“I don’t see color,” he proudly proclaimed.
I remained silent and allowed him to continue.
My silence did us both a disservice.
I completely missed a teaching moment.
So, here’s my do over.
I was attending a luncheon being hosted by a Black Bar Association during primary season for elections. A White male colleague who was running for judge approached me. He was so excited to share why I should support him. He began his pitch by telling me what seat he was running for and transitioned to explaining his legal background.
He explained how as a criminal defense attorney he saved so many of his minority clients. Laudable, as I was once a criminal defense attorney. But then things went left … He began to share how he played sports in college and that he had people of all races on his team. He told me that one of his Black teammates was his closest friend and how they just looked at each other as brothers. They would eat together and hang out together. They were just teammates.
And then he said it … “You know, I always tell people ‘I don’t see color.'” He was so proud. I was so disappointed. UGH!!!!
I should have stopped him in his tracks. I should have used this as a teaching moment. But instead I allowed him to continue talking while I feigned listening. I allowed him to leave that conversation as ignorant (lacking knowledge) as he entered it. That was unfair of me. I pride myself on being authentic in my words and deeds. I was not that day.
What I should have done was interjected and educated him so that he did not continue to repeat that statement in a room filled with other Black colleagues or for that fact, ever again.
I know that people make this statement all the time. It usually happens in defense of being called racist or feeling that they are being accused of racism. But I’d like to tell those who make this proclamation, that statement affords you no such vindication. Rather, it colors your proclamation in uncertainty and wonder.
My color is inextricably intertwined into who I am as a person. So is yours. I was born Black. I will die Black. Therefore, if you “don’t see my color,” you don’t see me.
The problem is not that you see my color. The problem arises if you see my color and use that characteristic of my being to negatively affect me, to abuse me, to disempower me. By acknowledging that you don’t see my color, you are acknowledging my invisibility in your eyes. You are acknowledging that the only way that you can relate to me is to erase some part of my being.
What are you afraid of? What if you did see my color? Would that affect how you treated me? If you have to acknowledge every part of who I am, would that change your opinion of me?
Where did this statement come from? Who thought this was a good idea? Who thought this was a “get out of being a racist” card? It is none of those things. It is an affront to our very being.
Allow yourself permission to see my color – every inch of my beautifully melanated skin. Allow yourself permission to not fully understand the intricacies, pain, and challenges that come with being a Black person. Allow yourself permission to be uncertain sometimes about what to say or how to say it when in the presence of Black people. Allow yourself permission to be vulnerable enough to lean in and learn. Allow yourself permission to acknowledge and accept my Blackness.
There’s a reason there are so many colors in a box of crayons. Color is beautiful. Black is beautiful.
So, the next time you see me, see me, ALL of me.
About the author:
Kelly Charles-Collins is a TEDx Speaker, Author, HR Expert and Attorney. From her own personal experiences to her over 20 years as an employment attorney helping organizations uncover hidden truths in their workplaces, Kelly is the Bystander Expert. Kelly shares her expertise in her highly anticipated TEDx talk. Kelly is available for keynotes, training, consulting, and interviews on the Bystander Effect, Unconscious Bias, Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Culture, and Workplace Investigations. Kelly’s book ACE Your Workplace Investigations: A Step-by-Step Guide for Avoiding Friction, Covering Your Assets, and Earning Employee Trust is available on Amazon. Kelly can be contacted at (770) 476-9865. Please also visit her website at www.kellycharlescollins.comand follow her on social media: LinkedIn: Kelly Charles-Collins, Facebook: KellyCharlesCollins22, Twitter: @HRlawattoney.