A Response to A “Colorblind” Plea

By: Breana HindsScreen Shot 2016-11-07 at 3.24.36 PM.png

Perhaps I should begin by saying that I in no way endorse some of the out-of-order behavior that the Overheard @ Barnard Facebook page carries on with. Although it’s just reflective of actual things people have said on campus, it often gets to be a bit much. With that being said, I think it’s fair to say that anyone who doesn’t identify as black has no right to attempt to control, restrict or reinterpret (inappropriately, I might add) the words, struggles, reactions or emotions of black people in situations that are unique to the black community. The argument that “A Color-Coded Right to Speak” brings up is reminiscent of the “All of Lives Matter” retort against “Black Lives Matter”. It attempts to silence the very voices that speak out against the oppression and injustice that continues to suffocate the black community.

Of course, everyone has the right to speak (hopefully with informed ideas). However, not everyone has the right to tell the people who have to deal with racial injustice everyday how to feel about it. In “A Color-Coded Right to Speak” the author writes, People are essentially divided into two binary categories: privileged, and therefore ineligible to speak, or oppressed, and therefore eminently wise.” This statement is problematic for a couple of reasons: 

(1) According to the way that the author discussed privilege in the article, privilege is only associated with whiteness

(2) Oppressed people consider themselves wiser as a result of oppression.

For one, can’t people who identify with groups that have been historically oppressed also be privileged? It is possible for someone who identifies as black, for example, to still be part of the middle class and have certain opportunities that someone who isn’t in the same social and/or financial category has. Perhaps “wise” isn’t the correct word to associate with the idea of experiencing oppression; perhaps ‘experience’ is more fitting. Living as a person of color, one would be affected by certain situations while  someone who isn’t of color may never understand or experience and, as a result, can never have a place to dictate how these people should feel and/or invalidate their grievances.

As an alternative to imposing indignant opinions about the experiences of people of color, listen in on conversations about these issues (between those affected) and be willing to keep an open mind. Learn and listen. 

Coming into these spaces with a defensive mentality turns them into toxic zones.

But if they gain information from people who are subject to these experiences, those who have felt excluded from these conversations can hear what’ being said and, perhaps, offer opinions that are less harmful to the cause. It is unfair to exclude people from important conversations who want to  be helpful in creating the desired change, but it’s also harmful to feel like one has a right to encroach on these conversations simply because they’d rather dispute what’s being said than to listen. Allies are important…but so is information.

In addition, the author’s misinterpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote poses an entirely different ordeal in and of itself. Nowhere in his speech did Dr. King mention the idea of “colorblind” in relation to the vision he had for the world post Civil Rights Era. Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” […] I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He meant that he hoped America would one day live up to the standards that it set for itself when it formally declared independence of Britain, stating that “all men are created equal”. The equality that he referenced is in regards to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, an equality that comes with privileges. It is a privilege to be able to dress however you please without being racially profiled, to know that your entire future won’t be ruined by a petty crime like a misdemeanor turning into a felony and to feel safe enough during a routine traffic stop that you don’t have to  wonder if you’ll make it home that night.

The reference to skin color and character was not a plea to ignore race, or to be “colorblind” to it. Instead, it is a call  to acknowledge and accept the multiple facets of race and, in this acknowledgment, to move forward together as a society. To be “colorblind” is to blatantly ignore the struggles, experiences and lives of oppressed peoples and the way that they define themselves as a result of how these elements blend to form their personal truths. To be “colorblind” is to erase entire histories. Instead, Dr. King was suggesting that we don’t use race as the  signifier of worth and status but as a  means of a first step to true freedom for all by inciting conversations around issues regarding race and how racial discrimination and systemic racism affects people’s lives day-in and day-out.

A few missing elements of “Color-Coded Right to Speak” are, simply put, boundaries and a willingness to try and understand where these emotions are coming from. In recognizing that participating in these conversations means not crossing certain boundaries and also knowing that you’ll never really be able to empathize with the situation, one is able to engage in these conversations with an open mind and different level of knowledge that comes directly from the source.

There is a certain power in knowledge, but that power is only useful if everyone is able to listen, taking something away from these discussions about racial injustice, and hopefully feeling empowered enough to want to help create change.

Photo courtesy of Chloé “Kidd” Matthews’s Facebook Page 😉

Breana Hinds is a Junior at Barnard and Editor for Barnard Bite

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