“I Don’t See Race”: A Reflection of the Act of Color Blindness

” I don’t see race.” The little phrase that is intended to clear the speaker of all of the ills of the world associated with race. “I don’t see race.” I have heard this phrase from ‘good intentioned white people’ my entire life. And the words are spoken so cavalierly, as if the history of the new world had never happened. “I don’t see race.” Abracadabra, speak the magic words and whiteness never saw those darker ones as different, as lesser, because this one white person chose to used their voice on this day, to simply erase what they are most uncomfortable with. “I don’t see race.”

“If we just stop talking about race, it will cease to matter.” As if silence ever solved a problem. Tell the child whose last decent meal was 2 days ago, to just stop talking about his the ache in his belly, and his tummy will feel full, even if  his lunch has to be an air sandwich because the balance on his account is in the red. ‘Just don’t talk about it,’ and no one will see your skin, its deep rich coffee color that tempts me to drink you in, long, warm, flowing liquid, that echoes the fluidity with which you doge the face slaps, telling you that if you just didn’t talk about race, the pain would simply go away.’

“You know, I don’t see race.” And yet the only person you say that to is the brown woman who comes twice a month to scrub your floors and clean your toilets because, out of the kindness of your heart, you have hired her, despite the fact that you’re sure she’s not ‘really American’, and you really shouldn’t be paying her, but there is no one else. Besides, she always brings the best tamales, a freezer full whenever we ask. And tex-mex is our favorite, right next to the Chinese we order every Friday night, cuz who wants to cook after a full week’s work at the office, where you never notice the brown man polishing the hallway floors that gleam that waxy glow each morning when you sit behind your desk working your ass off. (I too, work in cushy circumstances, yet the color that you don’t see in me, makes my experiences in the classroom quite different than yours, but that is a reflection for another time.)

“The only race that I see is the human race.” That fabulous concept that if we become color blind, then there will suddenly be life long spring and summer,  and we will all be transformed! Everyone will have pale skin, and colorless eyes, and pink will be synonymous with ‘flesh color’ as it was in the days of old, when that box of 68 crayons was everything you wished for, even though you don’t see color. The sent of the wax always reminds me that I, too, am ‘flesh’ colored, but that is because I am lighter than those who are ‘like me’, and sometimes you like me better because of it, which makes it difficult for me to be trusted by those whose humanity is what you actually never see in their race, because the fact that ‘flesh color’ works for me means I might just get a bit more than my darker brothers that you claim to see, but you can’,t because you have sworn, out of the goodness of your heart, to never see race.

“Well, what would be the harm if we just stopped seeing race?”  I am what my people call ‘red-bone.’ I’m a really light-skinned black woman, with natural red hair and freckles. I have an incredibly good education–I studied at Oxford for a year, and have completed the course work for my PhD in English, I speak standard English, have read widely in Art, Literature, Philosophy, Social Sciences, and many other fields.  I have studied ballet and classical music. Once a colleague asked me why someone who had reached the professional status that I occupy ‘insisted upon calling herself black.’

Many people have said things to me like, “Kim, I don’t think of you as black,” and they have meant it as a compliment. And why would they think they were complimenting me?  Because I have exhibited traits that are associated with whiteness, they have decided to treat me as if I am white.  I call this “giving one honorary whiteness.”  And all of those traits above are me.  But they are not all of me.

I love, James Brown, greens, grits and cornbread.  I wear braids, and my hair is frizzy and nappy and hard to control.  My grandfather was a jazz musician who played with Al Jolson and Louis Armstrong, and my area of study is African American Literature.  And every inch of me is black, all the time, forever!

“I don’t see race.” By ignoring my blackness, the people who have given me honorary whiteness, don’t see ‘me’ because I am all of those things–the things reserved for whiteness, as well as those regulated to blackness, and by denying my blackness, they deny the richness and layers of meaning and goodness, and character, and knowledge that each black person adds to “what it means to be black.”

Yet ask a white person “what it means to be white,” and you start a quiet panic deep within them. They have spent so very much of their lives trying not to see race, that they have failed to recognize their inability to put their experience into words. After having created a system based in race that works for their own benefit, white people have gone about creating whiteness as if the freedom and equality that they espouse were real for  everyone, because after birthing race out of a nation pregnant with capitalism, they failed to see that their children’s skin was beautiful. And the paleness of their parenthood fooled them; it whispered that if they “just didn’t see race,” all of the evils done in their benefit would go nameless, for how could one be a racist if they can’t see race?  In the words of the immortal Fats Waller, “..my only sin is in my skin. What did I do to be so black and blue?”  

But you can’t be bothered to see race, and the beauty of my skin that comes in every shade of humanness that is possible is far too radiant for your pale eyes. Intentional blindness, one makes one’s self intentionally blind to all the amazing colors that the world offers so that you cannot see. And make no mistake, your ‘color-blindness’ is an action, a decision. It is the action of avoidance, denial.  For if you did see, you’d have to recognize your actions against those who’s race you claim to never have seen. You’d have to own you actions and be liable for what you have done. And nothing scares you more than being made to be responsible for your actions based in the colors of race that you claim to have never seen. That is the color of your nightmares.

Keep on being color blind. I’ll keep the wonder of color for myself.

Who Will Interpret the Data?

Who will Interpret the Data? If we don’t nurture those who are charged with making sense of the data, we will die. For the evil ones have plans of their own.  We must infuse, instruct, educate with a focus on values, for only those who value humanness will be able to interpret the data in ways that won’t end us, burying us with their weight, while the evil ones blame us for our own death.

Make people own their shame. Make people own their greatness. Make people own their true selves, not the one that matches the myth that we are most comfortable with, because of the ‘selfies’ we believe in. We believe that we are the selfies that we take, forgetting that the images are posed, adjusted, fake-ly constructed, perfected images of self, that are nothing like who we really are. And we believe in the ‘selfies’ because they make us feel good about ourselves in this narcissistic nation, in this vain glorious time.

Many years ago, I had an amazing kinda-sorta step kid who was mixed race, and hardly ever saw herself reflected in the faces that she looked into everyday. When we would go to the grocery store, she would make her way to the magazine rack, and she would gather up all of the Ebony, Essence and all of the other black based magazines which h people of color on the covers. She would then proceed to cover up every magazine that featured a white face. Just this small act of rebellion was soul saving for her. She created a small piece of the world where, for just a second, white people would see what she sees every day–a world where no one looks like them.

And this act of rebellion led me to make assignments to my white students, that they could choose to do without collecting data officially. I asked them to go through a weekend where every time they talked about someone, mentioned someone’s name, or referred to a person, if that person were white, that they would use the term “white” before they said anything else about that person. So that the barista would become, “that ‘white’ barista that just served me. And their parent would become their “white” Dad, and so on, every time that they talked to one person about another. They were to note the way that they felt every time that they said the word, “white,” when talking to white people, and then to note the way that the world responded to them for calling out whiteness when they saw it, quite literally.

White people live in a world where every time they look in the mirror, they see self. This is not the world of people of color.  Each time that I actually see myself in the glass, I am shocked and a little repulsed, for this is not the face nor the body that our society says is beautiful. But eventually, I am grateful to see myself as I am. The face that stares back at me is truly American, for she could not have been born anywhere else, nor in any other time. What I see is the daughter of America’s greatest shame, and her greatest triumphs.

I am the daughters of those who were on this land before those who gave it the name we now use. A small portion of me in the place and time that we cannot speak of for there are no words; they were taken from us. I am the daughter of those who survived genocide and land-knapping.

I am the daughter of those who came from Germany, Ireland, England, Scotland, France, who came to this place named for a brave Italian adventurer, who led the Spaniards to conquer those of my people who were already here.  Who forced their religion with no soul, that misinterpreted the beliefs of my older ancestors about the nature of the life force and love. And who created a system of survival for themselves based in the pain, torture, enslavement and extinction of parts of family, where if they could distance themselves enough from the pain, they could win bigly.

I am the daughter of rape. I am the daughter of men who believed that they had the god given authority to buy one woman and to create of her a labor force through the satisfaction of his own lust, against her will, and to do so to his daughters and granddaughters, until I have light skin, red hair and freckles. And he became rich through our pain. I am the daughter who survived.

I am the daughter of this land. The New Native American, for all that mixes with my blackness becomes me. And my survival gives me the right to share the wisdom of my people. The voice that I am using now must represent the thousands who were silenced; the thousands who screamed; the thousands who did not realize that they could say anything. And my voice must carry the weight of all those here, and those yet to arrive, as the nature of who we are creates who we become.

There is so much that rests on my writing, wright-ing, I almost wrote. And there is a perfect pun in the language for I must use my voice in the classroom and on paper to right the world of the unspeakable. We must use the classroom and the word to catch those who have fallen, for they are the ones who can see. The ones whose faces are not on the magazines that are deemed worthy to be representative of our “best and brightest.” We must catch those who light is not recognized, even by themselves. And the only way to do this is to understand that success does not look the same for everyone. What is success for one may be complete failure for another, but who am I to tell someone that what they have accomplished was/is not enough, is not worthy?

And so we must create in those who will be interpreting the data, a sense of what it means to be human that values so much more than the myth of the ‘beautiful selfie-self’ that we have created. For being human is so much more than posing for the camera. We must create places both inside of the classroom and out where people can be brave enough to be ‘the self behind the selfie.’ To bare their souls, to appear without makeup, without foundation, without clothes and jewelry, cars and houses, to be the person who has fears, and who makes mistakes. To be the person who is wrong, for that is the only path to growth.

As long as we keep telling ourselves that the myths that create that ‘great selfie,’ the one that says that whiteness is good, and clean, and pure, then the distance between what we actually are and what we believe ourselves to be will remain. And we will slip farther and farther from the humanness that feels, that see, that changes, that grows, that is capable of love. For there is no truer act of love than to educate. This is the act of the parent; it is the act that insures that humanity will continue and last for at least one more generation.

I fear the selfie world; as we become the automatons who will take our own places. We cannot leave the data, for those without hearts to sort out. And ‘the selfies’ are not human. The selfies don’t cry and wail. The selfies don’t bleed and heal. The selfies don’t die.

I want to use the classroom to create reasons for my students to keep living. I want to create a place where they can come together with other humans and talk about the world as it is, so that they can create plans for the world as we need it to be if we are to guarantee its survival. I want to create a classroom where success looks like a 10 page research paper on the history of rape culture in the creation of America for one student, and for another student in the same class, there is recognized success in simply showing up more days than not, and actually hearing what is being said, hearing the sense that is being made of the great chaos that surrounds us.

I also want to reach people who are outside of my speaking voice, the power of which I have grown to appreciate each passing year. Writing is such a solitary act, and while being silent and alone is essential for writing, it is anathema for dialog and interactions, which is the source of all of my inspiration. I lose interest in the word on paper because I cannot receive that power that comes from the call and response, because there is no one immediate answering my call, so there is no way for me to be pumped up enough to continue to create a song worthy of being sung without the voices of those of the community that is there to learn and heal together.

kimberly j. pollock

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Hey Y’all, my name is Kimberly Pollock and I am both an Educational Equity Consultant for Live Equity, and a full time Professor at Bellevue College where I am the sole full time faculty member and founder of the Cultural and Ethnic Studies Department. With a background in the Humanities, emphasis in both Philosophy and Literature, I decided to do graduate and post graduate work in English.

Teaching about race, class and gender is my life. I thank the goddess each day for Kimberlee Chenshaw’s term, for intersectionality is how I experience the world. My students are my heart. I pour my soul into them each and every class, and they respond with love, by growing, transforming and being more human than when we met.

I hope you enjoy my work. I’m growing and transforming always as well. Please feel free to leave feedback. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking. Dialog is how we make the world we want to live in.

love, kim         kim head shot