Sunday, October 10, 2010

Color Blind

Some parents love to brag about how their kids are color blind- which is pretty interesting to me. Now, if you've got a kid with XX chromosomes who's colorblind, that probably is something worth bragging about because it's just so uncommon! And the rest of the time, well, I suppose it depends- like many things, colorblindness has its ups and its downs. My partner, for instance, has an easier time telling if colors clash or identifying two things of the same color but different hues than I do- it's pretty damn awesome. But they also rely on me for parts of video games where the colors are too close because, for a gamer, that's a problem. But it's pretty cool that parents are happy enough about their kids colorblindness to openly brag about it- hopefully it also means that they're willing to do work to help get more things, like video games, that their kids can see and enjoy as well as everyone else.

Oh, wait, what? They mean that their child "doesn't see" races?

Haha, oh, white people with our white privilege- we never cease to be a source of amusement! Oh, you don't see why that's silly? Well, first, because it's not true. You can't raise kids to be completely race-blind. Raising children by not talking about race, but talking about nebulous concepts of "we're all equal!" (without defining the inclusiveness of 'we') without actually getting down and dirty and using the "r" word? Doesn't work. Doing so produces racist children- and it's actually part of white privilege to be able to. Children of color? Painfully aware of race and where they stand (or they realize quick enough). White children? They see differences, but they don't know what they are or why, so speculate on what's up with these brown people with weird hair that no adults talk about.

The very words "color" and "blind" shows how busted this idea is. First: "color". We can't even bring ourselves to admit we're talking about race. (and what we perceive race as actually involves a lot of traits beyond just skintone- including bone structure, hair type/color, etc. You can't become black just by sitting in a tanning booth all day) Second: "Blind", this is ablist- blind people can be aware of race as well. Race and gender (in relation to "genderblind") and lots of other things can be gleaned even from non-visual cues that a blind person can pick up on. It probably isn't as immediately obvious as to a visually-unimpaired person, but it's still there. It's also another instance of not admitting what's going on, because the problem isn't race blindness (the inability to see race) the problem is race ignorance. (and, please, read that post- ignorance is not an excuse. Race is all around us, we know it is there and what it is, but privilege allows white people just choose not to acknowledge it because it makes us uncomfortable)

And most white USians are indeed "color blind", you know, racially ignorant. And this is not a good thing. Too many people are actually ignorant to anything beyond "white" or "black" (even though both are made up of a wide range of cultures and backgrounds and countries of origin)- forgetting that Native Americans and Middle Eastern people and what we call "Asian" (technically Russia & the Middle East are part of Asia) and Indigenous Australians are there, too. Now, yes, we see these people. But when race comes up, it's most often a white vs black discussion, ignoring the wide range of people of color.

There's also another sort of racial ignorance. We look at anyone who's vaguely Asian and think either "Chinese" or "Japanese" (I think Japanese has raised in popularity thanks to anime) unless in a restaurant that's Thai/Korean/etc- then they assume that any Asian person working in an [asian country] restaurant must be from [asian country]! Same with anyone who looks Middle Eastern, most people think "Indian" (even though India isn't part of the Middle East). Yeah, that's an example of racial ignorance. Saying "Korean, Chinese, who cares?” is ignorant- because there's a serious difference between Korean and Chinese (and Laotian, Thai, Vietnamese, Phillepino, Japanese, etc) culture, history, language, food, and everything else. I've never heard anyone seriously say "French, Irish, who cares?". Most [white] USians would be shocked if someone couldn't tell the difference between a French accent and an Irish accent. But telling the difference between Asian and African accents? "who cares?"

Although I suppose thinking "Chinese" or "Japanese" at a person who appears to be either from East Asia or of East Asian descent is still a step up from Africa- we don't even give it the benefit of remembering that there are a good 53 countries that comprise the continent (and that black people can come from Australia as well) and just assume anyone who looks black is just African (and I think we ignore that because 1. white people drew arbitrary lines all over Africa that have no bearing on the people who were living there, so some of the "nationalities" don't mean much and 2. we forcibly erased African peoples from their history during the least glamorous part of our history).

And this ignorance is even stronger towards other white people, actually. Too many of us don't really know what we are, thanks to the big "melting pot" that is America most of what is "white" becomes "American". While people of color get labeled "African" American or "Asian" American or "Latin@" American or anything else, white people are just white. Well, we aren't. White people do not come from the mystical country of "Whiteland"- we all have at least one national origin that is most decidedly NOT the US, but most of that's been erased. White people often treat non-white cultures as this exotic and ethnic thing (ignoring that white people have ethnicities as well)- even talking about how people of color are lucky to have an ethnicity and culture and country/continent of origin and "strong cultural roots". Well, we have them, too. Or, we would if we hadn't erased them.

I have primarily Irish genetics (although I'm not known as an "Irish American" and actually wasn't sure about this myself until recently- I've got a bit of mutt in me). Ireland has its own language, culture, history, and everything else that Ethiopia and Iran and Cambodia has- Irish people even had their own history and stereotypes and culture in America for a time. But no one has ever told me how lucky I am to come from such an exotic place with such interesting culture. I have never been asked by a complete stranger (or anyone, for that matter) if I speak Irish or had assumptions made about what kind of foods I eat or music I like because of my background. I doubt if anyone actually looks at me and thinks "Irish"- nope, my skintone (which is so white as to be translucent thanks to my vampiric habits) means that there will never be a qualifier in front of "American" when talking about me unless I choose to put it there.

So why do white people pretend that "colorblindness" is tolerance instead of ignorance? Well, first, because we can. White people are part of the majority, part of the "normal" people, there's no pressure to find other white people to start a subculture that's safe for us that happens to people of color, our race is almost never used to insult us (being called out on racist bull is not being insulted) and we can go long periods of time without someone pointing out that we're white. And ignoring the wide number of ethnicities that comprise "white" people is actually a way of othering everyone else. By saying "I'm not an Irish/French/German/Austrian American, I'm just an American" (which we do) while calling people of color "African/Asian/Mexican American" is othering. It's saying that white people don't need a qualifier on their nationality while forcing them on people of color. "Well, they may be American- but they're not just American, they're some other kind of American".

I have to wonder where the "politically correct" idea of "African American" instead of black came from. Seeing as the politically correct term for white people did not become "European American" (although there are non-white European countries and non-European countries that are white- but going with the "Let's label everyone by the general continent that we associate with people of that skintone!" theme. White people are "Caucasian" American, which is a word not otherwise used and not particularly well known and not particularly accurate, so it has little chance of overpowering the "american" part or suggesting we're from anywhere else), I can't help but wonder if it was because white people were becoming uncomfortable. If you call non-white people "People of Color", then white people a qualifier: White. We are no longer just Americans. We are White Americans. And that makes us angry because it puts us on even footing with PoC, although we'd never admit that's our thought process. So if any person of color ever complains about being referred to as their skintone- we leap on it and set up a "politically correct" system in which white people are just "people" while people of color get other labels that don't always feel comfortable for the people they were designed to "help". (it also resulted in my white teacher, when talking about Africa pre-slavery, referring to the indigenous peoples as "African Americans". No, really)

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