“When we see color, our eyes can be opened in new ways.”
Should disciples of Jesus be color-blind?
For years, the concept of color blindness has been embraced as a virtue both inside and outside of the church. It has been presented as a simple and fair solution to our racial quandaries. With the best of intentions, those who adopt a color-blind strategy navigate the complexities of race by saying, “I don’t see color.” As Jennifer Eberhardt notes in her book Biased, color-blind proponents advise us to “try not to notice color. Try not to think about color. If you don’t allow yourself to think about race, you can never be biased.”
Of course, as disciples of Christ we also have Christian role models that we have looked to as color-blind exemplars. Without hesitation, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is the role model most frequently referenced by color-blind disciples, based on his dream that his “four 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.” However, to assume that King was color-blind (as we understand it) on the basis of one sentence from one speech is to take his words out of context. Looking over the scope of his entire life and thought, we see that King was not color-blind.
And for good reason—new research shows that a color-blind approach has precisely the opposite outcome than what we intend. From Eberhardt, the truth is that “the color-blind approach has consequences that can actually impede our move toward equality. When people focus on not seeing color, they may also fail to see discrimination.” The reality is that those who do not see race cannot see racial disparity. Those who deny color will remain naïvely unaware of their unconscious racial biases and unwittingly inhibit the conversations about race that are needed for greater racial equity.
In The Psychology of Racial Colorblindness, Philip Mazzocco summarizes the research on color blindness: “Racial color blindness denies the continuing relevance of race, and in doing so, cultivates ignorance of racial inequalities, or the blaming of racial minorities for their lot in society. Color blindness inhibits frank conversations about race … and creates organizational settings in which minorities feel less comfortable. … Racial discord is a kind of societal cancer that weakens society, and racial color blindness appears to be exacerbating the situation.”
In her viral TED Talk, Mellody Hobson proposes that instead of being color-blind, we become color-brave. When we become color-brave, we choose to see color for the sake of racial equality and flourishing. When we see color, our eyes can be opened in new ways to the continuing systemic disparities of our multiracial society. When we are color-brave, we choose to ask questions about other people’s stories. We choose to explore our own biases—both conscious and unconscious—and become part of the solution. And we can invite Jesus to help us with all of it.
Because, after all, Jesus was not color-blind either—nor does he call us to be. In fact, he has always been quite intentional about seeking out disciples from every tribe, tongue and nation. And he has given us the Great Commission to make disciples of all cultures (Matt. 28:19–21), which color-blind disciples could never fulfill.
In more ways than one, God’s dreams for our discipleship are usually a lot more colorful than ours. To embrace the fullness of God’s dreams for our discipleship—as well as God’s dreams for a colorful kingdom—let’s commit now to the courageous journey of becoming color-brave.