A Closer Look at “Colorblind”

I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White.” by Prince Ea is the current viral video making the rounds on my social media, clothed in clickbait articles that tell me it will make me “QUESTION EVERYTHING!!”  But the only thing it’s left me questioning is how many people are going along with it.  I would advise watching it before reading this, but just know that its main sentiment is that we should reject labels to instead see who we truly are: humans.

There were some beautiful moments in the video — for instance: “See, when I drive my car, no one would ever confuse the car for me.  Well, when I drive my body, why do you confuse me for my body? It’s my body.  Get it? Not me.”  I loved this line.  Appearances are never something we should judge people by.

But when it later asks, “Who would you be if the world never gave you a label? Never gave you a box to check? Would you be white, black, Mexican, Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, Indian?” my answer differs from its resounding “No.”

If I no longer had the label biracial, Eritrean, or white, I would still be all three.  Just because there was no longer a word for it, that would not change the fact that my dad grew up in a country across the world from the white town I grew up in, and that those two drastically different cultures have played a role in shaping who I am.  Whether you “label” my dad as Eritrean or not, he still grew up in Eritrea.  Whether you “label” me as biracial or not, I still grew up with both Eritrean and white parents and cultures.  If “the world never gave me a label,” I would just have to take the long way around and say I grew up with two different kinds of human culture.

This, however, seems to be the more appealing route to Prince Ea, who says that calling human beings black people and white people is an error, and that these labels will “forever blind us from seeing a person for who they are, but instead seeing them through the judgmental, prejudicial, artificial filters of who we think they are.”

While we should definitely strive to be less judgmental and prejudicial, I fail to see how acknowledging our ethnicities is judgmental or prejudicial to begin with.  If you feel that having your culture acknowledged is somehow prejudicial, maybe what we should really be looking at is the stigma attached to these labels, rather than the labels themselves.

If you were to say, “Your dog is not a chihuahua, and my dog is not a doberman.  They are all dogs,” you’d get some pretty funny looks.  Of course they’re all dogs, but they’re also chihuahuas and dobermans.  And we love all the differences in them.

Why is it that we’re more willing to appreciate our pets’ diversity than our own?

The video suggests that without labels, we would be “One.  We would be together.”  But I ask: why can’t we do that with labels?  Why can’t we, as Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, Middle Easterners, and Indians, all be together and appreciate our differences rather than ignore them?

Another thing the video proclaims is that “the answer to war, racism, sexism, and every other -ism is so simple that every politician has missed it: it’s the labels.  We must rip them off.”

…Hmm.

There is nothing wrong with being Middle Eastern.  The problem comes when we judge people because they’re Middle Eastern.  But do we really need to ignore something to not judge someone by it?

This line of thinking in particular has me worried about the impact this could have on people who already proclaim themselves “colorblind.”

The thing is, everyone in the world isn’t colorblind.  For us to say we’re colorblind before racism is actually fixed is something like saying we don’t see people suffering from illnesses any differently than healthy people, without actually trying to do anything to help the sick people or even acknowledging that their lives are any different than healthy people’s.  I loved my days of thinking colorblind was the answer.  It was so simple.  It felt good.  But in reality, it wasn’t doing anything.  Being colorblind before the rest of the world is is merely a way to feel like we’re putting ourselves on “the right side of history” without actually acting on any side at all, which then gives the other side space to move forward unobstructed.

If you are someone in a position of power where being colorblind will actually help — let’s say, maybe, a casting director — I fully support this viewpoint (as long as you’re not also blind to racial inequality when it’s there).  However, if you’re the person watching the movies instead of making them, not seeing race is going to do much more harm than good.  What happens when a movie casts only white leads, but you’re too colorblind to see? You’re probably not going to look up the casting call, and you’re then probably not going to see that the leads were all white because they only called for white actors, and since you don’t know that, you’re probably not going to do anything about it, which means you’ve left Hollywood free to continue their racist traditions without any backlash.

These issues aren’t going to be fixed by erasing the words for them.  Instead, you’ll just end up getting to ignore what’s happening while also getting to feel like you’re doing something about it.

Right now, race is something that still needs to be talked about; however, race itself is not inherently prejudicial.  I agree with Prince Ea’s main idea that “I am not a label.”  That’s true.  None of us are just black or just Mexican; we are first and foremost people.  But we have to acknowledge that our experiences as people may be different, and they may be different because of our races and cultures.  And that’s okay.  These are things we should be talking about, not making ourselves blind to.

The human race is incredibly diverse.  It’s time to start preaching color appreciation, not colorblindness.

 


 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
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