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Should We Be Color-Blind?

Color-blindness may not be the best approach for transracial families, explains a transracial parenting expert.

by Deborah Johnson

Years ago, we were taught that the best way to handle racial differences was to ignore them altogether. “Color-blindness” was considered open-minded in many social circles, including the adoption community. This misguided attitude was even popularized on a T-shirt that said, “Love Sees No Color.” We have since learned that issues of race cannot and should not be ignored.

Why should we pretend that we do not see color or race when it is impossible not to notice these things? It is human nature to compare and contrast the differences we see in those around us. If we deny that we notice race, should we also deny that we notice gender? It would be ridiculous to say that we did not notice whether our neighbor was a man or a woman, or whether our new boss was male or female. Equally ridiculous is the attempt to overlook someone’s race or ethnicity. This attitude suggests that the effects of race and culture don’t exist. It sends a message to our children that their difference is something to be ashamed of or that it is insignificant.

The power of paying attention
Because it’s still socially accepted to proclaim yourself color-blind, prepare to be confronted by friends or family members. You may be told that you are focusing too much on differences and not enough on the “shared humanity” of us all. But if you do not talk with your children about race, who will, and how? As parents, we should be the first ones to probe the tough topics with our kids, not a classmate, a bully, or a nosy neighbor. Just as we talk about “stranger danger” and saying no to drugs and smoking, we need to talk about race and prejudice—and equip our children with the skills necessary to defend and protect themselves.

Children as young as three notice racial differences. They see and can point out differences in skin and hair color. If we continue to be color-blind in matters of race, we can’t help them interpret what these differences can mean and how the interpretation of racial difference may or may not apply to them. We should validate and support their perceptions and curiosities. This is the beginning of a learning process that they will work through well into adulthood.

It is often difficult for parents to adjust their beliefs and attitudes when it comes to race. Parents may be uneasy with the politics of race. They may even feel guilty when “whiteness” is scrutinized. Discussing these dynamics as a family is essential to creating an environment where everyone feels loved and valued, because of, and in spite of, their race. The more you discuss race and color as a family, the less awkward this issue will become. You are not required to be experts, just good listeners.

Laying the groundwork
Growing up, I was raised to believe that we were all God’s children and deserved to be loved and treated equally. Race was not even a part of this equation. As I grew older, I found out that few people actually felt this way. In fact, it was an exceptional idea, rather than the norm. I was shocked, saddened, and ill-prepared for the “real world.” I realized that my parents had raised me to live in the world that they wished for, not in the world that is.

I still believe in the love and equality part, but I am acutely aware that, most of the time, people that I encounter do not share this mindset. My parents did not want to expose me to harsh truths about race. Helping me to interpret these truths, rather than sheltering me from them, would have been a far better foundation.

DEBORAH JOHNSON, an adoptee from South Korea, is a Minneapolis-based social worker, with 25 years of experience working with adoptive families. She is the director of a heritage travel company, Kindred Journeys International.

 


How To Start A Dialogue On Race
  • Encourage your child to talk about and describe the physical and ethnic differences he sees in people. When he notices a difference, say, “Isn’t the world more interesting because we’re different,” or “Wouldn’t our family/community be boring if we were all the same?”

  • Routinely bring up events and experiences in which race was a positive or negative factor.

  • Ask your friends, family, school, and community about how you can explore the challenges and strengths of racial diversity.

  • Seek out resources, people, and experiences that will keep you aware of how race matters.

  • Don’t go overboard. This is a journey. Pace yourself for a marathon, not a sprint!

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