Let’s Talk and Think about Skin Color

Note:  A version of this post was published earlier.  

As America gears up for the 2024 presidential campaign, a variety of Republican contenders, chief among them Ron DeSantis, are doing their absolute best to dethrone the Grand Poohbah, otherwise known as “The Donald,” the man who gives lie to the statement “It can’t happen here.” To achieve this difficult task, these campaigners are going all out to garner support from the GOP base, a group which seems to emphatically embrace the wildest of conspiracy theories, the sort that would seem implausible to a five-year-old of average intelligence.

Of course, not surprisingly, many of them are racist in nature, and eschew logic and commonsense. This portion of the population is also vulnerable to the DeSantis attacks on “Wokeism,” a concept he has never adequately defined.

The only thing that DeSantis and other adherents of Trumpism dislike more than Wokeism is something they call “critical race theory” (CRT). Trumpists with school-aged children are in an uproar because they fear this “theory” is being taught to their offspring. The way they discuss the matter demonstrates they neither understand what CRT is, nor do they realize that it isn’t actually being taught, not as a class or subject.

Critical race theory is nothing more than a way of thinking critically about “race” and the role it has played, in all aspects of life, throughout American history. It’s more about asking challenging questions than about indoctrination. If you tell me that you’re against doing critical thinking (about any subject), I’ll tell you that you’re making an argument in favor of ignorance and stupidity.

I’m married to a woman who has a much darker skin pigmentation than I have. This fact provides us with ample opportunities to have interesting and entertaining conversations about skin color. My wife, a woman who hails from northeast Africa, will often begin such conversations by pointing out that she is “black” and that I am “white.” When I hear such a claim, I remind her that, in fact, she is the color of caramel or coffee that has had milk poured into it.

In describing myself, I always say that I am a little beige and that some parts are beiger than others. But I have been known to have pinkish blotches here and there, especially on my face, which makes me wonder if I’m more beige or more pink. I always conclude that I’m not actually a “white man” — just like my wife isn’t a “black woman.” I’m more of a pink man with lots of beige mixed in. Having said that, what am I to make of those very dark freckles I have on my arms and elsewhere?

I hope you see how ridiculous it is to focus on skin color when thinking about human beings. By referring to people as black, brown, or white, we force them into categories that have no bearing on actual reality. In fact, there are almost no people in the world who are truly black, brown, or white. Designating them as one of these three is a way of caricaturing them.

Most of us are on a continuum between extremes. And any single individual’s colorations can vary a lot depending on all sorts of things. In fact, there have been times in my life, mostly when I was younger and did manual labor jobs, when I was quite tanned, even “brownish.” Did that mean I became a different sort of person when I was in that state? Did I become a “person of color”? Should I have thought less of myself when I was darker? Should others have thought about me differently?

We might as well start categorizing people by hair types. Let’s designate those with straight hair of higher rank than those with curly locks. In such a scheme, where do bald people fit in?

The fact that race plays such a key role in our lives says a lot of not-so-flattering things about too many of us (and it’s a good argument for the implementation of an educational program akin to critical race theory but on a massive scale). Those who would argue that people with “white” skin are somehow divinely intended to be “in charge” are full of you know what. And those who think they can perpetually use skin color as a way of dividing us are going to be sorely disappointed going forward. I see a definite trend toward color blindness as we intermingle and intermarry. In the future, it’s almost certain that we’ll all be “people of color.”

25 thoughts on “Let’s Talk and Think about Skin Color

  1. I wonder if being “color aware” might be a healthier approach than being “color blind”? To be aware that someone’s skin color indicates their heritage, at some level, I would think might be a useful thing to keep in mind.

    – spoken as one of those horrible middle-aged males, who is endeavoring to be aware of his own heritage and how he is perceived when he walks in a room.

    1. Interesting comment. I understood everything but this word “heritage.” What exactly does that word mean and how does it relate to this discussion?

      1. Hey Troy! The narrow definitioin for heritage is simply “that which was inherited”. And you’ve pointed out in subsequent communication that people of different skin color definitely inerited a very different experience and treatment. And while you or I may not, personally, have ever treated other people as different/less than, when such treatment IS someone’s inheritance, it affects them, their perception of me, and my ability to relate to them. I am not saying it cannot be overcome, but I do believe it is worth consideration, which is why I endeavor to be “color aware” rather than “color blind”.

  2. “Color blind” is a misnomer, and minimizes our real differences. It says we no longer have differences, when in reality we do. By saying we’re color blind, we close the door to discussing the current difficulties still faced by people of color.

    I’m very aware of all my friends races, and I love how we can be so different, yet see the inner commonalities which brought us together as friends.

    I’d prefer we celebrate one another’s backgrounds and see that our friendships are based on inner things of the heart than external things.

    1. Yes. I agree. I just wish that this were so. I grew up quite a few decades ago in the Deep South where people were very segregated. As long as we “see” skin color, I’m afraid many will use this as a way of perpetuating old ways of thinking. Why should we “see” color? I’m glad that your awareness is healthy. Not all “awareness” can be so innocuous though. Thanks for commenting.

    2. But our differences are only skin deep. Can we really say that a person with straight hair and one with curly hair are different? Well, yes, their hair type is different. But does that mean they are really different, in any deeper sense?

  3. I concur that people should know their heritage, to a point. One of the Southern and racist traditions was trying to fabricate lineage to English royals. I suspect in some circles, that’s still a thing. About skin color, there’s a caveat as well: humans come in a spectrum of shades and I won’t make assumptions about heritage based on appearance. In many cases, it’s simply not possible. Is that color-blindness or polite pragmatism? I have a friend who identifies as black. I knew him for more than a year before that came up in discussion, and never had a clue. Did it change my feelings toward him? Absolutely not. What do you call that?

    1. Hi, Vic. I do think this word “heritage” is used by some as a kind of coded word. I’ll admit that a lot of my thinking is shaped by growing up in the Deep South, in a small town, where certain types of people were supposed to know their place. I often ask myself why, in a town filled with POC, I never saw them in the stores where “white folks” shopped. In the church I attended as a boy, where there were possibility 250 in attendance, there was so much homogeneity. I started noticing this at a very early age and it mystified until I started realizing that some people weren’t welcome. Until we totally eradicate some of these old ways–and they are still alive and well, believe me–were going to continue to live in a country that can’t self-actualize.

      1. I grew up in Kentucky in an environment with racism and antisemitism. Now with changing demographics, cause in part by conservative opposition to child care, and whites becoming just another minority, I’m concerned about growth in violence.

      2. Like you, I’m concerned with violence is well, especially what seems to be inevitability of political violence. Polarization, anger, the increase in the number of politicians who seem to what to stoke all our most ugly proclivities, the explosion of the number of guns available to all citizens. These create conditions for the “perfect storm” in the coming months and years.

      3. One background factor to consider: When Covid affects the brain, as often does, it affects centers responsible for decision-making and emotional control. That may also be a factor in Violence that we’re saying.

  4. « In fact, there have been times in my life, mostly when I was younger and did manual labor jobs, when I was quite tanned, even “brownish.” Did that mean I became a different sort of person when I was in that state? Did I become a “person of color”? Should I have thought less of myself when I was darker? Should others have thought about me differently?

    We might as well start categorizing people by hair types. Let’s designate those with straight hair of higher rank than those with curly locks. In such a scheme, where do bald people fit in?…» I love your questions here. These are Great questions to Ask those who are still stuck in the colour-based boxing of people.

  5. Race should only be used to define someone as a human- period, not to define or label someone by their skin color. Cultural differences fall under ethnicity which is not the same as race. Modern social scientists have tried ad nauseum to point out that when the term race began to be used it was nothing more than a social construct, an invented term- a purposeful plan to define anyone with a skin color not on the light, pale, European ethnic spectrum. I understand that people in general will continue adamantly to argue this point. Like so many other terms that have made their way into our lexicon race is constantly misused- and in the simplest of terms it does not exist. Yet the word is still used today and still carries a marginalizing, demeaning, air of superiority and privileged moniker with it and always will until we simply stop using the word and understand we are all humans with widely varied physical characteristics, no better or worse than the next human. Being different in that respect occurs based on adaptive traits…changes in genes in groups of humans that inhabit different climates and ecosystems yet what we all share is being human. We are all simply humans. The word race should never enter the picture…ever.

    1. You make an extremely interesting and important point about the term “race.” My feeling is “race” will likely disappear from our lexicon. The term only has relevance where there is difference. My view is these differences of coloration will disappear over time. I have a lot of faith in the younger generations of Americans. They are growing up in such a diverse country that toleration of difference is bound to grow. Eventually, we may not focus on color so much. I suppose I’m about half pessimistic (above climate change and such) and half optimist (about our abilities to accept diversity. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Beautifully said. We’re all in the same oven roasting together, and when we come out in a century or so, we’ll be various shades of some very beautiful hues. Till then, we can work on getting our critical thinking in order and learn to appreciate all shades.

    1. “Roasting” is the right word. In Texas, we are literally roasting right now. Climate degradation is the biggest problem we face. Global climate change is here, right here and right now. Even the GOP is becoming more silent on this issue because they can no longer deny the reality they see around them. They are baking too. Thanks for commenting.

    1. There are some interesting internet sites where scientists show images of what they think people will look like in the near and distant future. Have a look at what they envision. You will see that we are all headed toward getting darker. This tendency will be increased as the climate warms. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. I wish race would not be an issue, but from watching hatred and violence on the news, I know that, unfortunately, it still is! Though this is something we might prefer not to discuss, Troy, it is something we still need to talk about!

    1. Yes, we do. Silence is complicity. When we see injustice, we must speak out. The old saying: The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to remain silent (or something to that effect) is absolutely true. Thanks, Cheryl.

  8. You’ve hit on a very simple but also very complex point with your writing here. It has reminded me to continue examining my own unconscious bias which definitely still exists, more so in some situations than others. When I stop to think it is very often I find myself having subconsciously grouped people into certain boxes – some people I have not even met!

    Every person is an individual with a plethora of stories to share, and more being experienced to share every minute.

    Thank you for the reminder and being very present in this discussion in the comments section. I hope there’s something of benefit in my words. Peace to you and your family.

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