An Obituary for Colorblindness
On July 13th, 2013, when George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Benjamin Martin, the theory of racial color blindness in the United States died on the courtroom floor from a massive heart attack.
The racial color blindness theory had grown up quite a bit since it was born out the civil rights era of the 1960’s. It was a well behaved, gently intentioned theory with a great philosophical ancestry. It proposed to judge people only on their individual merit, on “The content of their character” rather than “The color of their skin.” The theory of color blindness insisted that it “Did not see color” and that it “treated everyone the same.”
What Americans did not acknowledge was that the theory of racial color blindness had a huge birth defect: the people in our country actually live and act very differently. We have no common culture in how we treat others. Many people grew up not only with broken sidewalks, but with twisted families. Some people had learned to live with an attitude of suspicion. They understood personal protection as a fully loaded weapon rather than the sense of security that comes from knowing all of your neighbors names. They were taught to follow people in order to appear threatening, and to never trust or to follow the instructions of a police officer. –Not everyone follows the golden rule and treats others as they want to be treated. Instead many people were taught to skew that rule and treat others just as they have been treated: badly.
With all of these differences in actual culture and behavior, we should not be surprised when our theory of American racial colorblindness crumples at our feet. Without an over arching principle of some sort of commonly held belief, there is absolutely no way to overcome our fear of others who are different than we are. Without something bigger than the American freedom to become who we want to be and the liberty to do whatever we want that is legal, there can be no cure for this deadly disease that shows up with its terrible symptoms of racism and intolerance.
What is needed, more than anything else, is a good old fashioned dose of love. –The self sacrificial kind that loves your neighbor while also loving yourself. The kind of love that Jesus showed by having long conversations with the despised and the outcasts, the forgotten sick and the poor. The kind of love that sees the systemic poverty and the broken schools, the lack of healthcare and the chronic unemployment in our country as the cancer that guns all of us of us down, no matter what our zip code is.
While our racial colorblindness may now be dead on arrival, this opens up the opportunity for us to look around us and to open up our hearts to meet people where they are, to find out who they really are as individuals. To get a sense of how they think, how they interact with others and how they have been hurt and broken just like the rest of us. It gives us an opportunity for us to practice what we preach and to show love and to build true relationships in the world, everyday. I hope and pray that we will.
Rev. Karen Fitz La Barge