When Color Blind Is Truth Blind

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Though often well-intended, a commitment to being “color blind” becomes harmful when it fails to recognize the good ways God has filled the world with color.

In other words, sometimes “color blindness” is a spiritually and psychologically unhealthy way to cope with the world as it is. “Color blind” ought not mean truth blind.

Of course, people cope in various ways. Some cope by running. That’s the flight response, and there are all kinds of ways to flee. Some cope by slugging. That’s the fight response. And like flight, there are many ways to fight in response to things.

But there exist coping strategies in between fight and flight, like peacemaking. Peacemaking involves two or more parties in conflict actually finding a way to resolve the conflict and return to peace. Peacemaking can include mediation, negotiation, arbitration, and restorative church discipline to name a few. Of course, the peacemakers are blessed people; they are genuine children of God (Matt. 5:9).

In the evangelical landscape, we find the entire range of coping strategies when it comes to matters of ethnic reconciliation. Some run away afraid of injury or just weary with experience. Some throw fists and elbows ready to fight for their view. A great many are in the middle trying to figure out a peacemaking approach.

What we cannot miss, however, is that there is something called peace-faking too. The good folks at Peacemaker Ministries first taught me this point. Peace-faking is an escape response. It’s running away while acting as if you’re not. It’s saying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. Peace-faking smears the situation with whitewash (Ezek. 13:10). Peace faking sounds a lot like peacemaking and even tries to walk and talk like peacemaking. But not everything that quacks like a duck is a duck; sometimes it’s a hunter sitting in a blind taking aim at any duck lured by the sound!

Which brings me back to well-intentioned but disastrously ill-conceived notions of “color blindness.” Sometimes people assert they are “color blind” or that the Bible is “color blind” as a way of peace-faking and fleeing conflict. Worse still, sometimes people assert “color blind” approaches as a way of peace-breaking. They attempt to weaponize their coping approach in a way that delegitimizes other approaches or effectively demonize people who “see color.”

The “color blind” approach proceeds on a misdiagnosis of the problem. Seeing color in the physical sense of seeing is not the problem. Unless one is actually blind, we all see color. Admitting that people have skin pigments of varying hues and that sometimes those hues cluster into what the Bible calls families, clans, kinsmen, and nations is not the problem. Again, that’s self-evident. Anyone denying these things (and I’m not aware of any who does) is simply being delusional or dishonest.

The problem occurs at two points. First, people sometimes use “color blindness” to deny any and all meaning associated with skin color (here used as an imperfect proxy for ethnicity). If by “color blind” we mean that a person’s ethnicity has no meaning or legitimacy inside the church, in redemptive history, or in the practice of the church’s ordinances, then we have effectively defined away that person. Rather than associate positive value with ethnicity or skin color, and rather than grant the dignity of allowing that person to tell us what it means to them to be Black or White or Brown or Yellow, the “color blind” erases all of that and insists the person become something other than what God made them to be. After all, it is God who designed a universe with color and painted every aspect of the universe in vibrant hue, including humanity. It was God who separated the human family into tribes and clans and nations (Gen. 10). And it’s God who reconstitutes for himself a new people made of every tribe, clan, and language (Acts 2; Rev. 7). It must also be God who rightly defines what color means and doesn’t mean if we want a healthy identity. That he intends it so cannot and should not be subverted or denied. At the very least it should be affirmed that color communicates beauty and creativity. God doesn’t make mistakes; he’s never painted with an errant stroke. “Color blindness” does not really acknowledge the human world and its beauty the way God has actually made it.

There’s a second problem with the peace-faking approach of “color blindness.” Sometimes “color blindness” gets used to deny any responsibility for addressing problems that occur along the lines of skin color. “Color blind” becomes pretext for an ideological worldview that excuses the holder from taking biblical action to redress wrong. If you don’t see it, you don’t have to acknowledge it or do anything about it. This is why a bad form of “color blind” coping becomes a real disaster. It leaves real problems unaddressed when the Lord calls his people to do justice and live righteously.

It’s ironic. “Color blindness” ends up at the same dead end as overt racism. Overt racism makes too much of and associates the wrong meanings with skin color. Where “color blindness” is a flight response, overt racism is a fight response. But they both end up saying to people of color, “I don’t see you and I don’t value you.” They both fail to accept the Christian responsibility to love neighbor. They both perpetuate injustice either by actively committing it in the case of overt racism or by actively denying it in the case of “color blindness.”

The only way to live responsibly in the world is to commit ourselves to the kind of peacemaking that begins with things as they really are. We must learn to cope with the tools of the gospel and the Scripture, and that’s going to require a bunch of humility and faith.

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