If You Don't See Color Then Get Your Eyes Checked

col·or·blind (klr-blnd) adj. 1. Partially or totally unable to distinguish certain colors.
2. a. Not subject to racial prejudices.
b. Not recognizing racial or class distinctions

I tried really hard to stay off the grid this weekend, I mean really hard.  But not even a Christmas in Manhattan, a trip to Lincoln Center to see A Free Man of Color, or Blizzardgeddon 2010 could keep me from peeking at a couple of emails from friends who survived some sticky in-law situations over the holidays.  Initially, I thought a concern raised in some of the messages was pretty straightforward, but like over-cooked goat meat, the more I chewed on it, the tougher it got:

From Allyson:
Now, I don't know if he just had one too many whiskey-gingers or shots of Hinny (blame it!), but my brother in-law really rubbed me the wrong way.  He started talking about how sometimes he forgets that I'm Filipino and that he doesn't really see race except--yup you guessed it--the human race.  The whole time he was talking I was like "What the hell?! Where is my husband?!"

From Rachel:
I have a very healthy relationship with my in-laws but I'm also very close to my own family and identify very strongly with my ethnic heritage as the daughter of Italian immigrants.  The problem is when I'm with my in-laws, they say things like "Oh, Rachel, you ain't really white, you cool."  Now, I know they mean this as a compliment and I  just laugh along with them and take it as such, but when I think about raising children, I'm concerned about how my in-laws' comments might undermine our attempts to raise children who are proud of a multi-ethnic heritage.

This is what I call: "a close encounter of another kind"-- a personal interaction that blows open all the preconceived notions and stereotypes we use to stuff each other into boxes to the point of suffocation.  Now I have no idea what possesses one person to explicitly say to another: "I choose to ignore this really obvious aspect of your appearance and humanity."  To say "I don't see color" is like saying "I don't notice your navy blue, asymmetrical haircut" or "I never notice your thick southern accent!" or "I refuse to acknowledge that you prefer Dook over Carolina"  That's just crazy talk!  Furthermore, it's really insulting.  Plus mentioning the very characteristic one claims to overlook renders the whole conversation moot.

Now I understand how notions of racial color-blindness can promote equity and justice, but that's not where I'm going today.  And sadly, it appears that both family members actually intended their statements as compliments.  Allyson's brother-in-law--though severely misguided--probably thought his attempt at minimizing his sister-in-law's race and ethnicity, would make her feel more welcomed and comfortable within the family.  But in actuality, he simply projected his own insecurities about race onto my friend.  She has no qualms with her "filipina-ness"-- an integral part of her being that she extols with just as much pride as her academic pedigree and her Fantasy Football League standing.  Similarly, Rachel doesn't fit into the white-person-paradigm constructed by her in-laws, so they just define her into another.  The result?  An implicit message that white ain't alright but brown can stick around.  I'm sure Allyson's brother-in-law meant to say: "When you married my brother I assumed we'd have nothing in common because...well...I think you know why.  But girl, you hate the Lakers even more than I do! Come over here and give me a big 'ole hug, I'm so proud to call you my sister!"  And I'm sure Rachel's in-law meant to say: "I thought you'd be just like all those racist, uppity, bourgeois white people I work with at the hospital, but you've always been like one of the family, even before we taught you how to play Spades."

But realistically, Allyson and Rachel can't expect anything to change unless they put the onus on themselves to broach the issue in a mature and respectful manner.  Or they could just follow my M.O.:if someone tells me they don't see color, I suggest they get their eyes checked..

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