Goal of racial harmony is not colorblindness
And so we stir the pot with a few thoughts on race, often referred to as the proverbial elephant in the room. Instead of ignoring the large beast, let’s examine race; we’ll get back to that pot later.
Seeing color is in direct opposition to well-intentioned attempts to convey a loving embrace of all people by saying, “I don’t see color.” Well, often I do, and I’ll tell you why.
Not seeing color is like not seeing gender or not noticing that someone is in a wheelchair or not noticing that someone is speaking with a distinct accent. While these differences should not be the focus of our attention, in many situations, ignoring them would be disingenuous.
“I don’t see color,” along with “You’re not like other (fill in a race other than your own) people,” are two of the oft-heard refrains used as an attempt to show cultural competency or to compliment. We will look closer at the former. Time does not permit a deeper deconstruction of the latter. Suffice it to say, telling someone that they are not like others of their race is closer to an insult than any compliment when considering that their parents, siblings and many friends likely belong to that same race you just maligned.
Cultural competency has various levels. This notion of “colorblindness” merely places one at the level just before “pre-competence.” Along the continuum, there is much more growth and understanding required before reaching “competency” and even more before reaching the desired level of “proficiency.” At this level, you no longer are resigned to ignoring differences; instead, you celebrate them.
Tangentially, many people have trouble with depictions of Jesus that do not look like the omnipresent European representations. And so ensues the debate that usually includes the retort, “It doesn’t matter what color Jesus is.”
Most would agree with that statement. That is, until they have to embrace an image that more accurately depicts the region in which he was born and the family from which he descended. Then, all of a sudden, “it matters” again.
Speaking of Jesus’ birth, it is only during this Advent season that many of us see any spiritual or religious depiction of people of color. That’s right, one of the three Wise Men. Look at your nativity set. There he is with obviously darker skin than his companions. And while the veracity of particulars in this story comes into question (the Magi are only mentioned in St. Matthew’s Gospel with scant detail), it is nonetheless interesting that some will use this depiction to exclaim, “See, there was a black person at the birth of Christ.” OK, so we have more teaching to do, but not now.
Ultimately we rely on St. Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:26-29 “…through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. … There is neither Jew nor Greek ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, we are all one, each wonderfully, uniquely and beautifully made. It is OK to celebrate our differences when appropriate, not to harp on them, but to recognize and appreciate them when necessary.
Now back to our pot. We stir the pot full of gumbo that is replete with the magical mix of ingredients that each adds its unique character to the savory enjoyment of the dish. Like our various ethnicities and races, our gumbo is enriched by the inclusion and recognition of the shrimp; the meat stock; the gumbo’s holy trinity of celery, onions and green peppers; the sausage; the rice; and on and on.
Let’s enjoy our meal.
Dr. Dereck Rovaris is an administrator at LSU Health Sciences Center who is involved in a number of archdiocesan initiatives, including the Office of Racial Harmony. He is a parishioner of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church.