Why color blindness is not a compliment
Monday, September 23, 2019
The most successful businesses are those that attract new customers keep old customers and stay relevant. What worked in the 1950s doesn’t work everywhere and in every situation today (although some practices are timeless).
In order to build new business, and attract and retain great employees, it’s essential to understand what’s important to people, what’s offensive, and what inspires them to take creative risks.
In the 1950s, it was common to hear the term “melting pot,” which meant all cultures and people melting together. That concept resulted in exclusion, inequality, undue pressure to give up identity, and hampered the expression of new ideas.
Today, instead of “melting pot,” we think “salad,” where different ingredients with their own flavors, colors and textures offer a new experience that’s even better. The salad would be boring if it was a head of lettuce and nothing else. It’s the different tastes in each bite that make us want more.
In our communities and in the organizations where we work, recognizing and leveraging those differences can result in breakthrough products and services that meet the diverse needs of a global population.
Most people from different cultures and backgrounds want to be acknowledged for who they are with their own unique thinking styles, experiences and perspectives.
It’s time to let go of thinking that everyone needs to be the same and that different is bad, or that only one race, ethnicity or skin color is “normal” and better.
In a recent workshop, a white male colleague, Eric, said to a black female colleague, Amanda, “I don’t see your color, I’m colorblind, I see you as just like me.” When Amanda said she was offended by his statement, Eric was shocked. In his mind, he thought he was paying her a compliment.
While it may not have been his intention, he was actually implying that he saw her as a white person like him, which meant “just as good.”
To Amanda and other black people or anyone else in the same situation, Eric was actually erasing her. She was invisible to him and he needed to see her as the same as him, which completely negates her.
It’s not a compliment to tell someone different than you that you don’t see who they are.
Take it further. If you’re colorblind and see everyone as the same, do you just see blood and bones? If you don’t see color, how would you know what color sweater to get someone as a birthday gift? How would you know what would look good with their skin tone?
To take it even further, what does that mean in practice? When asked, most people will say, “I treat everyone the same.”
If you’ve ever thought that, take a few minutes to reflect on what that means. Do you actually greet everyone the same way? Does everyone you work with get the same smile? Do you have the same expectations of all your employees?
It’s 2019 and time to “flip the script.” Instead of pretending that differences don’t exist (when it’s obvious they do), look at people, notice the ways in which people are different, and give yourself the message that differences in skin color, race and ethnicity are just different. They’re not bad, or good, worse or better.
It’s OK that not everyone has the same experiences or outlook as you. Allow yourself to be curious and want to learn about other people and their history.
It must be really uncomfortable to pretend not to notice differences. When you allow yourself to look at people, and see and experience their differences, not only will you be more comfortable interacting with other people, but you’ll also discover commonalities you never knew were possible.
In those commonalities and differences, together you’ll find new ways to be creative, share ideas, and build breakthrough products and services.
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