Monday, June 09, 2008

What I hear you saying is…

A bitch is 35 years old and if I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that they don’t see my blackness I could afford to fill up Ms. Sister Girl Cabrio with premium gas for at least a month (wince).

I know that people think that saying they don’t see color is an enlightened statement, but it strikes me as bullshit. It is also sourced in the school of tolerance this bitch often refers to and has no…ummm, tolerance for.

Shall we?


When someone tells me that they don’t see color what I hear them saying is that their coping mechanism for living in a diverse society is to ‘same’ all people. I imagine this person engaging in a constant mental de-colorization game with every person they encounter who isn't just like them.

By color these people are really speaking about culture and this bitch is too much of a culture junkie to stand for someone saying that they can only deal with me if they overlook or see beyond or ignore my culture.

I’m black (those rumors about a bitch really being the alternate personality of Brother Rob Thurman are false, damn you!).

This bitch happens to be a full figured black woman sporting a medium Afro. If you don’t see me you need help...stat!


I’ve always been a culture junkie, but it took me years to embrace and celebrate my culture and the physical presentation of that which is my rather fetching Hershey brown skin (wink). Learning to love and celebrate my natural hair took longer and learning to challenge anyone who dare propose that by not seeing all that is me they are somehow respecting me came shortly thereafter.

The idea that telling a person of color that you do not see their color is a compliment is sourced directly from the school of tolerance. Basically, to tolerate difference a person believes they have to ignore and/or deny difference. Americans can not be defined separate of diversity anymore than a bitch can be understood by attempting to not see my blackness.

Instead of trying to not see difference we should all work to respect it and celebrate it. If I’m proud of my heritage and culture that doesn’t mean I’m dismissing other people's. My background…like most black people who trace their ancestry through slavery…is diverse as a motherfucker and I enjoy the hell out of that.

So please...pretty not attempt the impossible task of not seeing my rather unforgettable black self.

Just think of what you’re not really missing (wink).


Anonymiss said...

My old English professor made a note of this and said that it's racist. It's racist because you're taking a part of that person's identity away. She also said that it's sexist to not see sex for the same reasons.

a.eye said...

This annoys me, also. I guess (white) people think that by not associating us with "being black" they are paying us a compliment. That they are treating us better than if they saw us as black, or if they saw us as people who celebrate our culture.

I just wish more would understand that in accepting us, they have to accept ALL of us. I have been working with some social justice groups that are working to help people understand that being "colorblind" is really being, in some ways, racist.

Anonymous said...

Saying that "I don't see color" is in many ways tantamount to saying that "I tolerate you by ignoring those parts of you that make me uncomfortable."

Anonymous said...

Wow! As a white man, I always thought the terms, “I’m colourblind”, or “I don’t see colour” meant that I would never allow the colour of a person’s skin to be a barrier that would keep me from seeing the person within. As it turns out, after all these years, I had the meaning wrong. Go figure.

whatsername said...



There is one guy especially, who I often butt heads with online, who resorts to this color blind bullshit all the time.

It drives me bonkers, and thank you for putting together so succinctly why!

The Bear Maiden said...

I've gotten similar comments through the years, and it took me a while to even realize they pissed me off. And then longer to figure out why.

And I too enjoy tracing my extremely diverse make up through history and time... and enjoy every aspect of who I am... an American. I couldn't exist anywhere else in the world...

Shark-Fu said...


Looks like you were just saying it wrong but you got it right.

You have to see the whole person to truly respect them.

TBLJ said...

I used to teach Sociology to college freshman and sophomores and whenever we got to the subject of race there was always one student usually male and always white that would say "...Well I don't see color..." to which I would say "You mean to tell me that you cannot tell that this class is being taught by a black woman" and of course there was usually laughter. my students were very young and only regurgitating the same crap that I am sure was taught to them by their parents.

Limecrete said...

Heh. Mitchell's nicer than I am. My initial reaction was to come at it from the other direction, i.e.: "The color of your skin doesn't factor into my request that you stop yelling at the movie screen, ma'am."

Anonymous said...

Not to mention, you know that 99.9999999% of people who say that are lying to themselves (and by extension, you).

dua said...

Ok. I don't mean I don't see the color. I mean I don't see it as an issue. Like, I'm not going to vote for him because he's black. That's not what i think. I may think, I'm not going to vote because he's an idiot. Always good to have another viewpoint. Love this conversation!

Anonymous said...

I had a roommate remark to me once that she "didn't see color". I replied in all seriousness that it's rare for a woman to be colorblind. I didn't realize at first that she was practicing political rectitude as she saw it.

Shark-Fu said...

Gotcha on that! I think the problem is that some people are actually trying to say they don't see it at all.

Lacey said...

Yeah, I think I expressed surprise at how white you sounded on NPR. I seem to recall being put in my place about that. And yes, I do recognize that that was racist. My question is, is there a difference between racism born of ignorance, rather than racism born of hate? Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better, but I'd like to think that if it's born of ignorance, and I am trying to change that, which obviously I am, given that I'm a fan...know what I'm saying?

Fact of the matter is, I think racism is a sticky wicket for lots of white folks. We don't want to be, but it's hard to, like, wipe the slate clean, especially at my age (59). You get brought up in a racist society, in a racist family...kind of like that old adage about lying down with dogs...what's a mutt to do? Just keep trying to see the light, is all I can think of.

EHR said...

Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of white people even realize that black people (or any people of color) actually have a unique culture. (I know it took me a long time to learn that, and I'm like you, always interested in other cultures.)

The Bear Maiden said...

lacey, I do think there's a huge difference between racism born in hate and racism born in ignorance. Two problems though... the hate probably preceded the ignorance, because it was the initial hate that led to the misinformation that became accepted fact/stereotype, and it's racism that prevents folks from digging any further. And you truly, in my opinion may not be held accountable for the hate, but you are accountable for the ignorance because when you're on the receiving end of said racism, it doesn't really matter how it came at you. It still stings.

And racism goes both ways, and runs deeply on all sides and nobody's exempt. One can argue that "black" folks racism and hatred can't hurt "white" people in quite the same way, since our society is set up so that "white" people never really have to check themselves, if they never think to. To a certain extent that's true... but I don't think it exempts anybody from the personal responsibility of actively working to heal themselves of racism.

eden... I think a lot of "black" also fail to realize that there are different cultures within "white" people.

And limecrete that made me snarf my drink...

Anonymous said...

I live in Hawaii, and I certainly notice people's race. I always take race into account, because it tells me a lot about where people are coming from. It is salutory for a white person like me to be in the minority, only 1/3 in this state. I'm a lot hipper about white culture than most of my Mainland friends, who think what they do is just what people do, not mostly culturally determined as it is for every other group.

Anonymous said...

Claiming "not to see race" is a symptom of white privilege. I'm a white girl, and I was never aware of having a race or being defined by it (which is what people mean by saying the above--and it's meant, of course, as a compliment) until I moved to central Harlem 5 or 6 years ago and became very aware that people saw my race before they saw me.

It wasn't a comfortable experience, but it was a useful one--making me think hard about what whiteness (and mine in particular) IS, rather than assuming that I myselc was somehow not racialized or beyond race.

Soulknitting said...


You do realize the KUCINICH read 35 articles of impeachment into the Congressional Record last night don't you?

On (seach by KUCINICH and June 09, 2008).


It's also on YouTube and he'll finish reading the rest in to the record tonight.

CNN STILL hasn't said anything.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I dunno, Little Sister. If you don't have a favorite fried chicken recipe you're not nearly acceptably black enough. You KNOW this will only promulgate those white man rumors....

Unknown said...

Thank you all for a lively discussion. I am learning all the time.

Perception is reality. If I perceive a slight, even if you didn't mean it, my feelings are still stung.

Shark-Fu said...

See, I knew that chicken thing would come back to haunt me.


Anonymous said...

Great point. It reminds me of something Dr. Cornell West said...

The problem about the color blind approach though, is the fact that it would NEVER work. American culture is stretch over concept of racism and seeing nothing BUT color. How do we expect everyone to suddenly stop "noticing" the differences between us all?

The Roving Reporter said...

I'm always wary of people who say they don't see color. It's almost like they are overcompensating to try and prove they aren't racist or have any biases.

Tasha said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog. I find your comments hit home with me.

I have long been annoyed with that "I don't see color" comments. You are absolutely right it is another tool to strip people of their culture. As a native american woman, the only thing that I find hateful as cultural appropriation is the callous striping of someone's identity under the guise of "respecting" them.

Anonymous said...

Speak it.

Anonymous said...

Instead of trying to not see difference we should all work to respect it and celebrate it.


This is something that I'm always saying to people when they describe themselves as being colorblind. I'm a black woman. That's part of who I am and what has made me who I am, and I don't find it particularly forward thinking that one would make themselves blind to that. I would rather we recognize our differences and appreciate them.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

As a person of color, I am offended by the whole race thing because it is a creation of human beings who have used "race" to torture and hurt each other.

It is this insistance of seeing a person as the other that has us in the mess we are in. You can mame, kill and harm someone you see as the other. We are all human period! May be culturally different but then you have to realize that there sub-cultures within each culture.

Not everyone who is hispanic is the same as every other hispanic and so on and so forth.

I am not convinced that white who say they don't see color are all being racists. yes there are some racists but I think many of those people are trying to just see another human being. And when it comes down to it what is so wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

If I didn't know from real life that you are black, I might envision you as a lovely cran-vodka red. < g >


Shark-Fu said...


You've missed the point.

There is no doubt that race has been used to oppress people.

But there is more to race than biology and difference, so when people say they don't see race they are denying all that is contained within it too.

All, not culture, my history, my oppression, my empowerment, my diversity, my beauty, my strength and my pride.

And I shall not be denied...

Shark-Fu said...

Nancy P.

Vodka cran red?


Anonymous said...

I do not miss or gainsay the points being made here. I do wonder, and these are snarkless questions:

Can one "see" culture?

Can / should one make assumptions about a person's background solely from appearance?

If one were physiclly blind, what factors would / should determine how A behaves toward B?

As we become a more and more diverse-looking population, do you imagine these assumptions becoming less and less accurate / important?

I am a figurative artist, and take nothing but delight in our visible differences. I am a culture explorer / lay anthropologist, and have been grateful and privileged when I am invited to participate in cultural practices I do not have birthright to. How am I to educate myself otherwise, unless by invitation from the heart and not the eye?

I believe that we must begin to shift emphasis from the superficial descriptors, capitalizing the People part of the description rather that the "Color" part, and to emphasize and describe behavior rather than appearance.

One of the many reasons I wear my mustaches (other than to claim the fact that I EXIST) is to make visible the reality that even as a light-skinned (toasty pink looking [not "passing"] like some kind of brown / Brown in the summer) Person, I am not White in the sense people use it as a shorthand for ignorant, privileged, bigoted, unconscious of or not subject to discrimination based on appearance. (my Native American genetic heritage is essentially invisible, and my cultural background is, in my mind, much more about class / and education [or the lack thereof] than color). As a person of indeterminate gender, I catch my (un)fair share of grief, hate, and social / economic discrimination, and in my heart identify always with others who are treated unfairly. When people assume they know my sexuality based on my appearance, are they trying to acknowledge my "culture", or are they just making shallow judgements based on what they (think they) see?

"Race" is no longer being used as a scientific term, although no one would deny it exists as a conceptual reality in our lives. In other places, where people appear quite similar, they adopt dress to distinguish / discriminate their cultural / belief systems. Am I to assume the same culture for a Person in Prada that I might assume for a Person in Fila (or whatever is au courant - I don't keep up)? I've heard Ivy League black women refer to their "sisters" as ghetto bitches. How do I acknowledge culture and subculture respectfully, and based on what cues? Color or clothing? Hairstyle or lifestyle? Or do I, as a person of a different culture, try and stay the hell out of that?

How are we (or are we?) to honor the culture of a person of color born to wealth and priviledge (there are people of color in the Hamptons, y'all, and I've been on the service staff to people of color who are wealthier and better educated than I will ever be) based solely on appearance?

I know that in our infantile society non-Caucasian (another blurry term, Caucasian)- looking People encounter stupidity and bigotry damn near every day (as do people of indeterminate gender, non-heterosexuals, most females, and the differently-abled). That much I *can* assume, just like people of every stripe assume that, whatever I am, I catch a raft of shit for it. But how can I know and honor a person's "culture" just by looking?

Shark-Fu said...

The issue is that people can not negate that there is even the possiblity of culture by saming everyone up and claiming that they just don't see difference.

I find that beyond insulting and I reject the notion that the only way people can connect with me is to reject my difference.

Society has wrongly connected acceptance with sameness simply because of our history of associating difference with inequality. The one is not the correct response to the other.

You ask how you can know and honor someone's culture simply by looking... answer is that there are no absolute answers but you won't be starting down the road toward respect by refusing to acknowlege difference.

Anonymous said...

Shark-Fu's point should be obvious, in a better world. We are our histories. I am a white middle-class woman who basically didn't meet black peers until I went to college (aside from the podiatrist's daughter in my school, the one black girl in my small middle and high school class cohort). But I have learned something since growing up in a suburb equivalent to La-de-Due. Shark-fu had to put up with clueless folks of my background in college and grad school. It's a different perspective, duh!

On a lighter note,
The Person in Prada is the Pope. (really!)
The person in Fila is likely to be a Protestant of some sort, at least by heritage.

Anonymous said...

Thanks -- one thing that's really frustrated me in a lot of the coverage is the belief that we are now in a "post racial" society because a bunch of kids who grew up in the suburbs and have integrated their social class to include the black and latino kids in their school will vote for an African-American president and "don't see race."

I'm sure the people who live in the ghettos of Bed-Stuy or Kensington or Compton or Newark will be thrilled to hear that we live in a post-racist society, and that race just isn't an important issue anymore. I'm sure that the mothers of young black men living in the south will breathe a sigh of relief because they don't need to worry about any trouble should their son be accused of being "uppity" because of all those people who "don't see race."

This is just so exciting. We can declare "mission accomplished" on the whole race issue. Yay us.

EHR said...

The Bear Maiden, true, and I'm sure the same could be said about any two racial groups, and within racial groups as well. But I was responding to ABB's comments specifically, and didn't feel like it was necessarily appropriate to say so since it wasn't entirely on-topic.

Anonymous said...

Didn't y'all listen to Shug when she warned, "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."

The beautiful variations in our skin tones are a GIFT. Not seeing color is an insult to the Creator.

Shark Fu said: "Society has wrongly connected acceptance with sameness simply because of our history of associating difference with inequality. The one is not the correct response to the other."

That really explains it perfectly!

And, we can't take White Supremacy out of the conversation. For centuries "white" has been shoved down everyone's throat as the excellence standard -- white people have been considered by everything mainstream (literature, film, television media, education, religious doctrine, etc.) as more beautiful, more intelligent, more trustworthy, more law-abiding, etc...

Claiming to not see color is a way of trying to fastforward past the necessary step of rejecting that supremacist standard. Slow your roll white people. First you have to acknowledge - then examine - then reject that faulty supremacist standard. THEN you will be free to see and appreciate the beauty and value of human diversity.

dua said...

"...a bunch of kids who grew up in the suburbs and have integrated their social class to include the black and latino kids in their school will vote for an African-American president and "don't see race."

Isn't that, just for a moment, better than the bunch of kids saying something like "I'm not voting for that black man" without even considering anything else? Isn't the idea that, for now, we can just vote for a man a good thing?

Yes, we have a long way to go. I am continually amazed by what I don't know or don't even think about.

I know it's not perfect and most likely naive, but isn't it a positive? Just a bit?

Should I have asked myself,"Okay, he's "black". What about him being that might make him a better president?" Seriously, is that what you all are talking about? (honestly tring to open my mind)

Shark-Fu said...


What I am talking about is the issue of people trying to negate race so that they can attempt to tolerate a person of color in a position of leadership or equality.

I do not consider the negation of diversity progress. The unsaid is that people are expected to conform so that all those non-seeing people aren't confronted with public displays of diversity.

Think about it.

How many times have you heard someone say that they don't have a problem with gays or lesbians...just those flamboyant ones?

How many times have you heard someone say they don't see race...but they can't stand the ones who talk/dress/dance/wear their hair/insert other cultural expression so "ethnic"?

The simple fact is that every day we spend in the land of tolerance is a day not spent working towards respect.

Fear keeps us there...but what we should fear is what remains untreated and un-addressed by such denials of reality.

If someone isn't going to vote for Obama because he is black I, for one, want to know...that's going to be their vote either way.

But I can't do a damn thing with "I don't see race."

Anonymous said...

di -- the problem from what I've seen is that those kids in the suburbs have decided we're DONE. That racism, by virtue of their having a few black friends and wanting to vote for a black president, is now gone the way of the dinosaur. So by declaring that there is NO MORE RACISM because you've got a guy named Tyron in your 5--that doesn't make it so. Moreso, they will actually SHUT DOWN discussions where an attempt to point out something that is racially troubling because racism "doesn't exist anymore." If you happen to point out racist imagery or racist undertones in something that they happen to like (I've been dealing with this over at FG with Resident Evil 5), they blow their goddamn stacks because they can't be racist! They don't see color! So something they like CAN'T be racist! And anyone who says otherwise is Just! Stirring! Up! Trouble!

dua said...

from di (who suddently can't remember her password)

"How many times have you heard someone say that they don't have a problem with gays or lesbians...just those flamboyant ones?"


Now that I got.

Mighty... you are absolutely right, too. I see the point now.

At least, I'm no longer done.

Ending comments.
Leaving different than I was before I started. Thanks for the discussion and the patience with explaining multiple times in different ways.


Joolya said...

Saying "I don't see color" is first and foremost a lie. Of course you do. Yeah, you mean it as a sort of a metaphor, but it's really just not true. Even if you're actually blind, you probably "see" color by a person's accent or other kinds of social cues.

The reason it's offensive and problematic isn't because it's not true, though. The reason it's offensive is because "I don't see color" implies "I like you in spite of your color" - because we already established that the idea that one can't *see* color is simply not true.

That statement tacitly supports the notion that their color *would*, if it could be observed, lower the speaker's opinion of the maybe-pigmented person in question.

If my colleague said to me, "I don't even notice that you're a woman, Joolya! You're so smart!" I'd be tempted to sucka-punch him. I'm so clearly a woman it's not funny. I'm proud of these here boobies, damnit. Don't tell me you can't see them! Sure, he might mean that he's so blinded by my brilliance that he forgot all about my awesome high-heeled shoes ... but mthe underlying assumption of that statement is that *had* he noticed my girly kicks and ladylike prow, he would assume I was a dumbass, because women = not-smart and men = smart by default.

So, "I don't even see color!" translates as "I acknowledge that the sategory 'black' is bad, but I am pointedly not assigning you [black person] to that category." Swell, thanks a lot.


Hello there!

There was a white woman blogger at a site that I visit and she posted a comment, "is it okay that I don't even see Obama as being black?" I rolled my eyes... feeling compelled to respond to this monstrous display of ignorance without launching any personal attacks.

I totally agree with Joolya. White people who say, "I don't even think of you as black" are those who think there is a PROBLEM with black people. Otherwise, they would never attempt to distance you from other blacks.

They never tell white people, "I don't even see you as white!" now do they?

{shaking my head}

climb_a_tree said...

Privilege. I think that about says it. When it comes to race, whitey has it, and people of color do not. So whitey then gets to dispense privilege to people of color as we see fit. "Ah, you haven't transgressed the white majority norm, so when i look at you, i don't see your color." (That first part of the sentence usually is unconscious, but it is ALWAYS there.)

IMHO, the work here with educating whitey has to be done by other whiteys (like me). Far too often the white folks who "get it" leave it up to the people of color to communicate this message. I don't think that works so well. I think those of us with the privilege owe it to ourselves and our world to take this up and speak up often and especially when it is uncomfortable.

keep speakin' the good word!

Anonymous said...

Lots of comments here, too.

Obviously there's a lot to say about the perception of "race" / vs appearance / vs culture, none of which are synonymous. I'm still voting for delight as my best option.

Trying to have an early 21st century discussion with forward-thinking people (and huzzahs to all for this thread, and just-short-of-worship for ABB and this blog). And then I see the "Baby Mama" shit, and I remember that I turned off my TV and moved to the woods to keep my head from exploding into flames and catching Oakland on fire again.

Bless us all for gauddamn trying to make a good world.

Anonymous said...

"Basically, to tolerate difference a person believes they have to ignore and/or deny difference."

And it is arrogant in itself--"despite your defects, I'm big enough to tolerate you." My mother always said "screw tolerance," meaning that we needed to move much further along the spectrum, to acceptance. To accept is the opposite of to ignore/deny.

To say you don't see color is not only a lie, it's blatant hypocrisy, 'cuz you wouldn't say it unless you'd seen "a color" in the first place!

Anonymous said...

I am oh so late to this party and I am a white girl who has argued with other white girls about their usage of this phrase and this is what I think.

I think when a white person says to a black person, "I don't see color," what they are saying is, "I pat you on the head and allow you to be my friend because I have done this complicated dance inside my own head to convince myself you are really just a white person inside a black person's skin." They are saying, "I pat myself on the back for being so progressive and open-minded as to think of black people (and other people of color) as Just People, which I probably don't realize that because of my white privilege 'Just People' translates into 'white people'."

And they sure like to tell me I am racist for saying that some people are black and that is the way of the world. Now, I am racist, all white people in this country are racist, and I have to struggle with that and try to own my privilege, but I can have the decency to work through it in my own head and not spew all over people of color my verbal diarrhea about how I don't see you as you are but as I would be more comfortable with you.

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