A Case for Not Raising "Color-Blind" Children

Family Matters on 12.31.11
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In my sons' elementary school, our boys are among a minority of children who are considered "white." Our city in New Jersey is extraordinarily diverse. Go to the main shopping areas and you're as likely to see an Orthodox Jewish man as an African-American woman as a Colombian family.

Our city IS the melting pot. Sort of. By that I mean the Dunkin' Donuts near my house is certified kosher, but that's where everyone goes to get their coffee and bagel in the morning (they don't have bacon and egg croissants, though). The coffee shop near the train station is owned by a young Indian couple; there are still old-school Italian and Portuguese neighborhoods around town.

Our children are very much American in the sense that they are a mix of various ethnicities and cultures - Jewish, Colombian and Swedish - and learn a little bit about everything. Many of their classmates are first-generation Americans (as my own boys are, on their father's side).

So despite the fact that we want our children to understand where they came from and the various aspects of their heritage, it can be a minefield navigating race and ethnicity in America. Our own family really doesn't fit comfortably into any single culture, except that of New York, I'd suppose.

The interesting thing is, when our children talk about their classmates, their descriptions are completely devoid of any racial characteristics. We often have them point them out in the class picture so we can put faces with their stories.

In a way, they are colorblind. Race isn't important to them. At Polar Express Night at my son's school, I saw him high-fiving lots of different children, different races, boys and girls. Their generation is less concerned with the issues of race than any before theirs.

But is colorblind good? I'll admit, though I've been on the receiving end of various epithets because of my Jewishness, my name isn't particularly Jewish-sounding, I kind of blend in with most "white" people (except perhaps Scandanavia). So it sounds, at first blush, a laudable goal. To judge, as Martin Luther King Jr. exhorted us, by the content of character, not color of skin.

What got me thinking more deeply about this today was an article posted on Facebook by my friend and former Miami Herald colleague Amy Alexander. The article, from Psychology Today, had the very provacative title, "Colorblind ideology is a form of racism."

Despite seeming to live up to MLK's dream, being colorblind leaves us blind to the realities of the world we live in. If we pretend color doesn't matter, it enables us to dismiss it when people point out examples of racism. If we pretend race or ethnicity is a societal construct and not something "real," we lose a big piece of our own identity.

This is the hardest blog post I've ever written, I think, and not because I'm trying to be "politically correct" or inoffensive.

Discussing race is tough. Americans don't tend to do it much. When anyone tries to, others tend get all squirmy and try to change the subject. This piece has been tough to write, because I can never help but try to figure out the right way to do things with my children.

I haven't the slightest idea what the "right" way to go about it is. I want my children to not be concerned about race, and they appear not to be. But I don't want them to be blind to it; I want them to be able to see everyone for what they are - good, bad or indifferent.

I want them to help build a world in which race matters so little that people wouldn't ever think of saying they were colorblind, unless they were actually colorblind.