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Column: It’s time to swap out those rose-colored glasses to see race more clearly
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

I don’t think a lot about my race. At least, not until I’m taking two kids a shade or two darker than me to a church where I suddenly realize they will stick out. Or I’m reading with a girl who I think would benefit from seeing some kids like her in the books, only I can’t seem to find many on the school library shelves.

In a moment, my perspective changes. 

I might have been colorblind the moment before, not realizing what I had taken for granted.  

Being colorblind is not the goal.

I grew up thinking it was — that equality meant we didn’t see race. We were not that different from one another and could all coexist peacefully. I wanted equality for all. 

Racism seemed simple: it was my older relatives making disparaging remarks about Black people, it was the idea that someone would be considered less than because of their skin color. It was separate water fountains and white sheets and hateful slurs.

I was confident the younger generations would move past the mistakes of those before them.

And we have moved forward, but the issue is anything but resolved. 

Most of us can agree racism is bad, quite a shift from the days of segregation. In fact most of us can agree we’re not racists. What we can’t agree on now is what is racist.

Are those Dr. Seuss books racist? Was Dr. Seuss racist?

Is being proud of Southern heritage racist?

Was that massage parlor shooter racist?

Is it racist to have a Black business directory?

The questions aren’t all easily answered, and the disagreements can be fierce, especially when we’ve all agreed we aren’t racist, except that someone just lobbed the accusation.

Most of us are trying not to be racist, or at least not get called racist. How many of us are trying to be colorblind when we answer those questions?

Being colorblind, you might ignore how historic representations of race have harmed others. You might ignore the fact massage parlors always seem to employ Asian women. You might ignore the complexities of the competition Black businesses faced after desegregation changed the game. 

You might look back on the past with rose-colored glasses, wondering why things can’t just be the way they used to be. Have you ever wondered that out loud while standing next to someone of color? 

Have you ever thought even about what that means for women, no matter their color? Looking back on the past with rose-colored glasses is tougher when, say, you’re a woman in her 30s in a job that wasn’t held by women back then — depending on how far back the “good ol’ days” are.

I don’t believe most want to return to all of that, but many wish for what seemed to be simpler times. Do you ever wonder why they were simpler? Or who they were simpler for?

In the 20th century, the American melting pot was idealized. Other cultures get mixed in a big pot of — I guess fondue — and we all meld together.

Have you considered what kind of melting you had to do to become part of the pot?

What parts of your identity did you leave behind for the sake of assimilation? 

Were you allowed to speak your native language in school? My Spanish-speaking grandfather-in-law wasn’t. Were school breaks held on your religious holidays? That’s not reality for many who practice faiths other than Christianity. Do you have easy access to hair care products you need? Can you find a doll for your child that looks like her? Both have been difficult for me when we’ve had kids of color in our foster home.

Be colorblind, and you may never see these things. 

Racism may not be as overt and intentional as it once was, but people of color still experience the harm caused by a society that doesn’t always see them. The harm caused by a society that may see them only in certain ways. The harm of erasing and discounting their experiences.

The stark racism of the past didn’t allow for some of these tough conversations. Swap those rose-colored glasses for something a bit sharper, where you can see all the colors, and let’s talk.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.