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Seeing in Color August 2, 2009

Posted by januaryolympus in Uncategorized.
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Not long ago, I realized that since beginning to unpack the presence and meaning of race in my day to day life, I have become, if anything, more aware of the physical appearance of people around me. I don’t think that anyone can be “colorblind,” and I don’t recall (even in my embarrassing, ignorant “my ancestors weren’t slave owners so why should I care” days of yore) ever claiming to be. After all, we all see the race of the people around us.

But what I mean is that I’ve become very aware of the race of everyone I encounter. The Fellow is no exception, although adding non-American-ness into the mix definitely changes the racial dynamic between us. But really- as I’m getting onto the subway, I notice the race of the people pushing on board alongside me. When I come in to work, I notice the skin tone of the people clipping into the elevators, and that of the people mopping the ground floor. I notice the color of people I pass on the street, people I sit next to in class, my SAT-prep students, people who serve me in restaurants or bars, the cashiers at the grocery store, people I bump in to by accident, men who make comments or approach me as I pass. Everyone. It’s been a while since skin color wasn’t something I homed in on directly.

There are some [white? probably mostly white] people that would suggest this tendency is “more racist” than pretending not to see skin color. But I think it has just made me more careful. If I am aware that the person I am talking to is a person of color, I can be aware of the racial power imbalance inherent to our conversation or interaction, and I can try to check my privilege more easily.

It has also made me more aware of where I need to do work on myself. For example, on the subway the other night some black girls were sitting across the aisle from me, talking and laughing very loudly and causing a ruckus. There was a palpable sense of discomfort present among the rest of the [mostly white] passengers. The Fellow became so irritated at the noise that he put on his headphones and wouldn’t talk to me. So I played Tetris on my phone and looked out the window at the nothingness of the subway tunnel and wondered why I, too, felt so uncomfortable. Would I have noticed the girls if they had been white? If their fashion choices had been coded rich instead of coded working class? Maybe, but probably just to the extent that I would have been irritated that they were being loud. Not to the extent that I felt awkward and slightly nervous just because I was sitting two seats away. There was really no reason for me or any other person to have felt uncomfortable because some girls were being silly and having fun. So that is something to work on.

I don’t say this to brag and be like “ZOMG LOOK HOW FAR IVE COME IM NOT RACIST HUR HUR” but it’s just interesting. It does make me more nervous sometimes when I notice a person of color is not white because I desperately don’t want to fuck up and unconsciously lord my whiteness over them. But still, I think it’s better for me on this journey to have to overcome nervousness than to just drift through life, imagining that I live in a fantasy world where we can be colorblind and in which race is not an omnipresent factor.

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