Do the following statements about race sound familiar to you?
On neighborhood crime: I don’t think it’s a problem with racial profiling or economic disadvantage or whatever other PC nicety we wish to throw around. Someone assaults you, it’s wrong. Cops gotta step up and do their jobs. Communities — black, white, brown, yellow, green, purple, I don’t care… let’s quit making it someone else’s responsibility — gotta come together and step out against these crimes.
On Mozilla's Blackbird browser: I think the last thing the world needs is a browser that supports segregation .. I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, purple or green .. anything that promotes the concept that “I’m special simply because I’m (insert color here)” is just stupid.
On the election of Barack Obama: We're going to have a smart president!!! After eight years of Bush, we're going to actually have a smart president! I don't care if he's black, white, yellow, red, brown, or purple with green spots. Competence has returned to the White House. Everyone just be grateful and stop worrying about what color he is.
On "the race problem" in general: If parents now would raise their children with open minds and to accept everyone, no matter their color, religion etc, we could get past these problems. . . . All I’m saying is get over it everyone, black, white, purple, green, gold, brown, yellow, whoever. Martin Luther King is probably turning over in his grave at the way things are handled now, he didnt go about things like they are done today. He didnt show up everywhere someone said something racial and try to draw everyone in the country into it and make it more than what it was.
Who do you suppose is more likely to list groups of people like this--people of color, or white people?
Such multicolored people-listings are scattered all over the Internet, and it only took me a few minutes to Google the above examples. I've also heard this kind of "I don't care if a person is x, y, z or whatever!" statement in conversation many times, and in my experience, it's always white people who do that.
If this form of "colored-people" listing really is a white habit--a common white tendency--then why do a lot of white people do that?
I think the reasons vary, but that it's mostly an effort to avoid discussions of race, and sometimes to shut them down completely.
At her blog The Neon Season, Rachel M. Brown calls this list-making habit "the invocation of strangely colored people." She offers some speculation about why white people make these lists, describing it as an effort "to emphasize just how much they don't care about race."
Yes, these lists are a form of emphasis, aren't they? And again, what's being emphasized is the white person's dismissal of the topic of race.
This rhetorical tactic often functions like another common white expression: "Whatever!" I didn't care for the movie Lakeview Terrace, but there's a great moment where Samuel L. Jackson's character says to the young white neighbor that he's been harassing (and I'll have to paraphrase here), "Yeah, 'whatever, whatever.' You white guys are always saying that, 'whatever!'"
The utterance of "whatever" often accompanies a hand-waving gesture of dismissal, which can be insulting when a white person does it in response to something involving race. And that's one problem with these "x, y, z or whatever" lists of people of color. Not only do they usually include non-existent skin colors that compare identifiable human skin colors to those of space aliens (thereby basically relegating the people themselves to the non-human status of space aliens). They also dismiss both matters of race and the people to whom race actually matters, in part because it often causes them problems.
As Rachel Brown writes, "The invocation of purple, blue, green, or other alien people is offensive for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that it's completely trivializing, turns a serious and painful topic into a joke, and compares people of color to fictional aliens."
When white people align actual non-white groups with purple and green aliens, they're often also making a claim about themselves, a claim that simply isn't true--that they're "colorblind." As the Internet commenter above wrote in the example about Barack Obama, "I don't care if he's black, white, yellow, red, brown, or purple with green spots. Everyone just be grateful and stop worrying about what color he is." That's pretty close to saying everyone should just ignore what color he is, but almost no one is going to do that.
And why should they? Is it so terrible for Obama to be the color he is, or for other people of color to be the colors they are?
Putting the issue this way brings up one more problem with these dismissive lists that usually include strangely colored people. They imply, paradoxically, that on the one hand there's no reason to even notice racial difference anymore, but then on the other, that there's also something bad about racial difference, which is also why the speaker wishes the whole topic would just disappear. It's often as if the white list-maker is trying to wave away a bad smell in the room, one that he or she thinks no one should be mentioning.
But again, what does that really imply about the racial status of the non-white people who almost always prompt such lists? The problem here is like the problem with telling a black person that you don't even notice that he or she is black. (Oh really? Then why did you mention it? And what's so bad about it, that makes you think it shouldn't even be noticed?)
These white list-makers should realize that, as the Angry Black Woman says more generally about people who claim they're colorblind, their words and actions basically translate to something like this:
I refuse to deal with how our culture and society treats people of color because it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to understand how having a different skin color or ethnicity affects other people because that means I would have to think and consider other points of view. What I want is to not have to think. I prefer to believe I live in a fantasy land where no one ever pays attention to skin color, ethnicity, culture, or religion.
In many cases, what white makers of "colored-people" lists are also saying is that the topic of race is getting under their skin, and that's just not necessary. "Since race doesn't matter at all to me," the thinking seems to go, "why are those annoying people making such a big deal about it?" Since most adults who encounter such thinking in children encourage them to learn how to take other people's thoughts and feelings into consideration, it's surprising how many white adults fail to do so when confronted with perspectives on race that differ from their own.
I'll leave the final word on this common white tendency to Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, who addressed such list-making in the context of the presidential election in her poem "Black, White, Whatever."