Does love see no color?
A few years ago the slogan "Love sees no color" was prominent on progessive T-shirts and bumper stickers. The idea seems simple: we should love people for being human beings, whole persons, and not tokens of a race or ethnicity. If love is not colorblind, then we risk exoticizing people. The result is the hot Latin lover, the Jezebel, the Asian Dragon Lady--we get stereotypes of people of color when we eroticize their race. Better not to take notice of it at all in trying to be loving individuals.
I had a student years ago, in my class on the poltiical philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., tell me that he (a white man) had a friend who was Black. But he didn't notice he was Black, didn't think of him as Black--he was just "John", his friend. It seemed to me disingenous to say that he didn't notice that "John" was Black. What would it mean to "think of him" as Black? I often wondered how "John" felt about all this. Perhaps, "John" appreciated being just "John" and not the "Black friend named John". But what if being Black mattered to "John"? Had my student rendered "John" into a modern version of Ellison's Invisible Man?
Heather Wood addresses these kinds of issues in her short article "Ten Mistakes White People Make When Talking About Race". One of these mistakes is trying to think that you're colorblind in order to make it seem as if you're not at all racist. As she argues, its worse to think that race is something we should NOT bring up or talk about or notice.
On one occasion, I was trying to describe Kwame Anthony Appiah's distinction between racism and racialism, when a well meaning, liberal white woman stopped me, and with obvious distaste, said that any notice of racial or ethnic differences between people was just racist. People are people, she said, and race is a made up category. There is no good way to notice race and to do so is morally impermissible.
I thought this might be a idiosyncratic understanding of race until I saw this video by the German artist Sarah Connor:
Beyond the fact that the video trades on some very stereotypcal, feel-good imagery (the world holding hands? oy!), there is a very interesting message here in the lyrics "Try to make this earth a better place without a racial curse." Its clear that acknowledging race can only be negative.
Yet, as Wood seems to imply, thinking of race this way is a particular privilege of white people who tend not to think in terms of race because so much of society is structured to cater to their needs and interests. As Peggy McIntosh suggests, things just are the way they are, for most white people, and white privilege means not ever having to notice whether or not the world reflects your sense of yourself, your family, or your closest friends. People of color don't get to be so oblivious on a regular basis.
So is it more loving, or a greater form of insult to dignity, to be colorblind?