Though most details are rather vague nowadays, I recall I had purchased the shirt at a table set up on campus by some now long forgotten, at least by me, student organization at the University of Minnesota. Whatever club it was doesn’t matter now, but it remains with me that the sentiment in the shirt’s saying was powerful. I, some would say blindly, accepted the notion that we should not see color, that we should only see someone else as being just that: a person. Having considered myself somewhat more educated and more experienced than the kid I had been in high school just a few years before, especially having come from a school that wasn’t racially diverse at the time, I labeled my undergrad days as very eye opening. Fortunate to break out of my formerly, periodically, narrow-minded self was I.
Not long before purchasing this shirt, I had had a related experience that had also stretched my horizons a bit more than I’d ever been permitted or allowed myself to be, theretofore. Sometimes such growth is uncomfortable, pushing us out of our comfort zone of habit and scripted thinking. While I was driving through downtown Minneapolis (USA) one particular day with the gal I was dating, I pointed out—-without thinking about what I’d said—-that some bloke had nearly stepped into oncoming traffic, stating, “Did you see that black guy almost get hit by that car?”
Without hesitation, she retorted, “Mike, why did you even mention his race? Would you have said, ‘Did you see that white guy?’ if the man had been white?”
Deep inside, I felt she was right—-even though on the surface I believe I wasn’t sure why it mattered. Back in those days, I recall readily that there was a debate on campus about the need to be so PC. Indeed, however, I wouldn’t have said anything about someone being white by labeling him/her as white. Of course I, being white, wouldn’t have remarked, “Hey, did you see that white guy go out into traffic?” Why did I mention the dude’s skin color? There was no need, right?
To have someone instill in you a sense of seeing the world differently is always a godsend, isn’t it? (In fact, the same gal, whom I’d only dated for a month or so, introduced me to another realm of life I wasn’t familiar with up until then when her college roommate, another member of the U of M’s ladies’ hockey team, came out into the living room one night in tears to reveal to us that she was in love with my date and that I should leave. Oh, the drama that ensued.) Surely, I felt this woman had opened my eyes to a new way of looking at others: simply as human beings. Yet over the years, in retelling this same story, I have heard numerous responses and varied perspectives on the issue. Naturally, I am curious how the blogging community feels.
Back in the early 90s, for the first time really, during that span of personal development called university, I had befriended people from elsewhere: a few international students whom I tutored, free-thinking college kids from other states, big-city-bred blokes, conservatives and liberals alike, and people from different ethnicities, religions, and races. As a result, I felt that donning such a shirt was appropriate, open to all types of people more than in my erstwhile years, which had been mostly because of opportunity–or a lack thereof. Eagerly, I wore it the very next day to my campus job at the library, strutting in like a peacock, proud of my increasingly obvious open-mindedness. In retrospect, I don’t really believe I was necessarily proud of it; the last sentence was just for added effect.
When I sauntered through the door that morning, one of my co-workers, an adult student who was a hell of a lot more liberated and experienced than me, I’d felt, immediately questioned my having bought it in the first place—-and he called me on it, ready for a debate, asking me questions I wasn’t prepared for. Stymied I was. “Egad! Can’t I just wear the shirt without you questioning my choices?” is what I wanted to query in response.
The upshot of that conversation was that love should see color, he thought—-and practically demanded, for if we ignore color and race, we fail to perceive the uniqueness of others; we fail to understand or know more fully. If we disregard someone’s ethnicity, we lose out on what’s special about each of us. Moreover, if we attempt to simply brush aside someone’s race, we risk not recognizing that there are differences, and, as he preached from his soapbox, that isn’t wrong. Differences are what makes the world more interesting.
For many people, it seems, there is a need to intellectualize race, to borrow from a Skunk Anansie song. Had he gone too far in analyzing it that way? Should we be aware of someone’s skin color from the start? Does it matter? Should it? Or was the shirt right? When we meet someone, can we simply dismiss color/race and merely say (internally, I suppose), “Hi. I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, red or yellow. Nice to meet you.” Or should we stop and say to ourselves, “This guy or gal is of a different race than me,” for whatever purpose, and that is that?
Some days or weeks after my coworker’s questioning my choice in apparel, not sure of how I would establish my own take on the topic, though still leaning more towards the idea that love shouldn’t see color, I found myself the focus again because of the shirt.
Walking down Washington Avenue near the U of M campus, I passed by a black woman (Wait, is it okay for me to point out her race? Twenty-plus years later, I still am on the fence about this topic.), who then called out, with her friend by her side, “I like your shirt, and you’re cute, too.” I wanted to go back and exclaim, “Hey, but wait… my coworker told me I shouldn’t wear this shirt,” but I didn’t, perhaps too overwhelmed with uncertainty about the notion of what the statement strewn across my chest promoted, torn between both outlooks. I wondered why an African-American could appreciate the expression, yet the dude at my job wasn’t comfortable with it.
Later that summer, while backpacking in Europe, I spilled coffee on said shirt, and, somewhat afraid that people would notice the huge brown stain all over the front, I threw it away, worried that others would focus on me for all the wrong reasons: color. Even though twenty years have passed since I donned it, I still don’t have answers to the query: Should we see color?