You See Color

You said to the group that you didn’t think we should consider background at all. Of course, you were using background as a euphemism for race. Race should not be considered, you argued, because we should be looking at merit only. You did not consider that an important defining factor between two equally qualified candidates could be that one brings an underrepresented perspective. It also did not cross your mind, as you addressed the group but were looking directly at me, that I was the only black person. That didn’t matter to you.

When it came down to choosing between these two candidates, why was the white student the default? It was such a huge leap to suggest that maybe, this one time, we could consider accepting a student who didn’t have the same skin color as 70% of our group.

You finally accepted that “people of different backgrounds” –you were noticeably uncomfortable with saying “black people”—may have different experiences. Still, if they were not able to communicate that, then they were not employing these experiences in a useful manner. If the candidate explicitly said that her background led her to think in a certain way, then this could be important. However, if she didn’t, then it could be assumed that her identity didn’t meaningfully shape her way of thinking.

You must be very fortunate to believe that one’s race does not inherently shape all parts of who she is, how she acts, and how she views the world. The ultimate example of privilege is requiring someone to identify her race—to say, “As a black woman, my background has shaped my experiences in X ways”— in order to believe that her race has any bearing on how she walks through the world.

So, you do see color.

Is that why you suddenly blurted out that you were against Affirmative Action? In your uninformed understanding of Affirmative Action, you see minorities receiving handouts for which they are unqualified and undeserving. There was a reason you employed your incorrect definition of this policy in our discussion. Why did you see the black candidate as unqualified?

You see color.

I see it too. I see my color when I look in the mirror every morning.

I see it as a positive addition to my already qualified self. I see it as giving me a rich culture in spite of my stolen history. It has made me work hard and be conscious of the struggles other people may be going through. It has made me a compassionate person. It has made me, and the overly qualified candidate over whom we were debating, the person I am today.

We are different though, because I feel my color and you do not feel yours. I feel my color when I feel people see my color. In every interaction I have, I am conscious of it. When I can walk across campus without seeing anyone who looks likes me. When I can visit a friend on Central Campus and go a whole day without seeing anyone who looks like me. When I looked around in the meeting, the one where you said you hated Affirmative Action, and realize for the hundredth time that I am the only brown face. When I suddenly put it together that you, my friend and fellow club-member, believe that I am at Duke only because I am black.

I am not ashamed of my color. There are people like you that I will encounter who will believe that I am only my color. Without seeing the irony, these people will claim to be colorblind while believing that black people are meritless. These people have made me stronger.

You see color, but you do not see me. What’s more important, I assure you, is that I see right through you.

Camille Ampey