When I was in 6th grade, my mother pulled me and my two siblings out of school to travel to Washington, D.C to witness President Obama’s first inauguration. At the time, I didn’t understand the significance of the event or of President Obama’s election. At 12 years old, politics was ‘for grownups’ and I couldn’t understand why my mother, a woman who would hesitate to let us stay home from school even if we were projectile vomiting, would allow us to miss almost an entire week of school for this event. I wondered what was so special about Barack Obama and his election as President that would cause my mother to act so differently.
Black people continue to have a hard time participating in many aspects of society, from fashion to politics, which leads to a lack of representation in media and politics and everything in between. To not see yourself represented can be heartbreaking and isolating. And even worse, to only see yourself as the stereotype, the villain, the ‘token,’ can be harmful. Many groups, not just black people, are not able to see themselves represented, and those groups have constantly been told ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you can’t be this.’ In 8th grade I finally began to recognize my own blackness, I finally began to attach and accept that as part of me, and I finally began to understand the weight of the phrase ‘first black President.’ And when I thought of Barack Obama, the 44th president and first black President of the United States, I filled with pride. When Obama was elected as President, it was like the country was saying, “You can be anything, you can do anything, just look at how far we’ve come.” President Obama’s election as a black man matters, and it is the proof of the progress Civil Rights activism has made. Barack Obama, and other accomplished people of color like Serena Williams, George Takei, and Gina Rodriguez are proof that we can become more than just a stereotype, and that we are limitless.
So when a classmate said, “Why does it matter if he’s black? I don’t even see color” and when that thought was echoed by classmates, I felt sad and frustrated. I still feel sad and frustrated when people tell me they ‘don’t see color’ or are ‘colorblind.’ I understand that it is coming from a good place; it is a phrase wrapped tightly in good intentions as an attempt for a person to express that he or she does not judge a person based on his or her ethnicity or skin color. It is a nice gesture, but it is one that, intentionally or not, attempts to erase a part of my identity.
I want to live in a country where my race and color are not a hindrance with unclimbable barriers attached to it, but to do that we must face prejudice head on. We must look it in the eyes rather than pretend it is there. Racism did not end with the death of MLK and it did not end during Obama’s presidency. It is true that this country has achieved much in the way of equality since the Civil Rights Movement, but there is danger and complacency in believing that there is nothing more that needs to be done. I believe the people who call themselves ‘colorblind’ want that too, for me and other minorities to not be judged based on the color of our skin. We have that in common. But in a country where heritage, culture, ethnicity and race are so intricately tied into an individual’s identity, ignoring that part of them, ‘not seeing’ that part of them is not progress: it is erasure. I, as a minority, as a person of color, as a black woman, do not want my color to be ignored. I am proud of my blackness, and the culture and history that comes with it. I am proud of what black people in this country have overcome and accomplished, and I am proud of what we continue to fight for. To ‘not see color’ is to not see the very things that are undeniably and intrinsically a part of who I am.
Accepting my blackness was hard for me, but harder still was learning to feel comfortable with it, to like it. I thought my blackness made me ugly and I did not want to be seen or heard. But women like Beyoncé and Viola Davis who are so proud of their blackness, who celebrate their blackness, remind me that we, as black women, do not have to be quiet or invisible, and we do not have to be what others say we must be.
Mcduffie is a contributor for The Millennial Times.