I used to believe I was colorblind. What that meant, to me, was that I thought I could judge people, in the words of Dr. King, not on the basis of the "color of their skin but on the content of their character[s]." And maybe I was (though I know better now, I have my own biases that I work to overcome); but maybe--more likely--I was just blind, not so much to injustice (easy to point fingers), but to my own role in perpetuating it by imagining that standards created by a dominant group could be race-neutral.
Now, I think we need to see the difference that we have been taught to (or become accustomed to) un-see, to acknowledge the difference that difference has made, and decide to throw away the glasses that cloud our vision, whitewashing everything. We need to question what we think we know, about the world and about ourselves. My eloquent friend Noah (who can riff in words as well as he can in music) wrote something along these lines last year, when he challenged us to be more self-reflective, to ask ourselves, every day, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "are you sure?"
A few years ago, my son was gifted a hand-me-down book entitled, simply, People. It's a beautifully written and illustrated book, originally published in the 1980s (in many ways a product of its time) that describes the astonishing diversity of humanity on all four continents, and touches on issues like poverty and racism and body image (even body modification) in a way that isn't moralizing, but that opens the door for questions and conversation. Who are human beings? What are they like? Where do they live, how do they communicate, what games do they play? How are people different, and how are they the same? What can we learn from each other? Why should we respect -- and celebrate -- difference?
And while there are sections of the book that feel like a dated "salad"-style multicultural curriculum, or some pages that replicate cultural stereotypes, there are others that talk about the ways in which we create artificial power structures that don't, in the end, protect us from all experiencing the same fate: death.
My daughter chose this book as her bedtime story last night, and as I read, admiring the artwork and the book's matter-of-factness, I found myself wondering how her reading of People might be different with her own children. Whether she would look at the pages about diversity of employment and think about the white man in the grocery store, complaining that black people get and keep jobs just because they're black (with whom she'd gently disagreed, pointing out the roots of urban poverty in slavery and industrialization, asking him why he thinks people in power shouldn't do something about the mistakes that we've made as a nation). Whether she would look at the pages about poverty and remind herself that all of the people in the poorly maintained apartment complexes at the other end of town are nonwhite. Whether she would read the pages about diversity of religion and think about a world that turns away migrant women and children from war-torn countries.
Or whether she would be reading that book to a child in a country that continues to ask itself "are you sure?" ... that faces its unsavory past, has been brave enough to tell more complicated stories, recognized institutional biases, overcome fears of each other, and found a way to move forward, to promote peace and justice.