Photo of Lincoln Memorial Martin Luther King I have a Dream quote, photo taken by Ryan Stone available on Unsplash

Recognizing Color: Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

By Bryan P. Parker

During his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his children would “…one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The United States of America has made progress toward that dream since the era in which Dr. King spoke these words, but there are constant reminders that the nation still has a ways to go. Whether it’s racial profiling, negative stereotypes, housing discrimination, healthcare disparities, or hiring bias — race and color still impact the way BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are treated and perceived in this country. Conversations about color and race often become uncomfortable. In the midst of that discomfort, I often hear people make the misguided attempt to elicit the impression of Dr. King’s words by saying, “I don’t see color.” That attempt, genuine or not, fails. 

“I don’t see color,” is a microaggression* that is condescending and dismissive to the experiences of BIPOC. People who use this microaggression often choose to be willfully ignorant of the problems that BIPOC face. It then practically becomes second nature for them to ignore the way BIPOC are treated. This is especially so for white (and white presenting) people who have the privilege of going about life not having to face or think about being mistreated because of the color of their skin. Being unaware in light of that privilege is problem enough, but going further as to “not see color” is even more problematic. It insinuates that mere recognition of color is a problem in of itself that further promotes the very racism and prejudice BIPOC endure. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as ignoring such is counterproductive to becoming the nation that Dr. King dreamed about. 

As a child, I was taught that America is a melting pot. A country in which people of all colors, races, cultures, and ethnicities come to together to form one great nation, and that each was to be recognized, celebrated, and treated equally. In order for that to be true we have to recognize and embrace our differences, not act as if they do not exist. You cannot advocate for or even be an ally to BIPOC without validating our experiences. We are better served when we can accept each other for who we are, and still acknowledge that we all deserve empathy and equality. That is how we move closer to Dr. King’s dream. 

*Dr. Chester M. Pierce is credited for coining the term “microaggression” in the 1970s to describe the subtle insults and dismissals that white people propelled toward Black people on a daily basis.  The term has since been expanded upon by Dr. Derald Wing Sue and other psychologists to encompass the “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

**Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash