The Race Card Project

[Content Note]: Racism

Michelle Norris, former host of National Public Radio, started the Race Card Project to help foster honest conversations about race. Providing small, black postcards, she asked people to “think about their experineces, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, or observations about race and identiy. Then, [she] asked that they take those thoughts and distill them to one sentence that had only six words.” She is using the cards to get a snapshot of America’s views about race. Looking through the Race Card Wall, here are a few that stood out to me:

“Forget blindness; remember that color contributes,” by Kelsey Hamm

I agree with Kelsey that we should acknowledge race, not pretend that it doesn’t exist. Ignoring it won’t make the problem go away. To disregard race would be to also disregard the experiences of people who society perceives as non-white.

“My son’s not half, he’s double,” by Jon Letman

I love this one! 🙂

“Don’t assume all whites are racist,” by Theresa

This person is a librarian griping about how minorities have responded to her when she asked them to be less noisy or stop what they were doing. Even if they really were talking a little too loudly or something like that, it’s understandable that, after constantly experiencing racism, they would be a little defensive in response to a hostile white person telling them what to do. In this case, I get the feeling that she actually is being hostile and not just asking them to follow the rules. She writes, “I DEMAND that blacks and other minorities not assume I’m a racist before I even open my mouth…[also], don’t be surprised if I am less welcoming to other blacks or minorities when they come along after you, either.”

She is asking (actually, demanding) them to do something that she isn’t even willing to do herself!! Also, while I understand that being assumed to be racist is uncomfortable, it’s on whites to show through their actions that they aren’t carrying around resentment, a sense of entitlement, etc. This is similar to how it’s on men, as the dominant gender, to show respect towards womens’ boundaries, rather than demand that women not cross the street to avoid walking on the same side at night because they are offended at being thought of as a potential rapist or stalker.

I turned in my card at my school’s International Club. I don’t remember what I said word for word now, but I wrote something along the lines of “Friendship, community, International Club, awareness, respect.” These are the things that first come to mind for me because since I was in Kindergarten, some of my friends have been of another race and have dealt with being treated differently in society. We talk about race from time to time, and I am grateful that they have shared their experiences with me. If I hadn’t become close with anybody from outside my race, it would have been easier to be mentally detached from racial issues and perpetuate racism from my own lack of awareness and understanding. If we all continue having conversations about race and building relationships with people from other backgrounds (organically, not from seeking them out specifically because of it), we can further combat racism with understanding.

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Why the “I Don’t See Color” Mindset Doesn’t Help Combat Racism

Recently, I was hanging out with a few friends and one of them said, “I don’t see color. I just see people.” I heard the phrase before in my Sociology class, so I googled it to find out more about what it means and what implications, good or bad, it carries out in discussions of race.

I found out that, while people who say it may have good intentions, “I don’t see color” actually does more harm than good. To begin with, it is inaccurate. Adults have more difficulty recognizing faces from outside their own race, due to a  phenomenon that starts out in infancy. Researchers studied how Caucasian babies in three age groups – three months, six months, and nine months – responded to images of faces from a variety of racial groups. The three month olds recognized faces from every group, while six month olds recognized Caucasian and Chinese faces and nine month olds only recognized Caucasian faces. This study proves that the statement “I don’t see color” is false. Seeing color is an instinctive, involuntary reaction.

Another issue is that the color-blindness mindset sweeps racial problems under the rug. For example, African Americans are still twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, and make 25% less money when they are employed. Randy Ross, who facilitates workshops on racism and culturally responsive teaching, says, “…a teacher who professes to be colorblind is not going to understand how unconscious biases can influence expectations, actions, and even the way a teacher addresses students of color.” Race effects employment, education, and many other areas of life. Claiming not to see color is very misguided because it does nothing constructive to help.

Also, the only people who even get any convenience from this phrase are white people, who have privilege in that they don’t have to deal with repercussions because of their skin color. People of color might experience problems like being pulled over or followed by police, harassment, having to turn in more applications for a callback, and more, on a regular basis. The colorblind attitude is harmful because as long as legal, employment, and other systems treat people differently because of their race, it can’t truly be a mutual thing in society.

The phrase is also useless because, in itself, noticing someone’s race is not even an issue. Many people take pride in their racial origins. Blogger Bruce Reyes-Chow wrote, in response to his friend using this phrase, says, “I never asked you to NOT see my Asianness…In fact quite the opposite, please see my Asianness and take the time to explore the nuances of that existence both through my eyes as well as the eyes of the deep Asian American history in the US.” Pretending not to notice race can actually be really disrespectful to an important part of a person’s identity and heritage. A more constructive way to counter racism is to listen to people of color with an openness to hearing their words and to try and understand the experiences behind those words.