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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family

On Being Color-Blind
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When I was a teenager, I used to think that being "color-blind" was the right attitude to have about race. I thought I should do my best not to notice a person's skin color or, if I did notice, since I have two eyes that work fine, that I should pretend I didn't and treat them as if they were, in essence, a colorless person. After all, doesn't that sounds like an equalizing thing to do, putting everyone at the same level rather than separating people by race or ethnicity in your mind? It made perfect sense to me, and I remember thinking that I would raise my kids not to notice the color of a person's skin.

That was fine as long as I lived in Ecuador and was surrounded by people who looked like me and my theory was seldom put to the test. When I moved to the USA and I became the "person of color" in the eyes of society, I began to think about this very differently. Suddenly, I did not think it was so polite when people pretended not to see my color. Most acted surprised and generally embarrassed when I referred to myself as Hispanic, and all but said: "My, I didn't notice until you mentioned it!" It was actually kind of funny to watch.

But having people notice my race became important to me. Being Hispanic is something I'm proud of. Being Hispanic means I come from a people who speak Spanish, who are generally loud and usually emotive, who are deeply loyal to family, who are warm and embracing. And my skin color, well, that is the outer cover of that complex and rich culture. So, when people would tell me they were color-blind, I wanted to say: "Don't be! I'm proud of being brown and I want you to notice. My color links me to a family I left behind and miss terribly. If you don't see my color, you don't see them!" But I was too conscious of the delicate, politically correct nuances of a society I had just begun to understand.

When I became an adoptive mother, however, this idea of color-blindness was, once again, in the forefront of my mind. This time, however, I had a more precious subject to both educate and protect from misplaced political correctness: my two black children. I started to notice that people would lower their voice to a whisper if they had to describe someone with the word "black." It was as if they noticed race but would not say it out loud lest someone know that they noticed.

But children know nothing of this concept. They just see what they see and they say what is on their minds. They are honest that way! So rather than teach our children to love and accept everyone in spite of their color, we have sought to teach them to love everyone and to celebrate, acknowledge, and respect their color and all that comes attached to it.

I'm learning I have to walk the walk, so to speak. One afternoon, Isabel was having an online class with a group of other homeschooled students and a teacher. In these classes, students are just a name on the computer. They interact with the teacher by microphone or by typing their responses; there is no video component. The teacher posted two pictures of basketball players, one dunking the ball and the other one dribbling. She asked the kids to tell her similarities between the two of them. Six-year-old Isabel told me she wanted to tell the teacher that both players were chocolate (she started using food words to describe race when she was three and still enjoys describing people as chocolate, cheese, coffee, and so on). And I panicked. The teacher is black and my first thought was to worry that, never having seen Isabel and not knowing that Isabel herself is black, the teacher would think that we make people's color a big deal in our house.

And then I caught myself. We do! We talk about how beautiful our different hues are. We talk about how Isabel and Noah's deep brown skin is so pretty and how my coffee-colored skin is pretty, too. We talk about how God made each of us just the color we need to be and how it is so amazing and wonderful that we have a family where each person is beautiful in their own unique way. We celebrate color. We buy dolls of different skin tones, we buy books where characters are not homogenous. We put our hands together to look and "ooh" and "aaah" over our individual skin tones, and we talk about our friends who have blonde or red hair, green or black eyes, brown or black skin, and everything in between. We have a blast discussing God's creative palette!

We also talk about the culture that comes along with color. We talk about Hispanic traditions and we visit my home country of Ecuador so Isabel and Noah can understand what my color means to me. We talk about African-American traditions and we visit with black friends who help me to show Isabel and Noah people of all walks and professions who look like them. We care for their hair in traditional ways and we surround them with books and art and music that highlight black artists. And we do the same for my husband's European background.

So, Isabel's noticing the two players' color had nothing to do with lack of political correctness and everything to do with her noticing the beauty with which they were colored. I want my child to be proud not only of the color of her skin but also of all that it means to be black. And, no, it's not an insult to use that word, so please don't whisper it.

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Wonderful post, Gaby. I’ve heard several talks from people of color/adoption experts about how “color blindness” is a real problem, because it’s ignoring an essential part of someone’s being, and can be damaging in the same way seeing a person ONLY as color or race is damaging. Respecting the whole person is key.

By Sharon Van Epps on Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 5:31 pm.

Thank you, Sharon. I think the idea may have started as a response to racism and it was probably well-intentioned but misguided because color is such a wonderful part of the whole of a person.

By Gaby on Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm.

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