reality is that our lives truly don’t matter outside of our own communities for the most part, and as we internalize the racism and oppression, they begin to matter less and less to us.
I do believe there are a great owing number of whites who are concerned about this racial divide and equality for people of color. I see more whites challenging themselves and asking the hard questions regarding their white privilege and implicit biases everyday. I think the movement from the black community over the past year specifically, has garnered much needed attention in mainstream and social media. This has enabled our messages related to the extreme state of racism and inequality in this country to reach whites whom otherwise would have continued on unaware. I am seeing more and more whites participating in protests and dialogues on the issues and I work along side many whom I respect deeply for their courage, commitment and humility, their ability to ask questions, to be wrong, to learn. It is quite exhilarating and gives me great hope. So although our country is arguably as polarized as it was 60 years ago or some may even say, 400 years ago, today a revolution is underway. Today people, be they black, white, yellow, red, brown or all of the above, are coming together as one, to challenge the machine that is Institutionalized racism. Each day that a step is taken together, a brick in the foundation of white supremacy that this country was built upon is removed.Until we can all have the luxury of being colorblind, because the day has come when in fact, All Lives Do Matter, and they matter Equally, the statement and movement Black Lives Matter is relevant and necessary.