Anti-racism and allyship: Coloring a new conversation

November 12, 2020
PHOTO: Getty Images

Have you ever heard someone say they “don’t see color,” implying they treat others solely based on their character, without regard to their racial identity? Treating others with this approach is a well-intentioned attempt to help those who are different “fit in.” However, this approach avoids difficult conversations about race and ignores a large part of a person’s identity and experiences. The ideology of not seeing color in our relationships and interactions to avoid racial biases and discrimination is called racial colorblindness, and it actually does a lot more harm than good.

The issue of colorblindness

Since it is likely that we were taught to look beyond race at a young age and to treat everyone equally, it may be challenging to see why colorblindness is harmful. Try thinking about it in the context of engaging with close friends who come from different cultural backgrounds. Being racially colorblind with them would be like pretending important parts of who they are, like their childhood or family, didn’t exist. This approach fails to acknowledge the negative experiences they have faced and likely still face due to their race. It is likely that their racial background and the color of their skin has shaped their experiences and has made them who they are today – so, overlooking these aspects of their experience could really interfere with the closeness of your friendship with them. Choosing not to see color means minimizing the culture, hardships, strengths, beauties, and lived experiences of people of color. Everyone wants to be judged based on their character, and many people also want their cultural and racial identity to be recognized and appreciated—not ignored.

While some people may be able to ignore race easily, others can’t or don’t want to get away from it. Being colorblind in our relationships not only inflicts harm on others, but it also hurts us. It limits our own opportunities to be more empathetic toward others and see the world from a different perspective. If we are not willing to talk about others’ experiences related to their racial identity, we can never truly understand them. How can we address racism or be allies if we are not willing to see race?

How to teach your child to be an ally

It’s safe to assume that parents do not want their children to grow up to be racist, but many may try to do this by avoiding conversations about race. However, children learn and absorb information from their surroundings, and from a young age, they start to recognize differences. Biases and prejudices can form when children notice differences in the treatment of people of color based on their appearance, without due explanation of differences. Instead of taking a “colorblind” approach, try a color-conscious approach with your child. Rather than encouraging your child to not see color, instead, teach them to embrace color. A color-conscious approach means embracing racial diversity and it can be a great learning experience about family, community, resilience and allyship.

Introducing color-conscious conversations with your children may be intimidating at the start. Try starting the dialogue with open-ended questions like: “I wonder what I have in common with this person from a different racial background?” and “I wonder how it would make me feel if someone assumed something about me before they met me?” These questions can spark curiosity, empathy, self-reflection, and ultimately change the conversation around race and skin color. The crayon metaphor says it simply: “How boring would a box of crayons be if all the crayons were the same color?” Let us color a new picture moving forward, where we embrace and celebrate our differences.

The bigger picture

While many have been more engaged in conversations about race and how to be an ally recently, communities of color have been fighting to end racial injustice in this country for a very long time.

We can keep bringing attention to the movement by actively calling out apparent racism and discrimination, and we must also make a long-term commitment to listening to, learning from, empathizing with, and supporting people of color. Seeing color, acknowledging differences, and appreciating the differences is the first step toward meaningful change, and it can start at the family level. Instead of choosing not to see color, choose to be curious, open-minded, and empathetic. Choose to be an ally. Making the commitment to be a color-conscious ally in your family sets the stage for your children to learn to do the same in their lives.

Resources for families

So, what now? We compiled a few free resources for our families at Texas Children’s Hospital. These are good resources that celebrate people of color and may be good starting points to start the dialogue around anti-racism and tackling racial colorblindness.

Post by:

Kishan Desai and Viena Cao