26 Comments
Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

I always feel that, "I don't see color" is simply shorthand for, "I don't care one way or the other what the color of your skin is and try not to make assumptions about people based on things they can't control." It's a strange thing to say, but I am understanding of where it comes from. Of course people notice our defining features. Nobody is "blind" to the fact that I'm 6'8". My size is one of my defining characteristics. People usually don't care one way or the other how tall I am (however, I know my height does intimidate or cause some to feel uncomfortable). It's consistently a central point of how I experience the world. Even hugs from old friends are sometimes strange. I can't buy pants at 99% of stores. I don't fit into most cars. I have to fly Delta Comfort or better to be at all pain-free while flying. Couches that I find comfortable are uncomfortable to most everyone else who I would share one with, and are harder to find than pants. I'd say, you should see me try to shower in many places in Japan, but that would be awkward. The list goes on. It's just my experience. Just as your experience is yours. Like many people with skin that is darker than mine, my ancestors were enslaved and murdered by racist people from other lands. But because I have fair skin and blue eyes, that part of "who I am" doesn't ever come up. At the end of the day, we're all individuals who are contending with the hands we were dealt for one reason or another.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

You are an individual. Enough said.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

I have a different view of what colorblindness means. It just means that race is irrelevant. The same thing MLK meant. And, as an additional perspective, not every black person I meet is the descendent of an enslaved person. Some are recent immigrants, and had no part in the struggles of this country. I see people as individuals.

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Correct... race, color, sexuality do not define a person. I agree with the article, except how color blindness is defined. Color blindness does not mean a person doesn't see color, it means they will not define a person based off skin color, race or sexuality. Phillip Clay, like me, you are color blind.

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It's important to recognize that the principle of colorblindness is most important as it applies to the law. Humanity has known for generations that justice must be blind to individual distinctions. Surely with people dealing with other people socially it matters when people ask "Don't you know who I am?" But when it comes to matters of justice and law, that's the last thing we want to hear.

So let's make the distinction between the personal and the legal. The matter of equality before the law demands colorblindness. It's a good thing our Supreme Court has continued to bend the moral arc of our law towards justice.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

Nice thoughts. To me, colorblindness doesn't mean color isn't ever relevant, I mean, blind people know color exists, they just can't make their decisions based on it unless someone assists them. We can learn history connected to race without making judgement on individual people as a consequence.

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Jul 12, 2023·edited Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

How about you are Philip Clay, a person, a human being. I would like to meet you Philip Clay. Your article makes a good point. I have always considered myself in the camp of "color blind", but I really think I am a Philip Clay kind of person who is much more interested in the "content of your character" to borrow a phrase. That is the danger of labels; they don't always tell the whole story about a person. Thanks for your perspective, it made me think.

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Jul 12, 2023·edited Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

You've hit the nail on the head: we need better language to describe viewpoints that are neither colorblind nor essentialist. Twenty or thirty years ago, there was a lot of discussion in the academic humanities and social sciences on this idea that race is meaningful but not all-encompassing. Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote about what he called "rooted cosmopolitanism"; David Hollinger called this a "postethnic" perspective (emphasis on both the post- and the -ethnic). Whatever you call it, we need more of it-- now more than ever-- and better words to describe it.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

I love this. All of it matters but it doesn’t define you. Is that humanism? Individualism? I don’t want to be judged by my appearance. I imagine others don’t either.

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Jul 12, 2023·edited Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

While I appreciate your point, I'm not sure that's really how either of those terms are meant in practice. No one I've met who has insisted they don't see color really means they wouldn't believe their black coworker is more likely to have insight into matters relating to black culture or experience (though they may feel uncomfortable saying so). They mean something more like: when judging people's talent, worthiness for promotion etc they don't let race influence their conclusions (roughly). And even then it's analagous to saying you are a fair/good boss. It's an overall judgement not necessarily a claim to perfection.

OTOH, I suspect that most white progressives who you would say embrace race essentialism actually aren't committing to a theory about how much race dictates how you will behave or the like but are more advancing a claim about fairness or justice: something like, considerations of justice or fair dealing for racial groups as a whole are more important than claims about individual dessert. In other words, when it comes to deciding how to treat a black colleague or to vote to give them tenure their feelings about what is due blacks as a group are (justly) more important than their individual qualities.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

Excellent piece. You are an individual, not a group. Your experience may be influenced by your (perceived) race, but cannot be reduced to it.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

The term colorblind is imprecise. Literally-minded folks who wish to continue to focus of melanin and outdated concepts of "race" like to point out the flaw in the term. It's a straw man. The more the world's population mixes, the more absurd all these labels will be. For some of us, they already are.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

This was so thoughtful, and touched my heart deeply. Thank you for sharing such personal things to help make your points.

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Jul 14, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

A person who says they don’t see color is someone who is making a concerted effort to live up to the words of MLK in his “I have a dream” speech. This WAS the gold standard of not being racist. It’s ridiculous to think people literally don’t see color. They are simply trying to communicate that they are not racist by the standards they grew up with.

Unfortunately today, this is now considered racist. Just like commenting on someone’s hair is racist and asking someone where they are from is racist.

Redefining words and phrases, then vilifying people unfamiliar with the new terms, is a common underhanded tactic our education system uses to divide people and “other” people. It’s easy to do with people who do not keep up with current trends.

So if you hear someone say they don’t see color, maybe try appreciating their effort in trying to improve race relations and not assume they are ignorant. The opposite (only seeing color) would be much much worse. Trying to navigate racism these days, is like walking on eggshells. We should all try to help each other out a little more.

I hope we can continue to work towards making the world a little better in our own imperfect but sincere ways.

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Jul 12, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

Huzzah, huzzah! This speaks directly to how I try to live my life and try to treat others. I have always felt being color-blind is a good way to express how I do that, but your piece has shown me how that view is, if not wrong, surely not the best way to approach the subject. I am an individualist, which simply means that I try to deal with every person as distinct and separate from every other individual. Because we all generalize as human beings, it is in our nature because it is how we make sense of a world of infinite variability, it is extremely hard to NOT do it with people. BUT, each human being is infinitely diverse all by him or herself. To identify any one aspect, such as color or hair color or ethinicity, etc., as being definitive does that person a complete disservice. You are correct. I am not color-blind. I do, indeed, notice the color of a person immediately. It is immediately evident. What I try to do is not generalize or categorize such a person in any way. What I have learned, from long experience, is that every random person I meet can be anything and believe anything. Until I get to know him or her I won't have any basis for making any evaluation whatsoever. Thank you for giving me a better understanding. Believe me, that is rare!

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Jul 13, 2023Liked by Free Black Thought

The answer to that closing question is 'a person, like I am'.

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