“I don’t notice skin color. People are just people to me. There are good and bad people of every color and I try to think about the hearts of people.” In my younger adult years, I used to feel great about sharing and thinking this. I even wrote an Op-ed column that was published in The Tennessean newspaper about this very thing.
I thought not noticing color is what good people who are trying to love others do. In the Bible, God says to Samuel when Samuel thought God should choose David’s brother over David for King, “Do not look at his appearance or his height for I have rejected him. God does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible but the Lord sees the heart.” This verse was one of those that always spoke to me. I thought I was doing what God would want when I bypassed skin color to see someone’s heart instead.
There was much I did not know then. To be honest, at that time I had few black friends only because those relationships did not organically happen in my circles of connection when I was the busy mom of two young boys.
I had not listened to black youth share about their homes, neighborhood, public schools, and hopes and dreams for the future. I did not know Carlesha, Nia, Kennedy, Jabez, JP, La’Dejah and many other youth that I have come to know through volunteering at PTM
I did not know about the obstacles faced by people of color who have spent generations in generational poverty. I did not realize that the lack of resources encompasses much more than just a lack of income.
I did not know about the injustices in our justice system if you are poor or a minority and you cannot hire someone to advocate and speak for you.
I did understand the challenges of first-generation college goers.
I did not know about Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and how it had failed and disproportionately affected the black
I did not know my friend, Dwight Johnson- a PTM Christian youth minister, the same age as my sons who shared with me one day how his mom taught him how to behave and what to do should he ever get pulled over by the police. I never gave a thought about my sons being pulled over and not being treated fairly. I had no idea anyone had to have such conversations.
I did not know my friend, Dr. Kimberly Jemmott who is currently serving alongside me on PTM Board of Directors, a beautiful young woman, who shared how she was stopped and questioned by the police when she was jogging through a nice white neighborhood and the humiliation she experienced.
I did not know my work friend , Pat, who had two sons the same age as mine who shared the fear she had experienced raising black sons making me aware that I had never had her same thoughts or fears for the reasons that she did.
Our friend, Jay, had not come to stay with us yet. He was a PTM youth leader and has deep feelings about race relations. He said to me during one of our conversations in my kitchen, “Donna, you have to think about skin color. Otherwise, you miss things. You don’t ask questions that need asking.”
And there it is in a nutshell.
These are but a few of the things I did not know when I thought I was doing the right thing by not seeing skin color. There are many more.
Today, I am glad that I now see skin color. I want to make sure I do. I no longer think of it as being a bad thing. I want to see skin color because to know a black or brown person and to see the color of their skin is to acknowledge that their experience in our country, even in our city, has not been the same as mine. It means I am not turning a blind eye to this truth. It means we can learn from each other and understand things we could not before. It is a step towards heartfelt and honest conversations about race issues in our country. It means we can acknowledge the lens through which we see things is likely going to be different. It means we can have a fuller understanding of the human experience through the eyes of those who are different than us while at the same time learning those differences are likely not as many as we might think.
It is a universal truth that we all want to be seen, to be known, to be loved, to be treated with dignity and fairness. Seeing skin color is one of the first steps for those of us who want to change the status quo. The sad truth is these things happen more organically and more easily for some of us than others and we must continue to ask why and fight the good fight to move humanity forward.