It was a lovely event — lots of ladies and a lot of tea. We were all giddy about the baby on the way. Somehow or the other we got on to a topic and the story involved Bruce. “Who is Bruce?" I asked. Person after person kept describing him. The descriptions kept coming and I didn’t get a picture. I just couldn’t figure out who they were talking about. I sensed something in the air but wasn’t sure what it was. Although I was hosting this baby shower, I didn’t know most of the ladies well. It was then that the guest of honor, who was sitting next to me by the fireplace said, “oh, for heaven’s sake, Bruce is the tall, Black guy on the worship team.” I started laughing. It was funny to me but apparently not to everyone else. The guest of honor chuckled with me. Get this – there were over 300 people who regularly attended our church and there were probably 3 Black people. Okay, maybe 4. And so I said jokingly, “All you had to do was say the other Black person at church. There are only two of us!” I figured levity would break the discomfort.
I laughed because I know every woman who was trying to describe Bruce visualized him and was going out of her way not to say his race. I know you see his race. You know you see his race. We all see race. It is impossible not to see race. Yes, yes, I understand that as we get to know people race recedes. Here is the thing, though — not mentioning a person's race does not mean you don’t see race.
And let's talk about this not seeing race thing. Is saying we don't see race a replacement for “I treat everyone equally” or “I don’t judge a person by the color of his or her skin"? If so, it has now evolved into madness. We trot it out as if it makes sense, as if it imbues a certain morality. It doesn't.
No, this doesn’t mean you can inject race into a story when it has no relevance. No, this doesn’t mean that racial profiling is okay. No, this doesn’t mean that the women at this tea party were malicious or bad -- they were well meaning, like many of us. And I loved their attempt to be respectful. But it DOES mean we can talk about race and mention it when it is benign.
Otherwise, we make things unnecessarily difficult. We make it difficult for each of us to be fully whole and visible in communities where our race does in fact shape our experiences. It makes it difficult for us to take those racial issues that ail us, place them on the table, and begin to meaningfully engage. It makes it difficult for us to celebrate the beauty and complexity of our differences and what we each bring to the table. It makes it difficult for me to tell my story when you insist you don't see race. And it makes it difficult to cut through the chase and help me identify someone at church. In this story, describing Bruce's race was relevant.
Kori is a people inclusion strategist, advocate, speaker, writer, wife and mother of two spitfires who loves to sing, cook, entertain, dance in the hallways and read when she is not equipping leaders to be inclusive and interrupt bias, and developing and implementing strategies to build bridges across differences and improve inclusion. You can also find her on Twitter as @koricarew.