Marolt: Colorblindness spelled out in black and white
I think the notion of a colorblind society is beautiful in the same way the idea of Utopia is. No matter how badly we want it or believe in its merits, it can’t serve any good right now. And, this is not an apology to Donald Trump, the boob who would be the Republican king.
I’m not working off theory. There is an old saying that the smartest people in the world are college sophomores, and in the case I am about to describe it may be true. The only things my roommate and I had in common at that stage of higher learning were that we were teammates and living human beings.
He was a black outfielder from inner-city New York. I was a redneck catcher from small-town western Colorado. We didn’t choose each other as roommates; the athletic department did. The university itself was, and mostly still is, a small, pretty much white (buildings and student skin color) private university with a spectacularly beautiful campus and parking lots filled with nice cars. Growing up in homogeneously well-heeled Aspen, there is no doubt that I was more comfortable in that atmosphere than he was.
I’m sure he was as incredulous over the stories I told of my youthful experiences as I was of his. In spite of our backgrounds, or because of them, we got along. We didn’t hang out much off the field, but we didn’t have any issues to resolve, either. Whether our lives for that year were engineered by people who knew that although the ingredients of our lives wouldn’t mix well they wouldn’t violently react either or it was chance driven by age and circumstance, there wasn’t anyone disappointed by the outcome.
I piously accepted my racial blindness as a virtue. Many of my friends believed that the success of our relationship was a result of me growing up where black people didn’t live so my views weren’t tainted by racism. They said that made me colorblind, and they were right. I know the color of his skin meant nothing to me by which to judge him. It is exactly what we hope for society as a whole.
Except it shouldn’t be. I remember clearly one of the rare weekend nights we hung out together along with a few of his black friends at the school. We were sipping beers and I was enthralled by the stories they were telling about the similar neighborhoods they grew up in. They were talking about places I could imagine less than the South Pole.
I threw out the question about what would happen to me if I was dropped off in the middle of one of those neighborhoods, left to wander the streets on my own. There were polite chuckles. One of them said, “Nothing.” I looked at him. “You’re too clueless for anyone to worry about,” he explained.
I knew then that my roommate and I would never be great friends. There wasn’t enough time left in the school year for me to come close to really knowing anything about him, yet he knew me. He’d seen thousands of me’s in his life; all he had to do was pick up a copy of Time magazine or turn on the TV to get an idea of what I was about. I was a white American kid. But, who was he?
Stereotyping people based on their race is deplorable, but so is ignoring the reality that it exists and forces differences in actions and reactions. Most of those differences are challenges, not advantages. Many are common to all people of the same skin color. It’s not the skin color that makes us different, but it can be circumstances we ignore that lead to bits and pieces of a common worldview shared by people of the same skin color. It was not my fault that I was white and perceived as naïve or innocent for my ignorance of race issues, but neither of those facts excuses me for being colorblind.
Being colorblind meant I was ignorant. Ignorance can never solve the problem of racism. Society cannot become colorblind one person at a time. It has to be all or none. Until that tidal wave of understanding crashes upon the shore of our collective consciousness, for any one of us to sit comfortably out of the tumultuous sea by virtue of saying that the color of someone’s skin is not an issue “to me,” is to leave those alone who will be affected by others to whom skin color still matters.
Roger Marolt knows that ignorance is not bliss. email@example.com
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The Aspen Community Foundation has opened up its 2022 scholarship application for local public high school students from diverse backgrounds to use on post-secondary education.