About a year ago, when we were reemerging, yet still wearing masks and socially distancing, I went to an art exhibit that was meant to evoke dialogue about race. I chatted with the artist briefly and mentioned proudly that I was raising my children to be colorblind when it comes to skin tone, ethnicity, or race.
The artist, a black man, said something like, “No, by being colorblind, you are not including our experience when you see us.”
Admittedly, I left a little defeated and confused. I thought I was doing the right thing, so that my children and I would treat everyone the same. If approached by two people, I didn’t want to have a prejudice against one simply by visual intake. I was working to shed biases. Wasn’t that the right thing?
I’ve thought about this conversation often since then, trying to work out in my mind what the artist was trying to convey. I didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up to anyone, because I didn’t want to perpetuate the narrative that I am a fool or that I missed the point. So, I followed some content creators who speak easily on this topic. I could lurk in the sea of cyber anonymity and learn without drawing attention to myself as someone who was trying to overcome a different kind of blindness my skin color afforded me. But I still wasn’t entirely sure what the artist meant.
And then the slap. For a moment, we forgot about Taylor Hawkin’s untimely death. The oppressive bills being passed. And even for a second; the war crimes against Ukraine. What this infamous Oscar’s smack did was get everyone buzzing about something new.
While scrolling through Tik Tok I caught a creator mention that white women needed to listen. I chose to heed this suggestion. Various view points defended and condemned the actions of both Mr. Smith & Mr. Rock. Both actors were right in a few regards, and wrong in a few. Two truths can coexist. Because of my colorblindness, I just considered this a scandal, perhaps a crime, between two men, despite being televised. In my mind, this wasn’t a race related issue.
I heard some social media posters mention their intolerance of the violence. I heard others’ call that hypocritical.
Listening to several voices of black creators, I started to see how it was. That what was in the subtext, naked to the white person’s eye, was the history of derogatory commentary about black women’s hair. About the perpetual abuses toward black women. About how black men need to rise up and defend black women. And suddenly, the artists words of a year ago clicked.
Never again can I say “it isn’t an issue about race” until I listen to the voices shaped by a litany of such aggressions. Never will I say “stop making everything about race” when everything is twisted into race and historical injustices. And not being able to see that, means that we aren’t looking very hard… or at all.
I’m not going to post a video of me putting on glasses that show all the colors and boast my new found ability to see more clearly. I am a work in progress. I have more to learn, to understand. I realize that there will be more clicks, as things that seemed fuzzy before, suddenly become clear. While the chatter continues, and countless people debate who was right and who was wrong, I am thankful that at last I can see the picture more wholly.