Do you “see color?” What does that really mean?

July 19, 2022

On a TV show the other night a woman claimed she did not “see color” and the people of color in the group went crazy because it sounded like she was invalidating their racial identity. (I’m sure you know what show it was….my guilty pleasure.)

So let’s break it down. Yes, yes, fools like me do want to rush in where angels fear to tread. Kids, we MUST discuss these hard topics or we are doomed to be stuck in this hell called our society forever.

So it’s impossible not to see color. Color of hair, color of eyes, color of clothing and YES, color of SKIN. Racial identity. We ALL see color. But here’s what I think people NOT of color mean when they say “I don’t see color.”

They mean that they do not attach negative and stereotypical traits to a particular race.

That’s all they mean, in my opinion.

They see racial identity and accept the person without assuming they are one way or another on the basis of their race.

“Don’t see color” is one of those ill-advised terms that doesn’t really say what it means, like defund the police. Which does not mean take their money away. But defund the police is such a stupidly inaccurate term that the right has seized it and defined it for themselves. Very effectively.

In that same way, “I don’t see color” is not intended to invalidate the person’s racial identity. It actually is meant to invalidate stereotypes.

For me, I usually don’t attach anything to anyone, unless they show me something I need to attach to them.  And then sometimes, with my Black friends, I think about how horrific slavery was and wonder how the hell white humans could justify slavery. And then I wonder what it might be like to grow up Black and have to deal with the attitudes, stereotypes and realities of Black life. That imagining makes me recoil in horror for them. I can not even truly imagine it.

Slavery paid off for plantation owners. Yes, on economic terms it was a good deal for them–free labor!! Give slaves a shanty, some rags and a bit of food and have labor at no other cost seven days a week. Plenty of economic incentives to keep slavery. To keep people under their thumbs.

THAT was the benefit of slavery to plantation owners, and it WAS a benefit–to them.

It was definitely NOT a benefit to slaves. Or to society. There was nothing about slavery that benefited its victims or the world they lived in. Slavery dehumanized people of color and made them property.

Take that in for minute. Read it and understand it. I am not defending slavery. I am pointing out the obvious economic incentive for plantation owners. And that horror.

Take a look at this poster for the sale of slaves.


Pretty awful, isn’t it? Human beings on the same bill as plow horses, hogs, goats and a wagon. Just take that in. I’ve been to the old slave auction house in Charleston. I closed my eyes and what I could sense was horrific.

It is beyond my comprehension that human beings sold other human beings like they were property. Which they were. And assessed them in the way this old poster says. (Borrowed from a Facebook friend’s post.)

People like me think about slavery with furrowed brow because we could not, in a million years, not for a billion dollars, support enslaving another. Could not. It is appalling.

Some people of color think this horrible history of slavery is forgotten when people say we don’t see color. I’m not sure that’s true.

But I can’t speak for anyone but me –and I don’t forget it.

I do see color. And racial identity. I just don’t see all the other BS racists of all kinds attach to it.

My teeny taste of discrimination and a more minor form of racism came when I was flying through Milan and asked a blonde airline clerk where my flight to Palermo, Sicily was boarding.

“Palermo?!” she scoffed, turning up her nose as if she smelled something bad.

I’m Sicilian-American and I never forgot it. Sicilians are considered the “Blacks” of Italy. Darker skinned. Lazy. Smell bad. Not kidding, that’s how it was and maybe still is in some parts of Italy. Blue-eyed, blonde haired northern Italians thought we were less-than.

So multiply that by a zillion and we might begin to see why people of color don’t want their race invalidated any more. Why “I don’t see color” is so infuriating.

It’s understandable. It falls in the same category as “All Lives Matter.” Which invalidates the point of “Black Lives Matter.” Even when we don’t mean it that way, that is, in fact, what it does.

I don’t believe it’s what people mean to do when they say they ‘don’t see color.’  But that’s what it does. It invalidates the Black experience.

I think we should understand and respect how people of color feel about that statement. And say something else to indicate our solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color.

We need to start really listening to each other, especially if we are on the same side. Because if we don’t?

The crazies will take over.

And they are dangerously close to doing just that.

Shame on us if we allow them to.

14 comments on “Do you “see color?” What does that really mean?
  1. Rena says:

    I’ve been to that market in Charleston many times and every time it leaves me feeling heartbroken that fellow humans could be that cruel. What I think about though is how they were brought here. Stolen from families who never knew what happened to them. Can you imagine the trauma? Living here in SC I see racism every time I go out not just in words in actions but in economic discrepancies, living arrangements, etc.

    • Yes, racism runs so deep. Soo deep. And so does the trauma. We can’t even imagine it. But I know you feel for it, Rena. And living in the South makes it even more vivid.

  2. Laurie Stone says:

    That notice for slaves is indeed chilling and especially with the females, I sense some ‘reading between the lines’ stuff for their many uses.

    • Absolutely–look at Jefferson. The lack of any agency at all? It is mind-boggling how white people thought it was acceptable to treat other humans like that. But of course, they weren’t considered humans. And that, in itself, is mind-boggling.

  3. Diane says:

    I do see colour. Beautiful, beautiful colour. Everywhere.
    I find something very curious: White-skinned people like myself spend so much of their time every summer out tanning in the sun trying to get their skin as dark as possible. Then turn their noses up at people who are naturally a beautiful dark tone. It makes little sense to me…

  4. Alana says:

    I never was at the slave market in Charleston but I have been to the preserved plantations there (Drayton Hall, Magnolia, Middleton). The most sobering part is visiting the slave cemeteries, which are full of unmarked graves just scattered willy-nilly. If you didn’t know it was a cemetery you wouldn’t have guessed. Even in death the enslaved were not permitted an identity apart from being lumped in with wagons, cattle, and hogs. So, do I see color? Yes. I grew up in New York City public housing and it took me years to understand how different my experience there was from those who couldn’t escape the way I did. I could escape because my skin was the “right” color. I also look at people of color who have achieved and I wonder, what would have their fate been 200 years ago? Or even 50 years ago? Would Bennie Thompson been an aging field hand with a back scarred from whippings? Would Kentanji Brown Jackson have been the superior cook and seamstress also available for “other purposes”? Sobering.

  5. b+ says:

    Carol, I am 80 and I still struggle with all the stereo typical ideas that were planted when I was young. Those idea held no hate but were simply the truths of the time. I think I will think and post about the idea and how it applies in my world. Thank you so much

    • Yes, truths of the time. I hear that. And now, times have changed. We know more and we can choose to listen. We might not be willing to act on all of it but i have had a few aha! moments from listening. And talking. Probably one of my most interesting teachers on this happens to be my husband, who sees more clearly most of the time. At least on these subjects.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Harsh to read that slave notice and to know that “bud’n out” means the girls are showing signs of puberty so they can start producing slave babies. Sadly, the way that you and I feel about that slave notice has now been white-washed out of Florida schools by none other than the evil racist known as DeSantis. He doesn’t want white children to feel guilt or shame.

  7. The idea that people accepted slavery as a way of life is so hideous but there were many who were appalled by it back then. Being Jewish, the idea that people could have been put into concentration camps or Japanese internment camps and even in modern-day circumstances like how Russians are treating Ukrainians just shows we still have much to learn.

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