I have a friend who’s color blind, which I didn’t know until his wife went on vacation without him and he visited our house wearing a bright red shirt with green pants, which would have been fine for Christmas, but it was July. Of course, I made fun of him, because that’s what guys do to one another. Joan shot me a look. After he left, I said, “Why’d you look at me like that?”
She said, “He’s color blind. His wife always picks out his clothes but she’s gone for the week.”
Not knowing much about color-blindness, I went on YouTube, where I get all my information, and watched color-blind people put on glasses that allow them to see color, and watched their faces light up with excitement. Have you seen those videos? Can you imagine seeing the full range of colors for the very first time, realizing everything you had been missing? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
I experienced another kind of color-blindness last week. I was working in our yard when a man out for a walk stopped to tell me I was the most racist person in our neighborhood. While I’m sure I harbor unconscious racist thoughts, because don’t we all, I’m fairly confident I’m not the most racist person in our neighborhood.
I asked him why he thought I was racist and he pointed to a sign in our front yard that reads, “No matter what color you are, no matter where you are from, no matter what you believe, we’re glad you are our neighbor.”
He said, “You’re always focusing on race, so that makes you a racist. I don’t see color.”
I’ve heard other people say they don’t see color. I know why people say that. I’ve said it myself. We want others to think we’re not racist, so we claim to be color-blind, as if being unaware of someone’s race is morally superior. But let’s be honest, not noticing someone’s color is impossible. We are acutely aware of color. All of us. And based on the color of others, we moderate our behavior, sometimes in negative, hurtful ways and sometimes in positive, helpful ways. But we all see color. To claim we don’t is a lie. It’s like saying we don’t see gender or age or appearance. Of course, we do. It’s okay to see all those things. It’s not okay to treat people poorly because of them.
Years ago, I read a story about the racial innocence of children. A bigoted man was upset to learn his white child had befriended a black child at school, so he asked his child, “What color is your friend?”
The child said, “I don’t remember. I’ll look tomorrow and see.”
When I first heard that story, I thought it was a wonderful, little story. Now I just think it’s a story someone made up. Children see color, just like adults do. But when kids see color, they don’t have a lifetime of accumulated prejudices clouding their perceptions of race and color.
When we say we don’t see color, we are claiming we don’t make judgments based on someone’s race. But we do. We all make assumptions, conscious and unconscious, about people of other races. If I say I don’t see color, then I will never see the need to carefully examine my assumptions and biases. But aren’t they exactly what must be seen—the conscious and unconscious biases that cloud and corrupt our souls?
When we don’t see color, we also won’t see injustice or discrimination. Remember what it means to not see something. It means we are blind to something. In this instance, it means we are blind to the reality of a racist world. If we do not see that toxic reality, if we do not approach it with eyes wide open, fully aware of its presence, we cannot fix it.
If you’ve ever noticed a statue of Lady Justice, you’ll notice that in her left hand she holds the scales of justice upon which she measures the strengths and weaknesses of a case. In her right hand she holds a sword, denoting the swift and final nature of justice. Around her eyes there is a blindfold, symbolizing impartiality.
But I think Lady Justice should wear a magnifying glass, so she might more thoroughly examine the entirety of a case, and might better comprehend the nuances we often miss that are so imperative to justice.
It is said that God knows the number of hairs on our heads, which means God is fully aware, fully cognizant of every distinction and degree of humanity. While that ultimate knowing might be unattainable for us, full awareness, with eyes wide open, is something toward which we should all aspire. I wish correcting our color-blindness were as easy as putting on glasses, but it isn’t. It requires the careful and rigorous examination of our hearts, our minds, our motives.
When I went to apologize to my friend for joking about his mismatched clothing, he told me something I’ve never forgotten, that being color blind is not a gift, but a hindrance, a handicap. Friends, see color. Put on the spiritual glasses needed to fully appreciate and affirm the full spectrum of God’s creation. Put on the moral glasses needed to fully recognize the toxicity of racism, and own complicity in it. Do not be blind to that which God is calling you to see.