A World Where Skin Color Is Of No Consequence

Just a few months after my daughter arrived we were pushing her in a carriage around campus. We lived in faculty housing and happened to run into one of the other instructors at the school. He was an elderly gentleman. Professor of History. He oooed and ahhhed appropriately over our new baby. And then he asked in hushed tones, “Are you going to tell her she’s adopted?”

I had to fight back a smile. My husband stood there looking stunned. The professor waited patiently for an answer.

“I think she’s going to figure that one out,” my husband said.

Our daughter is Asian. We are Caucasian. Yes, it will be obvious to her soon enough.

Privately, my husband commented on what a silly question that was. But I didn’t think so. I think it was a beautiful question. An amazingly beautiful, wonderful question. It meant that he didn’t see color of skin. He saw a precious baby girl. And from his generation, a generation that often didn’t discuss adoption, he wondered if we would. Her skin color was of no consequence. It wasn’t even apparent to him.

THAT’s the kind of world I want to live in. Where skin color is of no consequence. Where we don’t distinguish between brown, black, pink, olive, or white. OR where skin color is mentioned simply as another physical identifier, like eye color or hair color. When my boys were about 3 and 4 years old they would comment, “The boy with the brown skin” or “My skin is lighter than Mommy’s skin.” At first I bristled. How do I tell my boys it’s impolite to point out someone’s skin color? But then I thought, if they said “The girl with the red hair” do I tell them that it’s impolite to notice hair color? So, I let it go. And it became a non-issue.

But what about when we are forced to label ourselves? On a form for college, I was asked to check a box that described my race. The choices were: Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, African-American, other. I choose ‘other.’ It asked me to explain. I wrote: Irish-Scottish-German-French-American but I prefer to be called ‘Euro-American.’ And never mind that there wasn’t a choice to appropriately categorize MY ethnicity – little American mutt that I am – what about the other black cultures out there? Not every black American is from Africa. What about Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, the Middle East? And as my husband pointed out, maybe we should ALL check African-American because, after all, mankind originated from a region in Africa.

How about when we celebrate our skin color publically? African-American Bloggers Conference, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, The Billboard Latin Music Awards, Ku Klux Klan Parade. Oops. That was a bit politically incorrect. Yes, I know the KKK is a hate group. But they are celebrating their skin color. And think about it. If a group of white people get together, excluding all other skin colors – it’s racist. If another skin color group gets together – it’s a celebration. How is that promoting acceptance? It’s exclusionary. It’s preferential. It’s cliquish. It’s wrong.

I’m not perfect. I’ve made judgements based on skin color. I try very hard not to. I fight stereotypes and try to block the thoughts as soon as I notice them. But then there are times when I just don’t like the person. A professor friend of my husband’s once said, “Racism denies me my God-given right to detest the individual.” Sometimes it’s simply the inside of a person we don’t like.

If we are going to preach that ‘what is important is on the inside’ than we have got to stop noticing the outside. Appearances must be a non-issue. And you can’t exclude yourself to celebrate the color of your skin and then come back to the real world and expect to be noticed and valued for your abilities and character only. If you join groups that focus on skin color then expect to be defined by your skin color.  

I want to live in a colorblind world. I want to be valued for my insides. I want my children to simply be noticed as brother and sister, not adopted one and biological one. A world where skin color is just another physical characteristic like short or tall. Racism will simply be an archaic term to describe an unhappier time. No labels. No celebrations based on looks. Please tell me we’re not that far off.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “A World Where Skin Color Is Of No Consequence

  1. I can’t. I think we are still very far off. And I’m sort of uncomfortable with the ‘not noticing skin colour’ argument, although you did mention it as just another identifier. ‘Wondrous variety’ is how I think of it. I still can’t wrap my head around how this whole racism thing started. I guess when you spend your whole life around people that look so much like you and then you’re confronted with people who look so different in a few key ways, you have to come up with something to explain it to yourself — but THAT was the best they could do? And if your culture’s history is one of repression, slavery, violence and misery, should you be denied a chance to celebrate it now? Even if it sets you apart once again?

    So I understand what you’re getting at, but I think the issue is just too complex for me to agree outright. That said, the quote from the Professor friend is priceless.

  2. As you can imagine, this is a loaded topic in my house. I’ve been asked numerous times if my biological daughters are adopted. It burns my ass. I don’t know why; it just does.

    Miss D. refers to her skin as brown. She feels fine about it, luckily. Other kids have said insensitive things to her already and she’s just a 2nd grader. I hope she’s prepared to deal with it for a lifetime, but sad that she will have to.

    I think the worst thing, in my situation, is that my in-laws only celebrate the side of my girls that is Indian (their side). It infuriates me, this reverse prejudice. Yes they are Indian. But they are also English, German, French and Irish. And American.

    GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

  3. Steven Harris

    I like the way he didn’t make anything whatsoever of differences of skin pigmentation. That’s the kind of world I hope we all live in one day, one where the colour of our skin has nothing to do with other people’s perceptions of us.

  4. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be colorblind, genderblind, moneyblind and every other form of qualifying people?

    I wish…

  5. Fair enough — I’m just saying maybe they’re not actually asking us to ‘look past’ it, just not to equate it with lack of intelligence or morals.

    I do agree that reverse racism is not any better than the regular kind. I think the in-laws who only acknowledge their side of their grandchildren’s culture are unfair. But a Caribana parade or an Italian Day are fairly different from a KKK rally in intention, if not in homogeneity of skin colour, right? It’s one thing to celebrate your culture and another to privilege it and assume that it gives you the right to eradicate other cultures.

  6. Such a ripe topic, Jane.

    I remember hearing in college the phrase: “race is a social construct.” It was one I’d never heard before, but one I’ve thought of many times since – this idea that race in and of itself means nothing; that we are the ones who make meaning out of it.

    I wish I knew the answer to your question. Even though the US has long been called a “melting pot,” in my experience it is only really recently that it has started to become one. (More of a “salad bowl” before.) Perhaps race will become less of a factor as more people intermarry?

    Then again, residential segregation is little if no better than it was in the 1950s. If so many of us don’t live together, how can we expect to overcome ingrained judgments based on race?

  7. unabridgedgirl

    I really liked your post. I wish we lived in that kind of world, too.

  8. I love how you don’t hesitate to wrestle these tough issues. I love the different colors people are. I’d hate to lose seeing that. I guess it’s when it defines us or limits us. Kinda like sexism but more insidious.

  9. I too, love the rainbow of the human race. But I don’t like the tendency to define people by their color. The quote by your husband’s friend that “racism denies me my God given right to detest the individual” perfectly sums it up. I pulled up your post to have my husband read. We both nodded our heads in agreement over what you had to say. Perfectly written. Good on ya.

  10. Such a beautiful world you want to aspire. But human nature will always be our enemy. Much as we want not to discriminate, it has become an automatic response, and most of us are not aware of this.

    I hope people will become aware that we are all the same. Despite the disparity of color, race and beliefs, we are all one. We must work together for the betterment of our future. 🙂

  11. I want to live in a genderblind world too.

  12. Biologically, racism (or any form of difference, like religion) makes sense. We were clans of similar people. We evolved in specific areas. We fought other clans for resources. The more different the group looked from us, the harder it was for us to identify with them…..for us to see them as being in “our” clan.

    I think we are making significant progress. Every educated generation seems to dissolves the barriers a little more. That is what I hope, anyway.

  13. My little dude has always referred to people by the color of their shirt. Not sure why. But at almost four, he refers to “the orange boy” and “the blue lady.” I love it. It has never occurred to him, maybe because our friends and neighbors come in lots of skin and hair and eye colors, to refer to something permanent. I love the idea of being a different person each day, based on the stuff you have control over, like a shirt.

  14. What a lovely post. Racism makes me very sad.
    Like you, I wish people would quit defining other people by their skin color. Ah, if only we could rule the world, right?
    -Jen

  15. Wonderful post. It’s what I needed after yet another evening of hearing my grandma’s more racist side coming out in her later years. If anyone starts a sentence with, “You might call me a racist,” just start humming the national anthem. Unless you’re related, then I just leave the room to make sure my boys don’t hear it.

  16. Great post and wouldn’t it be nice if the world was color blind. John Lennon said it all……Imagine.

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