Color Blindness: Denial of the White Body

Kristen Arnold
7 min readJul 12, 2020

Have you ever said, “I’m not racist.”

“I treat everyone the same.”

“I don’t see color.”

Well, unfortunately these are direct quotes. Who am I quoting?

Myself.

Or how about, “I did not lead a privileged life because I’m white.”

“I don’t even think of myself as white. I think of myself as human.”

Yup me again.

I’m embarrassed to say that in my own ignorance I did not understand the implication of what I was saying and continued in that ignorance for a long time.

Sure, no one likes being told that the game is skewed in your favor, cause it makes it sound like you are undeserving or one better it puts the blame squarely on you if you lose the game. You can no longer blame circumstances outside of your control, which let’s face it are sometimes to blame.

But, let’s look at this another way.

I grew up in a household with four brothers, two of whom are color blind. As we grew up and played together, as children often do, we sometimes would get out the crayons and color together.

“Geoffrey, Why are you coloring your trees pink?” I asked.

“I’m not,” he explained, “I’m coloring them green.”

“No they are definitely pink,” I said.

My younger brother had not yet learned to read, so I pointed out to him that the crayon said “Pink.” Then my older brother, Stephen, who was also color blind explained to Geoffrey that even though the pink and the green look the same at first if you put them side by side with different colors you can actually see what color they are.

Thus, began the education of how to train one’s eyes to see color correctly

When we say things like, “I don’t see color.” What we really mean is “I don’t put colors side by side to compare them.”

When we want to go throughout our lives as color blind, unfortunately what we are really doing is denying the color of our own skin. The white body has privilege attached to it, and when we deny a side by side comparison with the experiences of our neighbors of color, we deny the existence of that privilege.

“But, isn’t it just a different form of racism if we treat people better because of the color of their skin?” Yup, you guessed it, I’m quoting myself again. I used this argument and many others in my attempt to explain why I didn’t believe in affirmative action or in any corrective measures to societal systemic racism.

All of these statements came together to perfect the formation of my denial. The denial of my white body. Or, to put another way, the denial of my white privilege. I can see I’m about to lose a lot of you here, so please stick with me. I promise the uncomfortable feeling in your gut is completely normal, in fact, that feeling often is the precursor to some real personal growth.

You see, what having this experience at such a young age also formed in me beneath the surface was an understanding that we can all find our pinks and green. We all have our personal examples of how our lives are no different from our neighbor or our friend who is Black. We hold this comparison up like it’s the rule rather than the exception.

In a box of 34 crayons, yes we lost two, my brother found two crayons, completely different colors, that looked the same to him. However, it also taught me that when we hold the crayons up to other colors the true story emerges.

None of us live our lives in a vacuum. We all live in a world full of many other people and all of us have experiences that shape and color our lives. That said, when we think we’ve found a pink crayon that looks a lot like our green crayon, I’d be willing to bet that if you pulled them apart and put other stories side by side you’d find just how different their journeys were that led to where they are today.

By finding stories of my Black friends and neighbors that seemed just like mine, I made myself feel like racism wasn’t really around anymore. I made myself feel like I wasn’t a part of racism in any way. In fact, when I found racism, I wanted to make sure I never participated.

One story in particular started to let the light in on just how different my life was from a young lady I knew who lived in Chicago. We connected on so many levels as she shared her then current experiences and I reminisced about my 8th grade experiences. We both grew up in strong Christian homes with good fathers, and strong mothers. We both grew us being led by values of our faith and family, and we both went to youth groups where we enjoyed discussing the bible with our friends and pastors. We were both A-B students. We both even had been bullied on our ways to and from school, however, this is where we started to diverge, and the comparison was stark.

This young lady had just been grounded for an incident that happened at school. She took a knife with her because there had been some things that happened on her commute that made her and her friends feel unsafe. The school found the knife, and suspended her for 3 days.

Before you start to judge, remember all the ways in which our stories were similar just seconds ago. Well, I lectured her about how that wasn’t the best way to handle her fears. Then, I quickly learned I had no room to talk about fear that I didn’t even remotely understand. You see there was a gang that was bothering this young woman and her friends on their way to school, but it didn’t end there. One of her friends had been threatened by two of the kids in the gang who were also students at the school.

She told me everything that was happening to her on her way to school and what the kids at school said. So, of course, I pulled from all the knowledge I had of these things as a 22-year-old white girl from suburbia and explained that she really should have just reported the two boys to the administration.

“Miss Kristen, then we get jumped by the other gang members on our way home!” She shouted.

Yeah, I shut up. I finally realized that I had no wisdom or experience to help. Instead for the first time in my life, when a Black person was telling me their story, I just listened.

I let her cry, and rant, and shake her head at me, before I even thought about opening my mouth again. After she had gotten out all she wanted to say, I simply asked if her mom was aware of this and what advice her mom gave her, then I shut up again.

You see this experience was unfortunately not the exception for these kids but the rule. And, this day was just the start of my education on how many experiences like this one I would never have to worry about.

As years passed I heard story after story from friends and neighbors of color about how their lives looked so different from my own. One friend recounted how growing up in a predominately white suburb, he and his friends would hang out in the “downtown” area. Anytime their one Black friend was with them they knew a police officer would be rolling by and ask them, “What are you guys upto?” He said it happened nearly 3 of every 4 times this friend was a part of the group.

Another friend tells me how randomly a police officer shows up at the city pool to begin questioning him because his white friend asked him to watch his daughter while he went to the restroom and got a soda.

Then another neighbor tells me of how she overhears conversations in the bathroom of her white coworkers talking about protestors in Ferguson and how ridiculous the “Black agenda” is. Another tells me of the microaggressions she faced in an interview because of her “Black hair.” Another tells me to please stop asking because it’s too painful to talk to me about it.

Another tells me that she went to a large diverse church for two months before someone who was white even spoke to her. Another tells me she had to teach her son before he got his driver’s license how to behave when a police officer pulls him over. And so the stories go on and on.

Unfortunately, with all these stories I’d heard, I still didn’t see myself as privileged. See I saw the problem, but how am I a part of the problem? I don’t see color, remember? That’s the way it should be, right?

It wasn’t until my brother Geoffrey asked me a simple question. “You know racism exists, right?” “Of course!” I answered, with an eye roll.

“But, will you ever have to be personally affected by it if you don’t want to?”

I realized in that moment I had the choice of how I let racism affect my life. That choosing to be friends with people of color and allowing them to share their story with me were conscious choices I could make or not.

I answered, “No.”

Then he simply said, “That’s white privilege.”

This is when I started to realize every decision I make about how I see racism and how I let it affect my life is made from the position of power. The same power that keeps the oppressor in power over the oppressed. Finally, I realized white privilege isn’t about our experiences it’s about our choices. We have choices that those with a body of color don’t. We have a position of privilege afforded us because of our white body. Finally, I felt like I was starting to see the pink and the green.

Thus, began my education of how to train my eyes to see color correctly.

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