What You Are Actually Saying When You Say You Don’t See Color [Opinion]

Photo by T. Ron Scott/Flickr, Art by Alex Alvarez/Fusion

George Zimmerman, a man who garnered something approaching fame after shooting an unarmed teenaged boy named Trayvon Martin and who then parlayed that notoriety into other acts of alleged violence and works of passive-aggressive kitsch, sat down for an interview with Fusion correspondent Derrick Ashong. Zimmerman placed many words one after the other in combinations of approximate meaning, one of which was the claim that he does not "see color."

That particular combination of words is often used in discussions about race and racism, and it doesn't, on its surface, mean anything. “I don't see color” is the Forever 21 clearance bin costume jewelry of cliched statements about race. It might seem nice, but it crumbles and unfastens and falls apart pretty easily once you try to use it for anything.


So here are some things you are actually saying when you default to that grouping of words:

You are a silly person.

Color exists. As in both, like, actual melanin in skin and the constructs and history that surround having or not having varying degrees of it. Race exists, whether you think of it as a construct people created over time or as a Legit Really Real Thing, as do hatred and prejudice and well-meaning-but-ultimately-clueless interactions based on ideas we have about how people of different races act or should be treated. To say that you don't see color is silly, because it exists. You are literally seeing it — and how people talk about it — every day.

You are ok with ignoring other people.

Because color and race are things that surely exist in this world we live and participate in, some people are treated differently — and sometimes badly or unfairly — based on ideas other people have about color and race. A lot of people have talked about it, sharing what they’ve gone through and teaching people how they can treat other, differently-colored people in ways that maybe aren’t so bad or unfair. By claiming to not see color you are, by extension, declaring an ignorance of either the reality that this bad or unfair treatment exists, despite people who have experienced it telling you that it does, or you are saying that you do not and have never taken part in it, even in a subtle or innocuous or casual manner. And I do not believe you when you say that.


You are comfortable.

You do not have to see color because you are not treated badly or unfairly because of yours. You have not, say, been followed very closely by salespeople with tense smiles while browsing in a store. You have not watched a tiny parade of different thoughts and emotions cross strangers’ faces as they silently debate whether or not to sit beside you on a bus. You have not overheard a joke comparing people who are like you to an animal. You have not had your emotional state discredited because of assumptions about your “anger” or your “passion.” You are very comfortable, and that must be really nice.


Or maybe you are angry.

You are maybe saying you don’t see color because you do not trust comments you might make about color in a discussion taking place within a public forum, like, say, on a cable news network aimed at diverse young people.


You do not want to talk about race.

And also

You do not want to listen to people talk about race.

If color is not a thing you see, it is pretty impossible for you to follow statements other people are making about color. Probably you see a lot of negative space making noise in your direction. That must be really weird for you!


You are not familiar with major works of art.

There are lots of books and movies and TV series and paintings and plays and dance productions and essays by people about color, and how people have been treated and are treated because of color. If you don't see color, something like Invisible Man or Beloved or To Kill a Mockingbird or The Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts or On Beauty or The Jungle (the 1943 painting) or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or All in the Family and then The Jeffersons or Love and Rockets a giant chunk of frightening and beautiful and sublime and hilarious and heartbreaking and cool things created throughout time and right now.


And that is very sad for you.


You will not change.

Because why would you need to? You are either above or apart from a world where color exists. Because you will not see color, you will not see that differences aren't something to be ignored in polite company or a fact to be borne and struggled with quietly in private. The color of our skin impacts much of the way we interact with the world, and the world with us. This is part of who are are and the people we have yet to become each day.


You are above or apart from a world where differences exist, and so cannot see that the problem is not, actually, that we are different from one another.

Share This Story