White Blindness in Cross-Cultural Spaces

“I was raised to be color blind. I love all people the same.”

“I don’t get it, I’m Italian. I’m not white.”

“But I love Filipinos (or whatever ethnicity they’re most familiar with), I grew up with them!”

These statements are ones that I have heard over and over again in various ways from white friends who want to identify with people of color and/or wanting to distance themselves from any semblance of racism.

I’m not going into a deep dive into all things about racism because

1. There are plenty of books you can read. Google it. This is a blog and I’m about to lose you in 300 words.

2. I have a very specific issue to bring up here, but I will further write about it after I finish this #dangdissertation and when I can properly publish a well-researched and better articulated critique.

3. I honestly just need to get this thought out so I can get back to the #dangdissertation

Today I’m focusing on what I’m calling “White Blindness”. This term gets behind the idea of color blindness. The idea of color blindness is a HOT MESS people. It diminishes the beauty in diversity by ignoring what may be uncomfortable for well-meaning white people. This is a white-centered statement. If I’m white and color blind, then I no longer have to feel uncomfortable around what makes us different. Now we’re all the same right? Nope. Color blindness is a way to make white people comfortable, while people of color are left with the same same skin color, culture, and experiences in the same systemic issues.

If you’re still using this term in any way please stop for the love of all that is good. If you say you don’t see my color, then you are missing out on my latte colored awesomeness that most white people work so hard on their vacations to get. Mine is built in and it took me years to love it as much as I do, but I need you to see my skin color because you’ll miss out on a major part of me if you don’t. To see my skin color is to see me. And guess what, I see yours too. And it’s okay. We can still be friends.

White Blindness is the more nuanced problem that I’ve seen in progressive white folks and white folks who work in cross-cultural communities. They mean well of course. They truly love people of color. They demand that others understand and love the people of color they love. They serve in the communities, have friends in different cultures, eat the food, sometimes speak the language, and run non-profits seeking to help those in need within that “other” culture.

The problem of White Blindness is that the person does not see their own skin color. They are color blind to themselves. The normalization of whiteness is a layer of white supremacy that I think many well-meaning-cross-culturally-loving-white-people (let’s just call them “well-meaning” for short) have yet to really deal with.

I’m currently reading “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo as I work on the sociology chapter of my #dangdissertation because I’m trying to tease out how cross-cultural ministries keep operating without centering the marginalized they claim to serve. How do well-meaning people who are FOR people of color advocate with passion for others while still centering their whiteness by not addressing their own location in the power dynamics? IT MATTERS. Not addressing your own whiteness does not make your whiteness go away. We still see your skin color and all of the privileges and power that comes along with it.

I read a dissertation yesterday written by a white non-profit youthworker, serving Latina teenagers. The author did not once acknowledge her location as a white female or the locations of the presumably white mentors she was researching. She talked for pages about Latina culture and the problems she sees in the community, but did not once discuss her or her organization’s whiteness in a brown context. Her silence, was a normalization of whiteness even though she was clearly dedicated to uplifting the context of Latina teens.

Because my degree is in missiology, I have read many books written by “well-meaning” people who talk about missions and being culturally relevant to the context WITHOUT addressing their own racial location. This seems to be the case in almost every “well-meaning” missiology book I’ve read. Well-meaning, but still missing the point. I understand why people of color bristle at the term “missions”. It’s because colonizing and  white-centering is still happening, even if there is a greater attention being given to the context of the other.

This omission of white privilege in diverse or cross-cultural missions has caused much more racial trauma than I think people realize because it’s full of well-meaning people who truly love the “other” but can’t see how they perpetuate the “othering”. I am finding this is where most of my racial trauma has occurred, specifically in white evangelical institutions and organziations that haven’t dealt with their whiteness well if at all.

Dear white friends…go ahead and embrace yourselves. Recognize all the ways in which you were created. Name who you are. Talk about race, culture, ethnicity. Talk about yourselves in relationship to it. Your avoidance of shame or fear of making a wrong step does not help the process, it perpetuates it. No need to talk with guilt, just talk with a sober mind and a desire to love well. But please stop believing that if you don’t address your skin color that it doesn’t exist. Just because you close your eyes, it doesn’t mean race and ethnicity no longer exist because you choose not to see it. I’m still here and I can still see you.

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