Do you truly "see" others? Read on as Sarah Shin challenges our vision, as we view others around us.
By Sarah Shin
"I've raised my children to be colorblind," said my friend's mother with pride as she looked at her son John across the dinner table.
I had just met her that night, and at this moment I was in a bit of a conundrum.
From my experience, John wasn't colorblind. He was one of the most intentionally welcoming white men I knew. He had purposefully built friendships with people of different ethnicities in the U.S. as well as abroad. He and his wife were aware of racial dynamics of injustices affecting this country and others; he knew our experiences differ based on our racial and ethnic make-up.
"I'd like to respectfully disagree, Mrs. Jones," I responded. "I don't think you raised John to be colorblind. Yes, he treats everyone with dignity and respect. But he's very aware of cultural differences and it shows it his community of friends. He's compassionate and intentional in engaging ethnic and racial injustice. From the stories you just told me, I can see that he learned such beautiful awareness of ethnicity from you."
I knew what Mrs. Jones meant by colorblind: treating everyone the same. But this is different from treating everyone as equals. When we say, all people are created equal, we are rejecting color-based overt racism and mis-use of power. However, people are not the same: their cultures, ethnicities, racial experiences, and family of origin stories differentiate them from each other.
I wanted to honor Mrs. Jones in what I said. After all, John was very much a product of the amazing woman's leadership and spiritual vitality.
As relational beings, vulnerability and empathy are qualities that are essential in engaging in ethnic reconciliation. We have to be willing to hear the other, to be vulnerable, to practice empathy and persevere through the pain of suffering. We have to be willing to see each other, in both the beauty and brokenness of who we are.
This is not colorblindness. We cannot reconcile with that which we claim to be unable to see. Seeing each other as ethnic beings, with beauty and pain particular to our stories, moves us toward being ethnicity-aware - of both others and ourselves. Everyone, white people, as well as people of color, has an ethnic heritage and history, though they may not always know the details of such. We can to see our common humanity and the imago Dei in each other while also learning about the distinct ways God is at work in our ethnic stories.
Whatever our realm of influence, we can be continuous learners, eager to pass on the desire and gift of seeing ethnicity, of valuing our ethnic stories - to our children, friends, co-workers and neighbors. We can learn and grow alongside others in how to welcome an ethnic stranger; how to speak up for someone who is being bullied on a playground or harassed at work because they are different. How to love, cry with, and live life with someone different than ourselves.
Mrs. Jones welcomed me even more after this conversation, and she asks to see me every time she visits. Instead of claiming colorblindness, her ethnicity has become a vehicle for sharing the gospel even more powerfully and relevantly with those around her. This has been true of many women and men I have trained in ethnicity-aware witness. This is the leadership that embodies God's reconciling kingdom in every corner and every community of our divided world.
Sarah Shin is the author of Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey. She is associate national director of evangelism for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) and is a speaker and trainer in ethnicity, evangelism, and the arts. She previously served IVCF as an area director in Boston and as a regional coordinator of multiethnicity. A fine artist and painter, Sarah has a master's degree in theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a master's in city planning and development from MIT. She and her husband live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.