Why does society use race to negatively identify individuals? In reality, the color of one’s skin is only one way to identify that person… so why do we automatically make the decision to use race as the dominant identifier for people? Race is not everything, or at least it should not be.
I work for a retailer and am required to ask every customer the question, “Did anyone help you out today?” I have noticed that in most cases, the typical answer begins with an identification of the sales associate’s race. Rarely, customers will mention what that individual is wearing, his or her hairstyle, body type or height. There are various ways to identify people, but negative racial slurs are attributed to my co-workers. Some customers, however, simply catch themselves before the words slip out of their lips, and instead work painfully hard to use every possible alternative to identify the person besides his or her race.
Race can be used to identify others; my issue arises as I see race used as a way to identify others negatively. As individuals, we have so much to offer. We are much more than the color of our skin; race should never take up anybody’s entire identity.
Raven Symoné is a great example of this idea of identifying as something other than a color. In 2014, Oprah Winfrey’s television show “Where are They Now?” featured the former child star. During her interview, Symoné proudly states, “I am an American. I am not an African American.” Of course, this is an extreme example which did cause a lot of backlash, because some thought Symoné completely disowned her ethnic group. However, my interpretation of Symoné’s response was different.
I do not believe she intended to disaffiliate from a racial or ethic group. She mentioned, “I am an American, and that’s a colorless thing,” which is completely true in my opinion. Symoné wants to fully disconnect from the “African American” identifier because she wants to be regarded in a positive light. In light of the many physical characteristics and personality traits we each have, we deserve to be regarded for reasons other than the color of our skin. We are all human.
People should be able to identify however they want. It is now up to society to respect what people choose to identify as and to remember that people are more than the color of their skin. We have to rewire our brains to remove that default tendency to identify people by their color before anything else. After all, like Symoné said, being an American is a colorless thing.