(ThyBlackMan.com) After high school, I went to a school for graphic design and 3D modeling. It was here that I heard the term “color blind” from my computer-aided drafting instructor and program head. It was something about how he couldn’t make out the color red—which seems like terror since street signs and warning signs are color-coordinated and red tends to be the universal color of “OK, you ignored yellow for caution so you must really be tired of living.”
It would be another couple of years when I heard the term “color blind” used in relation to race. It wasn’t even a situation that changed my life. I found it while discussing the Trayvon Martin murder with a friend and it came up. While I grasped the concept, it was still pretty odd how someone could be color blind to another’s race.
Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg with color blindness as it also includes interactions and decisions made based on another’s race. Color blindness usually implies that the person doesn’t see race when factoring things in or in decisions such as hiring or if they will go to an establishment in a certain area.
My Early Experience with Color Blindness
When I was younger, I’d say acknowledging color wasn’t that high on my priority list which meant color blindness wasn’t up there, either. I’d say that there were three main factors for why was the case. The largest factor is that I’ve lived in the Magic City for the bulk of my almost 40 years and Birmingham is a mostly Black city. I see more of people who resemble myself around me.
My neighborhood is Black with a growing Latinx population. The white folks I do see are either commuters from elsewhere, transients, or just passing through the neighborhood in their car. When I do see more white people, it’s often just either Downtown or outside of Birmingham but still within the metro in places like Homewood or Hoover.
However, it’s not like I’m thinking “Something’s missing here. There’s a lack of Alabamians of Caucasian persuasion here.” Remember that because in act two, we’ll come back around to it.
I had only one friend who was white. As a joke, comedian Henry Zebrowski once mentioned that when people are kids, we’re not really friends with anyone, we just a play with an associate with whomever else is around our age.
Sure, you’ll have childhood friends but it’s really something when they become friends through high school and most—if not the rest—of your adult life. That kid was the one of two white kids who attended my middle school. One of them would even make headlines here for being the first white graduate from my high school back in 2007.
The other factor includes “youthful optimism” where you grow and navigate the world in a time that is socially better–and improving—and you’re expecting just the best for yourself and out of others. Everyone could be a friend regardless of gender, race, belief, or orientation.
While I still maintain that at the core, by my late 20s and as paid attention to what was happening in the country and to Black and brown folks, that changed to “seasoned pessimism.” That’s when you’ve seen enough, the last of youthful innocence just dies a dog’s death, and you put more emphasis on who should associate with and just…trying to do like Betty White or Sidney Poiter and get out of this life long-lived and clean to where no one has to tell lies over your coffin.
The final factor was just ignorance being bliss. Up until my late 20s, I wasn’t paying attention to the news or anything outside of local stuff and the weather. Race stopped at “I know you’re the same race as me” or “You’re a different race”. There was no desire for a cultural exchange, I didn’t want to understand where people are coming from—none of that.
Regardless of someone’s race, if they liked the same things I did and I can talk to them, their race didn’t matter to me at all.
…and Then Life Curdles You
Everyone’s experience with color blindness is different, obviously. However, we all either run into it or have experienced it to some degree. Some of us even make sure to let others know “I’m color blind.” The change for me came during the Trayvon Martin murder and the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. I was heavy into watching Court TV and TruTV and watched the trial as it happened.
Once the verdict came out it was like “Are you serious? Not guilty?” At the time, my younger brother and fellow ThyBlackMan and AfroGamers writer Tardell was attending school outside of the county. I worried about him all the time because when he was there, that county was predominantly white and he was young Black man doing what young students do in a college town that was pretty much in the country.
My younger sister’s job in social work took her all over the Birmingham metro and sometimes outside of the metro into these smaller cities and towns where you could be a life-long Alabamian and never hear of them. I was always concerned when she had to travel—especially because sometimes, people just aren’t trying to deal with CPS.
That ignorance to what was going on was gone and it became “seasoned pessimism.” Along with that came both an acknowledge that yes, the world sees color but so do I. It comes in the form of caution about how I’m acting in public, I intentionally carry myself to appear more threatening in public just to not be bothered, and—something I noticed when more people began leaving my neighborhood—the change in demographics in my immediate surroundings.
There was a time when I didn’t see many Latinxs or white people around. However, when you start noticing families moving in and think to yourself “Oh, there’s another Latino family on this street,” that points to seeing color.
Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with seeing color—claiming “color blindness” has always come off as pretty disingenuous—it’s what you do with that information. Do you cross the street to get away from folks? Maybe locking your car door when someone of another color seems to be coming towards your car? Perhaps you’re considering calling the cops because the neighbors put a sofa on their front porch, it looks hideous, and you’re feeling like being a prejudiced, severe asshole?
Well, on that last one it’s more “I feel like being a jerk today but I’ll have to see if my racism flares up at the DMV.” At any rate, I see race because my country sees race…I just chose to take the route of understanding while remaining cautious in an unpredictable but often predictable world.
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.