Color Blind

This one will be tough for me to write. Tough because I only know half the story. As anyone living with the luxury of electricity knows, this country is, once again, embroiled in a hot debate over the issue of racism.

I will not state an opinion about the jury decision this weekend. I was not there. I don’t know what happened in the courtroom. I know juries have to make a decision based on facts presented to them by attorneys. That’s a lot of humans. And a lot of potential for error. Most of the time, justice has been served. And that’s probably the best we can ever hope for–most of the time.

No, my post today deals with something much deeper. I see myself as average (yes, an average white guy). I grew up a Navy Brat, surrounded by every ethnicity you can imagine. I had friends of every race. I don’t judge a man or woman by skin color. I don’t wish harm on anyone because of the same. I like to call myself “Color Blind.”

But, at the age of 46, I begin to wonder if that little title means something different than what I’d hoped for. While I try not to see color when dealing with people, I am forced to admit that the very act of “trying” has already established that I treat people different based on skin color. I never have to “try” to be kind or forgiving or helpful to someone who looks like myself. But when dealing with a black man or woman, it’s as if I’m checking myself. It doesn’t make me a racist, I know. But I find myself concerned that the man I’m speaking with will think that I think less of him.

How’s that for “needs intense therapy”?

I work about a mile from the Detroit city limit. I’m an engineer in a plant. And yes, most of the hourly employees on the floor are Detroit born black men and women. I’ve befriended quite a few. I enjoy talking to people. And every day I break away from my desk to spend some time chatting with my co-workers.

However, I know they will never see me as an equal. And I admit this hurts me a bit. After twenty years as a salary employee, I no longer remember what it’s like to be the blue collar guy and what I thought about the white shirts that passed me each day on their way to their air-conditioned offices.

Now I take that one step further. I have never known what it’s like to be a black man on a shop floor speaking with a white suburbanite who hasn’t gotten his hands dirty in two decades. It’s odd, don’t you think, that I’m concerned about what they think of me? Especially after I’ve talked to enough of them to know that racism is still real. It still follows them like the ghost of a monster that just won’t die. These great folks, many of whom I trust more than family members, have been pulled over by police numerous times just because they were driving through a white neighborhood. They’ve been followed by store managers. They’ve overheard racial slurs in a crowd where they dare not take a stand.

I hear these stories, yet I cannot comprehend such a society. Oh I believe them. But it’s as if I’m reading something in a history book. This can’t be happening today. Surely we’re past that.

Yet I know we’re not. And I have managed to stay on my side of this wall, where I never really see these things, for most of my life. It’s not by my own making. Like all of us, I’ve drifted into my corner of the world, allowing natural life-currents to push me along. My black and hispanic friends here at the plant have allowed similar currents to push them in a different direction. We exist together and get along, but our currents only meet at the edges, for a few hours during the day. A few minutes, really, because we only speak that long before returning to our work.

Am I rambling? Probably. But this is my quandary–how do we change the attitudes of a few when we’re so well shielded from the truth? We know racism is there like we know child molestation is out there. But if it’s not happening in my front yard, I feel helpless to do anything about it. There’s no right or wrong here for most of us. We’re simply trying to live our lives.

To make matters even more convoluted, I am also a conservative. I believe in limited government and maximum freedom and liberty for the individual. Somehow over the years, that belief has been twisted for political reasons to label me a racist. It’s ridiculous when you think about it, but it’s there. And it’s another obstacle in my path to convincing my fellow Detroiters that I don’t think myself any better or worse than they. Yes, there are black conservatives. Many more than ever. But the stigma exists. I know, I have no reason to whine about the stereotype which has been applied to me when the minorities in this country have carried much heavier stereotypes for generations.

My venting is over. Thank you for your indulgence.

I may be wrong about this. Honestly, I’m afraid to walk down to that floor and simply ask the question. But I don’t think any member of this society wants me to “do” anything about their predicament. They don’t want my pity. They don’t want me to draft an apology for centuries of abuse. They just want me to see. “Don’t be color blind,” someone might say. “Open your eyes.”

My problem, if I can find the right words and phrases, is that I know there’s a filter in my mind when I’m speaking to a black man or woman (okay, any woman). And I’m guessing that the man I’m speaking to has a filter as well. What we end up with is a very careful conversation. Not because we think less of each other, but, like I stated so disastrously above, we’re both concerned that the other guy will get the wrong impression. Kind of like a first date, I suppose. Except that particular filter vanishes eventually (though some of us should probably hold onto it a while longer). When it comes to mixed races, the filter is always there. And if we’re to make progress and push the true bigots outside of any public debate, we’d better learn to remove the filters and trust ourselves–and each other–to be honest and accept the fact that we’ll say something stupid from time to time. really is like dating and marriage.

To continue with that analogy, men have a problem with women–our natural desire to want to “fix” things. We know our wives want us to just shut up and listen, but it goes against our nature. Is that what’s required of us when it comes to men and women of differing races? We can’t fix racism because you can’t force someone to think differently. Bigots, fools, and selfish people, among others, will always walk among us.

But perhaps I really do need to just shut up and listen. Color blind is just blind. As followers of Christ, we’re never to walk through this world ignoring injustice. I can’t fix it all. But that doesn’t give me permission to sleepwalk through this life. I can only speak for myself (because maybe the rest of you think I’m alone in my thoughts), but I’ll do my best to keep my eyes open for the next half of my life. I can’t be a savior. But I can be a friend. A friend with two good ears and two good (and open) eyes.

What about you? Do you share similar struggles? Do your “filters” keep you from truly developing relationships with those of other races?

(By the way, for those of you noticing the last name, I’m third generation. I’ve never had to deal with racism directed at me. But I do hate the stupid sales calls I get in Spanish.)


I am a husband, dad, Christian, and writer. Not necessarily in that order. It took me thirty years to turn my life over to my Redeemer. It's taken another ten to figure out what it is He has in store for me. My first novel, Now I Knew You, will be released in March, 2015. I pray that God will allow me to write many more before calling me home.

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