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September 21, 2021
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As a white mom of Black children, I learned being 'colorblind' is problematic

When my husband and I did our first transracial adoption of a little girl from Kazakhstan in 1993, we knew that there would likely be some differences in how people saw her and saw our family.

When we adopted our first children from Africa and had a growing multiethnic family, we prided ourselves on being colorblind.

We were wrong.

I naively thought that being “colorblind” meant that I loved all of my children, regardless of the color of their skin — and I did. But there is so much more. I am grateful to a fellow adoptive mother who heard me say that one day and gently taught me that to deny color was to erase the uniqueness of my children.

I took the opportunity to learn, to question my approaches and, yes, my own biases (we all have them). I realized that saying I was “colorblind” would be the same as saying that I did not see my children’s disabilities. While I am absolutely committed to loving my kids no matter what and to help them to go for their goals, I would do them a disservice (to put it mildly) to pretend that they don’t need a wheelchair, or seizure medication or a prosthetic leg or special education help at school. It does my children of color a huge disservice to pretend that they don’t have color and that their experiences are the same as my white children.

When my children were little, they were super cute and many people commented on that, often while touching their hair. So, when did they become a threat? My Black children have had different experiences — sometimes starkly different — than my white children. My disabled children experience different treatment than my able-bodied children. My Hispanic daughter is treated differently than my Asian children. I think it’s clear that people are not, in fact, colorblind to race.

My youngest Black daughter, now 16 years old, was awoken as an activist on May 26, 2020, the day after George Floyd died after 8 minutes with a police officer’s knee on his neck. He said “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” 30 times before he lost consciousness. My daughter burst into my room, sobbing, ”They did it again, Mom! They did it again!” referring to a Black man dying at the hands of the police.

We went to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, where she saw people of many different races coming out in support. She also saw guys drive by yelling “White Power,” and circling the protesters in their big truck, rolling coal every time they passed the marchers. She’s lost friends who believe that white people are superior and thought everyone knew that. She’s lost other friends who “got tired” of hearing about racial injustice. She can’t take her skin off, you know?

“But don’t all lives matter, Holly?” Of course they do, but really, that’s the same as saying you’re colorblind. All cancers matter too, but we don’t lose our minds when someone says “Breast Cancer Matters” or “Colon Cancer Matters.” All lives won’t matter equally until Black women aren’t dying in childbirth more than three times more often than white women in the U.S. or Black babies dying almost four times more often than white babies in our country, or COVID-19 vaccines are only getting to 5% of the Black population.

Zandra Vranes, of the “Sistas in Zion,” recently got on a Facebook Live to talk about why “colorblindness” is problematic. She knows there are many people like me who tell (or told) themselves that being colorblind means that “I don’t judge you based on color; I can see your heart.” But what it feels like is, “You have to erase my color to be able to like me, interact with me or see my heart.”

It’s hard to see and acknowledge ways we can be better. I get it. It’s uncomfortable. It’s easier to justify our positions than to take a deeper dive into our own world view. But we need to. And we need to really listen and learn from the Black people who are sharing their experiences — not tell them they are wrong or that their lived experiences did not happen.

Oprah Winfrey gave some advice at a 2018 commencement. “If you can capture the humanity of people … if you can just capture the humanity of the people … you then get that much closer to your own humanity. And you could confront your bias and you can build your credibility, hone your instincts and compound your compassion. You could use your gifts. That’s what you’re really here to do to illuminate the darkness in our world.”

I’m still learning. I still make mistakes. But I’m committed to the ongoing journey of becoming a better ally and advocate, to capturing and embracing the humanity of people in all their beautiful colors. “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together,” said Bishop Desmond Tutu. We’re all in this together.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy Daily and a Deseret News columnist.

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