"I Don't See Color" & Other Excuses

In spring of last year, the lead singer of a popular rock band, New Year’s Day, posted a since-deleted picture on Instagram displaying a new hairstyle: dreadlocks. The people of Instagram proceeded to tear her to shreds in the comments, claiming cultural appropriation. In a reactionary post of hers that came later (also now deleted), she had quite a few things to say about the topic; she mentioned that no one knows what her ethnic background is, which is true, and that everyone was jumping to conclusions because she is white-passing/presenting.

Ensuing arguments flew in many different directions. People claimed that her dreads were synthetic, a characteristic of the Cybergoth subculture, and were therefore not appropriative. People pointed out the fact that hundreds of white men in metal and rock over the years, including her fiance, have had dreads and not one of them was receiving the sheer volume of hate that she was. I read them all. I hung out with what people were saying.

But this article is not about the original post, or a reaction to the fans’ reactions, or a social/cultural analysis of the morality of white people with dreads.

The lead singer’s response has been deleted, but I posted something of a rant about it nearly three hours after it happened, so I still have some quotes. Ashley’s response did not claim whether or not dreads on white people is cultural appropriation; instead she headed straight to the claims that she was “racist” and attempted to refute them. She did this by saying, “everyone is the same to me.” She claimed that “we are all on the same team,” and that she didn’t “pay attention to racial/social lines” because “everyone is the same” to her--generally to the effect that she didn’t “see” color.

This post sat horribly with me, as I had seen so many people before Ashley make the argument that they weren’t racist because they didn’t “see color.” I find this notion to be both a blatant abuse of racial privilege and wildly offensive. Throwing up their hands and saying “well, hey, I’m not racist. Everyone’s the same to me,” is a cop-out for those who don’t want to educate themselves and truly listen to POC to help overturn patterns of racial bias in society, workplace, economics, etc. It is a self-interested attempt at dodging the burden of social blame rather than actually addressing the issue. How lucky they are, these people who claim they “don’t see color," that they can use the privilege we as white Americans have to sit back and trivialize these racial biases that are integral to our social institutions. They compartmentalize the issues under the umbrella of “the race card,” they quip “I’m fine, I don’t see color” and move on in their everyday lives completely unaffected by the issues they so eagerly ignore.

In whatever otherworldly plane of existence where claiming “I don’t see color” somehow absolves one of racial bias, openly viewing everyone “the same” might actually have some remotely widespread effect on the current racial climate. But in the real world, racially charged acts of violence, discrimination, and oppression are happening constantly. What these people fail to realize (or perhaps more accurately, ignore) is that there are enough people in power in our government that do NOT see everyone as the same, and they silently allow POC to be discriminated against in schools and workplace/corporate environments, a disproportionate amount of MOC to be imprisoned for minor marijuana possession, the persistence of un-rectified police brutality, and more.

They may even be coming at this with good intentions. They may truly want a future of unity and equity in our country and our world. But there are FAR too many people in this country--supremacists, bigots, uneducated folks, and even complacent well-meaning people--who use differences in skin color as basis for hideous prejudice and discrimination for they to sit back and ignore them. Who could rationally believe institutional racism and racial biases will be magically solved because they aren’t paying attention to it? Who leaves a problem alone, walks away, and expects it to miraculously fix itself? People who can’t be bothered otherwise.

Beyond the escapist nature of saying “I don’t see color,” there is also an element that is quite offensive. If the way to be not-racist, as they purport, is to “not see color,” then what would happen if they did see color? If their end goal is to not promote or support racism, why are they still supporting the idea that race is the issue? Why are they passively supporting the idea that the only way to end the issue of racism is to ignore it? That skin color inherently determines one’s societal, economic, and institutional worth?

If I were to offer a piece of advice to white people who have found themselves supporting this sentiment, it would be this: listen to the black, Latinx, Asian, Native American communities and what they are saying. How they are voting. Do not belittle and invalidate the struggles they face, that we will never experience, by treating them as worthy of being ignored. Do not strive to simply avoid being viewed as a racist, but actively denounce and dismantle the social infrastructures that encourage racial biases. they may not “see” this, but if they aren’t actively part of the solution, they are inherently a part of the problem.