There’s an unforgettable scene in “Little Miss Sunshine” when the brother realized that he was colorblind and, consequently, wouldn’t be able to fly an aircraft. His zero-to-60 was faster than the white Lamborghini towed from outside the arches last year. The kid went from a complete mute to a “terrible twos” tantrum as his lifelong dream vanished from sight.
I imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. would endure a similar heartache (minus the imbecilic outburst) if he could posthumously observe the blatant colorblindness today. When he said he does not want people judging others by their skin, but by their character, he wasn’t advocating for a colorblind America.
Now I’m not referring to faulty retinal cones; I’m talking about devalued identity. Colorblindness is the perception that discounting racial differences fosters racial harmony. The very definition is enough to make me and other so-called “progressives” cringe. But its pervasiveness across the nation is egregious. Those who are extra-diplomatic are prone to such tunnel vision, and certain Midwesterners are at risk.
Meet the Minnesotans (that’s most of you guys): avoiding offense since the 1800s. They’re the most euphemistic talkers and some of the nicest people. With race and all that’s related inopportunely being such sensitive topics, of course Minnesotans are going to play it safe to avoid offending anyone. (Of course, this is not all Minnesotans or limited to only people of the state, but anyone of a tactful mind.) From my experiences, I’ve come to realize that many Minnesotans are colorblind. And you know what? It’s hard to blame them.
For example, Volkswagen recently released their commercial of a happy white male with a Caribbean-derived accent, which reminds me of my grandma’s accent. People were quick to comment, saying the advertisement was distasteful due to the way it generalized black people. Barbara Lippert, editor-at-large for mediapost.com, found the commercial racist since it was “just saying that black people are happy.”
Not only is the backlash unfair, but it reinforces the thought that race is a touchy subject, so it’s best to avoid altogether. As a result, it’s fortifying colorblindness to those who share the “Minnesota nice” mentality. Because of comments like Lippert’s, tactful people are more likely to be colorblind because they see how pointing out racial differences has the potential to fuel controversy. People don’t want to offend.
But the attempt to be inoffensive can be, in fact, offensive.
Disregarding people’s racial traits is a horrifying thought for me. To be colorblind means to paint everyone the same shade of grey. To be colorblind means to look at people with both eyes closed. To be colorblind means to shove people’s identities under the rug (which apparently has a black hole underneath, because those identities never come back out). To be colorblind is to be the antithesis of the perceived goal of the ideology; it is offensive.
As a student of color who was born and raised in predominantly white communities, I love being asked about my cultural background. I may not always have the most straightforward answers, but it doesn’t mean you won’t learn something. If you’re interested, ask me about who I am. Ask others about who they are. Not everyone will be as willing and open to tell you, but it won’t take long to gage the acceptance of your invitation.
Nothing to ask? That’s fine, too. But don’t be blind to racial differences. The student worker at The View may have a different accent, your male professor’s hair may have a different texture and your female lab partner’s eyes may be shaped differently. Note and accept the differences.
Being colorblind (as in having color vision deficiency) has its limitations. I’m sure the brother from “Little Miss Sunshine” saw his world fall before him when he realized he couldn’t fly a jet. But by not being racially colorblind, you’re setting yourself up to go much further and higher than any jet could ever take you. Perhaps that’s why the brother calmed down.
Geena Maharaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.