Beyond Colorblind: Seeing People Clearly

Being colorblind is a “virtue” that many people say they aspire toward today. They compare it to how America used to be “flat-out-racist.” Today we are colorblind and enlightened. Indeed it is a major improvement over slavery and Jim Crow. The problem with being colorblind is that while it is a good starting point, it is a poor destination. On the one hand, it is crucial as followers of Jesus that we examine the biases of our hearts, as we pointed out in our “Barnacles” post. But being colorblind will not get us to where God is trying to take us, to become God’s cross-cultural people, full of compassion, humility, courage, and actually seeing people for who they are.

When my wife, Sandy, was a freshman in college, it was a white friend who first asked her about her experience of being Korean-American. This white friend, Alison Siewert, was not trying to just accept Sandy and be colorblind. Instead she looked deeper into Sandy’s life, to see who she was under the surface, to discover more fully what God was doing in her. Who was Sandy going to become in Christ as a redeemed Korean-American woman?

It reminds me of a story in the Gospel of Mark of a man learning to see clearly. In Mark 8:23, Jesus heals a blind man, but only partly. After the first round of healing, the man says, “I see people, but they are like trees walking.” Jesus goes another round with him, and then the man “looks intently.” Jesus’ power, combined with the man “looking intently” does open his eyes. He sees the world clearly for the first time. In my opinion, aiming to be colorblind is like seeing people vaguely, like trees walking. Being colorblind means you see, but you see vaguely, not clearly. It is not really looking deeply who they are created to be. Alison did not just accept Sandy, but she looked intently into her life, asking great questions about who she is and how her family raised her. Sandy was not some diversity project…Alison was a good friend, practicing compassion, fascinated with Sandy and her story, which God used as a turning point in Sandy’s growth.

What is beneath the surface in this person’s life, their family, their culture. What is the beauty and the pain they carry within. How are they made in the image of God, and what is God doing in their life today?

I’m a better friend when I am asking these questions. This week I was talking with Megan Krischke,

Doug and Megan
Doug and Megan

a multiracial friend of mine, partly Native-American. She told me the story of when she took a tour of a Native-American college, Haskell Indian Nations University. At the end of the tour, she stopped to pray and ask God what he was doing on campus. She saw an image of a 6 year-old Native boy. That little boy stayed with her for weeks…every time she prayed, he was there at her side. Megan asked me if I thought he was a ghost. I do not have any personal experience with a vision like this. Do you? (Sometimes we white people can keep stories like this at arm’s distance because it is not part of our experience, but if we choose to engage with them, such stories can be used by God to change us.) Because I am friends with Megan, I am learning to share her heart for Haskell Indian Nations University. I am learning to look intently into Megan’s life, to care about her story and her people, and to wonder out loud with her about why God might have allowed her to see an enduring vision of a young Native boy. If I am not friends with Megan, and if I am not looking intently into her life (moving beyond colorblind), I just live in my little comfort bubble. I want to blink and see the world through her eyes. Jesus is teaching me learning to pay attention to my Native-American friends and their world. God is using these friends to make my life richer.

How about as a parent…how can I help my family move beyond being colorblind? Last week my daughter, Stephanie, brought over 4 friends who happened to all be Korean-American. Striking up a conversation, I said, “There are some differences between Korean culture and white culture. Do you notice any?” They shook their heads. Stephanie and four friends“When you want my attention, you say, ‘Hey Stephanie’s Dad.’ In my culture, you would say, ‘Hey Mr. Schaupp’ or ‘Mr. Doug’ or just ‘Doug.’ No one else around me says, ‘Hey Stephanie’s Dad’ except Stephanie’s Korean-American friends.” They all giggled. I continued, “When you want to talk about an event coming up in a few weeks, you say, ‘The party will be next-next Friday.’ We say, ‘The party will be two Friday’s from now.’ We white people don’t use the phrase, ‘next-next Friday.’” Again they giggled. One girl said, “We did not even know we say those things. But now we see it.” This is a simple example, but these girls are made in the image of God. They, like all of us, have distinct cultural values woven into the fabric of their lives. It is good for me to look deeper into their lives and how God has wired them.

How practically can we grow into people who look intently?
Be like Alison. Be a good friend. Make it a priority to have friends with different backgrounds from yourself. In some parts of the U.S., this requires a lot more effort and intentionality. Spend time with your friend in different contexts. Get into their world.
Ask good questions. Be curious. Be a learner. Not because they are your diversity project. Not because they will explain to you why so many Black people are angry today. Look beneath the surface.
Read. I love to read well-written books about Korean history. It is such a rich and fascinating journey through the centuries. That helps me understand who my kids are becoming.


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