Colorblindness: A Woman’s Experience

By Alex Cadoff //

It was a night like any other. I was laying on one couch with my mother laying on the other watching a show we’ve seen many times before. So, like any good tv watcher, I zoned out of the outside world and went inside my mind to reflect what had happened that week. Not much popped up, considering I only have two main responsibilities: school and housework. The housework angle was a bore, so I turned to school. School had much more to offer to my curious brain looking to escape. I went over homework I had to do, interactions where I embarrassed myself, and the exhaustion I faced with all of it. But for some reason my brain thought back to a lecture I watched; one that wasn’t for my classes, but required so I could continue my time at UCSB. It covered how to handle race on campus, though I am sure they put it into better words. The video talked about all sorts of information: the ideas of privilege and equity, how to spot microagressions, and techniques on how to handle a situation of discrimination. But there was one idea, one line that kept coming to the forefront of my head– “Saying you’re colorblind means you’re not seeing all of who I am”.

It was a striking idea that moved me because of how I feel I’ve been trained to look at the idea of race. I felt that I’m supposed to ignore the race of a person in order to see the “real” them, but that doesn’t really make any sense. A person’s race is a part of them that should not and can’t be ignored. Race puts people through different experiences in this country, experiences that could have defined them as a person; so ignoring something as key as race because reality is uncomfortable to face is not okay. I kept turning these ideas over and over in my head, then I let my head drop to the side and I saw my mom sitting on the couch, contently playing a game on her tablet. I looked at her and thought, “What would she think of this idea?” So I asked her. I thought she would have the same thoughts as me on this topic because we generally align, so I was surprised when she said, “Well, I view myself as colorblind. I don’t see color.”

I was so jolted that I felt my eyes go wide and I sat up on my couch. All I could say in that moment was, “Huh…really?” She looked at me funny and nodded slowly, seeming like she was wondering why I would react that way, so I told her why. I laid down the thoughts I was spinning around in my head right before I asked her the question and my mom acted so defensive to those thoughts. She started raising her voice and our discussion on the question went on. My mother then began to tell me about an experience she had at work. There were “three little Asian ladies” at her office that she befriended and they all went out to lunch one day. They were laughing and chatting like usual, but then suddenly one of the ladies said to my mom, “Wow, you’re the only white girl in a group of asians. Funny how the tables have turned.” My mom described her shock at being called out like that because she wasn’t even thinking about their different races at lunch. She just thought she was having lunch with friends, nothing more nothing less. It was an enlightening experience for her because she realized how true it was in that moment, she was the minority instead of being part of the majority.

I commented to her after she finished her story that she proved my point. She looked at me incredulously and said, “How?” I replied, “You described your coworkers as ‘asian women’. If you really didn’t see race then you would’ve just seen them as women. And if you didn’t acknowledge their race you wouldn’t have had that “ah-ha” moment. You wouldn’t have understood where they were coming from.” She continued to push back with me, continuing to say that she wasn’t wrong when she said she’s colorblind. She finally says to me, “Fine! Then what do you think they thought when they first met me?” I responded almost as if on reflex, as if I was waiting for her to ask me that exact question; I said, “They saw a middle-class white woman and they made their guesses from there.” My mom just paused like something clicked in her brain for her and she turned her eyes away, nodding and said, “Yeah, you got me there.”

My mom became less defensive from that moment on about the subject and we were able to branch out even further as to why race applies to the Feminist movement as well. How black, latino, and asian women get layers of added prejudice placed on top of the issues of being a woman. We talked for hours, really getting into the nitty gritty of what we thought about each particular issue that came up. It was a wonderful night between my mother and I that won’t be forgotten for a long time. 

This talk made me think about how other people see me as in what is my first impression. Adding a lens of race on myself helps highlight all the privileges I have been lucky to experience. I won’t deny that I have been through tough times, but I also contend that what I’ve been through cannot be the same as someone with a different skin color or had different facial features than I. My mind has opened to other possibilities that other people could be thinking of and that feels exhilarating with a bit of insecurity weaved in. Now, I invite you to consider the idea to be colorblind. What are your thoughts? How do you think others see you when they first look at you?

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