We’re often blind to color—that is, blind to how color shapes us.
Some good white people like me will say they are color blind—they don’t see people’s color. While I appreciate their desire to move beyond prejudice, and while they themselves may not be prejudiced, I find their statements problematic from two angles. First, the statement does not account for our being intentionally the colors that we are. God was not color blind, when he made us who we are. And so, I want to see people’s color; it is a part of who they are as masterpieces of God and created in God’s image. It is bound up with how God made them. They are intentionally black or white or brown, etc.
This notion of being intentionally black or white or brown calls to mind a story that Dr. John M. Perkins shared. He was with people of diverse backgrounds in a distinguished setting. One young, highly educated and accomplished African American man told his highly educated and accomplished white associates gathered there that he just happens to be black. Dr. Perkins responded by saying that his own parents were black and his grandparents were black. He doesn’t happen to be black. He is intentionally black.
For my part, I am intentionally white. God (and my ancestors) made me this color. I am not translucent; I am white, or perhaps more accurately, off-white. If we are intentionally black and white and brown and other colors, we need to be intentional about celebrating those colors. A homogeneous, mono-chrome world is very boring and unimaginative. A world full of diverse colors is so enriching. In fact, each color is highlighted as it is set alongside other colors. Each color adds to the other colors. I believe God designed us this way to show forth the manifold beauty of his creative genius and glory of love toward his creation. I want to be intentional, like God, and celebrate this beauty and his glory and love toward us by celebrating one another.
Second, the statement about being color blind rarely accounts for how intentionally color-conscious our society is. While those who say they themselves are color blind may not judge people based on their skin color, the world at large is definitely not color blind. I have found that some who maintain that they are color blind tend not to see how racist and racialized our society still is. We need to see that people are still judged by their skin color in many sectors of society. Friends of mine who are black and brown share of how they are followed in department stores because they fit certain pre-conceived modes of what shoplifters look like. I don’t recall being followed. My experience is different based on my color. And even if there are times when people think they are being profiled because of their skin color and are not, they still have to process the possibility of being profiled, whereas I don’t ever have to think about it. I am privileged in that way because of our racialized history and ongoing struggles with race in so many quarters. I long for the day when people are no longer judged because of the color of their skin, but because of the content of their character, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said. But that day has not yet come. Some may argue that non-white people use color to play the blame game. That is certainly true at times. But it also works the other way: white people use the race card to bully and manipulate people of other skin colors and ethnicities, often through subtle forms of white privilege. And while it works both ways in terms of the blame game, the deck is still stacked exceedingly in favor of those of us who are white.
Not only does it work both ways (and the one way more than the other), but also we need to learn to live in both worlds, if we are white. Just because a white person has not witnessed racial profiling and prejudice because of one’s skin color, it doesn’t mean such profiling no longer exists. One can ask those who are of diverse ethnic backgrounds. They may share how the world is not color blind—people see the colors of others; the real issue is not whether or not we see color, but whether or not we make dismissive judgments about people because of their skin color.
We must be careful not to discriminate against people based on skin color. Instead we must be intentional to celebrate people for their ethnic diversity in the richness of their various cultural and creaturely patterns and complexities, including the color of their skin.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths and Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. This volume and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.