Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"I Don't See Color," But Of Course We All Do. (Part 2 of a Multipart Rant)

One of the things white people say when they're attempting to prove they aren't racist is, "But I don't even see color." Unfortunately, this is in itself a racist thing to say.

If you don't believe me, ask any non-white person. "If you don't see color," someone said to me once, "you don't see me." A white person saying, "I don't see color," is really saying something like, "I see you as white." But the other person isn't white, and doesn't want to be seen as white. The other person wants to be seen as they are.

I happen to have many white friends who have adopted children of other races. Once, years ago, we had a visiting author come to our elementary school. One of her picture books was about a cat--I believe it was a cat who lived in a library--at any rate, the story was about the cat, not about children. The cover of the book showed a large orange cat being hugged by a little Asian girl.

I was selling books at the school while the author was signing them. The second grade had already bought and paid for books that weren't the cat book, but one little girl--Asian, white parents, adopted from an Asian country--stopped when she saw the pile of cat books, and stared. She didn't say a word. She didn't move. Her longing for that book became so palpable as she stood there that I slid the top book into her arms. "I'll write a note and your Momma can pay me later," I said. I knew the girl's mother, and anyway I didn't care. The child didn't even smile. She took the book, had it signed, and returned to her classroom.

That afternoon at pickup she ran into her mother's arms, waving the book and shouting, "Momma! Momma! Finally a book with a girl that looks like me!"

We need diverse books so that we can get rid of the finally. We need diverse books because right now half the schoolchildren in America are something other than white; because they are disabled, or queer, or live in housing projects; because in the current crop of children's books only 15% feature anything other than white middle- or upper-class straight able-bodied characters, a number that has not changed in over 20 years.

When children read books they get a sense of possibility. All of them--every race, every child--need to see the black man as a hero, the gay girl as the wise older sister, the mom and dad of different races in a loving and stable relationship. Or the mom and mom. That's how the world is, and it's how our books need to be.

You don't need to take my word for it. There are some other opinions here.