I rarely think back to my time in high school, but recently I remembered a conversation I had with a classmate. Or at least I remember the end of our conversation.
I don’t know what we were discussing or what I said, but my friend glared at me. “You forget. I’m not like you… I’m Mexican!” She was right. I forgot. Or to be more precise, it didn’t matter to me so I no longer considered it.
As the initial shock of her rebuff wore off, my surprise gave way to pride. I was colorblind when it came to the tone of her skin. I treated her as an individual, not as a stereotyped member of a different race. I no longer noticed the hint of her accent or the physical characteristics that revealed her ethnic origin. I only saw a friend, someone I liked, who liked me, and was fun to be around. Discuss and celebrate our differences. Click To Tweet
However, my smug self-satisfaction didn’t last long. My next reaction was distress. By failing to remember our differences, I assumed we were the same. I disrespected her by not acknowledging her culture, her traditions, and her family history. To be blunt, I viewed her as white—just like me.
For matters of race, being colorblind isn’t enough. We need to be color-aware, too. How to balance these opposing goals, though, is an ongoing struggle. Sometimes I manage okay, but other times I don’t do either as well as I would like.
That’s where dialogue comes in, being able to discuss and celebrate our differences. That’s when I need a friend who is brave enough and cares enough to gently say, “You forget; I’m not like you.”
Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night.