Dictionary.com defines the word Mosaic as “a picture or decoration made of small, usually colored pieces of inlaid stone, glass, etc.” It goes without saying that those small colored pieces of glass are what make the mosaic beautiful. No one looks at just one of the stones. They are individually different but together they make one piece of art.
As a Nigerian American, I’ve come to realize that the one thing that makes this country so great, so appeasing is its people and culture. It’s seriously flowing with diversity. Just imagine you could sit on top of the clouds and look down. Look down at New York City for example and you’ll see it. Different people, different skin tones, different foods, different beliefs, different experiences, different backgrounds. It’s what I’d call diversity at its finest. It’s fascinating.
That’s why I always shake my head in wonder, in silent disagreement when I hear someone say, “I don’t see color,” or “I don’t see race.” It’s a statement I hear more often from many of my white American friends especially in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner decisions. It’s something said in passing to enunciate their stance that race doesn’t matter. Or maybe it’s said as a way to prove that they are not racist? I don’t know. What I do know is this: that statement is at the core of what is wrong with race relations in America.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing color. How can we celebrate, welcome and accept diversity if we don’t see color? How can we talk about the differences in our experiences if we don’t see color? How can we have a bigger and honest conversation about race relations if we’re so quick to shut down the conversation in the first place by proclaiming that we don’t see color?
Allow me to call to your bluff on that one. We all see color. Saying you don’t see color is like saying you don’t know the difference between a man and woman. Even children see color. Back in 2013 during a birthday dinner with some church members, I joked that the white friend sitting next to me was my sister. One of the little boys nearby chimed in saying, “but how can she be your sister when you have dark skin?” We laughed. It was a simple, cute and innocent question. The little boy noticed that I had a darker skin tone than my friend, but that didn’t make him treat me like a lesser human. It also wasn’t something he avoided to prove that he wasn’t racist. If anything, he saw the obvious.
If it’s indeed true that people don’t see color, then I marvel at the many things they can’t talk about. When you see color and are comfortable with it, then there’s a whole lot of conversation to have. You’re not going to have an insightful conversation with your black friends about how their encounters with law enforcement differ from yours unless you’re open to it. Then again, you’re not going to delve into all that because hey you don’t see color. Right?
When we don’t see our differences, we’re canceling out the opportunity to really, really talk. To have that vital dialogue about race. Conversations to help us better understand our society and maybe even change the status quo. When we don’t see color then we haven’t really seen each other. We’re like classmates who talk during class but ignore each other outside school. We know very little about each other. We’re really just acquaintances.
No. I’m not saying our race or the color of our skin should be used as a modifier. I’m not saying it should be used to define who we are. I’m not saying it should be the most important thing about us. I’m saying we need to acknowledge it. That it exists. That it sometimes affects how we treat or perceive others.
So here’s my challenge for the New Year. Maybe the conversation should no longer be about how we don’t see color. No. Let’s ask each other things we’ve always wondered about without fearing that we’ll be labeled as racists. Let’s be open-minded. Listen. Let’s really listen before jumping into conclusions, even when we disagree. Then little by little, we’ll become more like a mosaic. Better yet, we’ll be a country flowing with people who welcome and accept the differences in their cultures and experiences. A country that celebrates diversity. A country with citizens of different colors who are ultimately one people.