Is ‘Color Blindness’ a Worthy Goal?

It doesn’t take much awareness to notice that our Universe loves — really loves — diversity. Just imagine what our world would look like if it were all one color.

From the bright red of the male cardinal to the subtle colorings of his female companion, from the blues of the sky to the greens of our plants and trees, from the deep shiny ebonies of the raven to the glowing yellows of the goldfinch — nature revels in dazzling colors, shapes, and sounds.

There’s diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, the skin colorings and body types of humanity, the varieties of insects, the shapes of snowflakes or leaves, the colors and sizes of planets, and on and on. It’s clear that a dull sameness is not in the natural interest of the world around us.

Such diversity doesn’t have to be, it seems to me. We could have evolved efficiently without it. But Nature doesn’t want to have that — it’s into flamboyance.

Equality, affirmation and celebration, then, is not about ignoring differences but about rejoicing in them. The goal of our laws, then, must be to treat all equally not because everything and everyone can be reduced to a boring, unimaginative sameness, but because there is a basic humanity that is shared in the midst of nature’s ever-present exuberance and extravagance.

When people say they “don’t see color” in humanity, what is it they are left to see? It certainly isn’t the real universe about us.

The universe isn’t just 50 shades of gray, after all. It consists of so much variety that we can still be thrilled, even surprised, by the discovery of new birds, the pastels and deep colors of a glowing sunset, or the decorations and appearances of the other human beings we meet.

But that isn’t always the response, for though Nature loves such diversity, humans can easily fear those who are not like them. And that fear is easily and regularly exploited by economic systems that have come to thrive on such fears by turning Nature’s extravagance into the lucrative threat that those not like us are the dangerous “Other.”

The most common responses have been to act on those fears by huddling with those who in the midst of the diversity we define as like us, or by minimizing obvious differences in order to be able to accept others. Neither of these responses fully embraces the Universe about us, but puts us out of touch with it.

America as a “melting pot” stew where all diversity is reduced to sameness, for example, is a meme that has come to promote a definition of that sameness in terms of one set of cultural assumptions — everyone is to be as “White” as possible. So we were all supposed to learn how to be “White.”

We can read the histories of this, where different ethnic and religious identities learned to survive by melting into, conforming to Whiteness — the Irish, or Jews, for example — a process that meant separating from those who could not pass. How different it would be if, actually celebrating natural diversity, this image were replaced with newer ones: America as a “salad bowl” or “mosaic.”

Likewise, think of all the calls for LGBTQI people to be more straight-acting. They should fit in by melting into the stereotypes of a heterosexual lifestyle.

That might be natural for some, but what about those who don’t find it so, who express the diversity of possibilities that people in this exuberant world can live in terms of gender or sexual orientation, those who break the straight-acting lifestyle and might even, by living outside the strictures, provide us with some of the great cultural and artistic achievements of humanity?

Since one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is natural, inborn, fluid, God-given — however one identifies or thinks of it — the problem is that being straight-acting, straight-thinking, straight-feeling, is a culturally conditioned role that isn’t natural at all. That role is societally defined and installed, and not part of the Universe’s extravagance; it stifles the diverse possibilities of everyone living freely, including heterosexual people.

And, as I’ve argued in Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human, cultures, not Nature, have installed that role through the fear of what could happen to a human being who lives any alternative lifestyle. Yet living outside the limited role seems to be how Nature wants it.

Calling for people to ignore the diversity of Nature can also take the form of spending time emphasizing only our sameness while ignoring our differences. It’s easy after all, and hardly a virtue, to tolerate those who are like us, who agree, who look like us, who share our version of culture.

Tolerance and full acceptance is harder if it calls us to accept not only the similarities we share as human beings but also the differences among us that unfettered Nature has put before us on display. It’s those differences that provide challenges to our way of thinking of the world and ourselves.

They remind us that our culture, our sexual orientation, our gender identity, our skin color, our ethnicity, our body type, is only one of many. They challenge any attempts to value ours as superior or worthy of dominating others.

They call us to open up any limited views we have of humanity. They challenge us to redefine ourselves and to throw off what limits us from being fully free.

They push us to face all the possible ways of being human that a Universe that revels in diversity has set before us. And they question any attempts to pretend we are “color blind” to the vibrancy that surrounds us.

The Universe has set before us the challenge to be as we were born — seeing, not “blind” to, Nature’s variety and living our part in it.