I Refuse to Be Color Blind

We often hear people say we should be color blind. When we look at someone we should not see white/black/brown but rather just a person. That sounds like a good idea. But it is one I cannot accept.

First of all, I think it is simply not possible. How can you not observe what color someone is when you look at them? I have grandchildren whose skin color runs from white as snow to warm chocolate brown to black as midnight. It would be hypocritical of me to say I do not notice the difference in their skin color.

I used to call these two my “salt and pepper” loves.

While I understand the idea of being “color-blind” is a good one when used as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did in his great “I have a dream” speech, I think it can be misleading.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Clearly we need to be people who judge a person by who they are, not what they look like.

However, to try to not see someone’s color can mean not really seeing who they are. When I meet a black person if I try to pretend I do not notice they are black, I am really refusing to give them the acknowledgement I should. And exactly what does that mean? Am I pretending they are white? Am I trying to treatment them like they are white? Well, they are not. Like it or not, we are all shaped to some extent by the culture we were raised in, by the way we see the world and the world sees us. The color of our skin plays a role in that.

To try to pretend that a black woman has had the same experiences of life that I have, that she will view the world exactly as I do is to deny who she is.

An example of what I mean. On my first job after high school I had a black co-worker who became a friend of mine. (This was in the 1960’s when there was a lot of unrest in our cities over the Civil Rights Movement.) At that point I really had not taken into account the difference in our skin color. I thought I was color-blind. One day we went out for lunch. I enjoyed the meal and was surprised when she refused to go out again to eat with me later in the week. I could not understand. Had I done something to offend? Did she not like the restaurant? We could go to another one.

She told me she was not comfortable with the stares we got from the other customers. At first I told her I did not know what she meant. But after thinking about it a little, I realized we did get very poor service and our waitress was very unfriendly. Still I did not have a clue why until she told me she felt they did not like our eating together and being so obviously friendly with one another.

Up to that point I had basically lived in a white world. She was my first black friend. To a white woman at that point I did not feel what she felt when people stared or when our waitress was rude. But now I realized I needed to not be color-blind. I needed to try to see the world through her eyes, to acknowledge that her skin color caused her to be treated differently, caused her to notice the stares more than I did, to feel the waitress’ rudeness more deeply than I did. Only when I quit trying to be color-blind, could we begin to navigate how our friendship would work going forward. She wanted to keep our friendship hidden but I wanted to go back to that same restaurant and dare someone to be unkind to her.

To this day I do not know if I did the right thing but I tried to push her to step out and not let others stop us from having a friendship that we did not have to hide. She finally continued to eat lunch with me, but when her car broke down and I wanted to give her a ride home, she stupidly refused. To be honest I was never sure if she did not want our co-workers (who were white) to get upset with me or if she did not want her family to know that she had a white friend. While we remained friends at work, we were never able to take our friendship to a deeper level. To this day I wonder – did I unknowingly treat her with prejudice? Did she unknowingly have prejudice toward me? I have always been sad that our friendship ended when I left for another job. That it did not survive outside our work place.

Now that I have grandchildren who are black, I again cannot ignore how the world treats them differently because of the color of their skin. My grandson, who is black as midnight and handsome as can be, and I have had discussions of what he faces as a black man. To try to pretend that he is the same and faces the same world as my white grandsons is both not true but also unfair to him.

Only when we acknowledge our differences can we then celebrate those differences. How dull this world would be if we were all one color, one background. I want to see that whiteness, that blackness you wear and then learn what your experiences have taught you and how you can share with me and we can celebrate who we are.

I’m Celebrating!

Today is a happy day for me!

Today I am exploring the western side of Michigan along Lake Michigan.  We have a hotel in the middle between Ludington and Traverse City Michigan.  What a beautiful area!  The lake, rivers, sand dunes, beaches, quaint shops and restaurants!

My heart rejoices because we are celebrating 35 years of marriage.

What a great love story we have.

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Although Paul knew in his heart that I was the answer to his prayer, he still was nervous about asking me to marry them.  We both had two children (Paul had four but the two oldest were already grown adults and on their own) – three of whom were teenagers.  Blended families could be a difficult thing.  I think he was also afraid of rejection as his first wife had walked away from their marriage after 20+ years.

So he had to build up his courage.

He took me on a picnic to Pere Marquette Park in Grafton Illinois.  Several times that day he hinted at a more serious relationship, then before I could reply, he backed away.

A few weeks later he brought me a bouquet of flowers and took me to a nice restaurant.  All evening I kept thinking he would now talk about a deeper commitment between us.  But nothing happened.  The next night he showed up again with another bouquet of flowers and again took me out to a nice restaurant.  Again, I waited all through dinner for a more serious conversation – but nothing happened.

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My thoughts were that this relationship was going nowhere fast.

But when we got to my apartment he asked if we could sit in the car and talk for awhile.  What a surprise!  He not only asked to take our relationship to a more serious level, he asked me to marry them.

During the 20 minutes or so this conversation took, our children who were inside my apartment kept turning the porch light on and off.  Believe me you have not courted until you do with four kids watching your every move!

So we were married.

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Since we both believed that God had brought us together – both as a couple and as a family, we wanted to emphasize that God would be the foundation of our new family right from the start.

After we said our vows, we had our children join us and we took communion together as a family.

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Was it easy blending two families together?  No!  There were difficult moments.  Paul and I each had different parenting styles.  I had two girls, but I had no idea what to do with a son – and a teenage son at that.

But we stuck with each other and God made us a family.

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left to right:  my youngest daughter, Jessica; my oldest daughter, Rebekah; Paul’s youngest daughter and son, Maria and Will

From this blended family we now have twenty grandchildren (three who are deceased) and nine great grandchildren.

Looking back over these past 35 years, my heart rejoices in the blessings God has given Paul and I.

For those of you who follow my blog, you can be sure I will be posting lots of pictures when I get back home of this beautiful area.