In 2014, Mellody Hobson, the president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, a firm that manages nearly $11 billion for its clients, was invited to give a TED talk- a talk that was titled “Color Blind or Color Brave”.
Hobson, who in addition to running Ariel Investments, sits on several boards like Estee Lauder and Starbucks and is the Board Chair for DreamWorks Animation, started the talk by recounting a story about being mistaken for the “help”.
She was helping to organize a lunch at a New York media company for Harold Ford Jr. who was running for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee in 2006 and had arrived at the company.
“We are in our best suits. We look like shiny new pennies. And we get to the receptionist, and we say, “We’re here for the lunch.” She motions for us to follow her. We walk through a series of corridors, and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a stark room, at which point she looks at us and she says, “Where are your uniforms?” Just as this happens, my friend rushes in. The blood drains from her face. There are literally no words, right? And I look at her, and I say, “Now, don’t you think we need more than one black person in the U.S. Senate?”
Hobson recalls that while the moment caught her off guard, deep down she wasn’t really surprised and acknowledged that conversations about race it like a touching third rail and makes people extremely uncomfortable.
The definition of blind is unable to see because of injury or disease or congenital disease and lacking perception, awareness, or discernment.
The definition of color-blind is the inability to distinguish certain colors, or (rarely in humans) any colors at all and not influenced by racial prejudice.
On the surface being color-blind seems like a good thing to some people but it’s actually counterintuitive, extremely harmful and contributes to racism. It is viewed through a white lens and assumes that everyone has the same experience, which they don’t and it suppresses the narrative and reality of people of color’s experience.
Hobson eloquently said “We cannot afford to be color blind. We have to be color brave.” I don’t want anyone to be color blind; I want them to see race. I want them to invite it into their life. I want it to be a purpose, a calling for them. And, ultimately, what I’m asking them to be is not color blind, but color brave — that you’re willing to have those uncomfortable conversations about race, that you’re willing to bring these differences into your inner circle. And I think that ultimately leads to more tolerance and a better world.”
The definition of blind is: unable to see because of injury or disease or congenital disease and lacking perception, awareness, or discernment. The definition of color-blind is: the inability to distinguish certain colors, or (rarely in humans) any colors at all and not influenced by racial prejudice.
On the surface being color-blind seems like a good idea to some people but it’s actually counterintuitive, extremely harmful and contributes to racism. It is viewed through a white lens and assumes that everyone has the same experience, which they don’t. In actuality, it’s a form of conscious and unconscious bias and those that use color blindness as way to avoid or prove that they are not racist are being disingenuous. A person of color doesn’t have the luxury or privilege of being colorblind because it’s intrinsically tied to their identity, culture, heritage, language, country and sometimes their faith. Saying that you are colorblind equates their race and color with something negative and unspeakable and invalidates and suppresses their narrative and the reality of their experience.
Viola Davis, Meryl Steep and Rita Moreno are amazing award winning actresses,. Meryl Streep is unapologetically her authentic self, Viola Davis is unapologetically a black woman and Rita Moreno is unapologetically Latina, all of them are proud of their heritage. Color blindness specifically dismisses and disrespects who Viola and Rita are at their core. Being color brave requires you to acknowledge, address and value their racial and cultural identities and every other person of color. The first step is to be brave and admit that being colorblind is a problem and show courage in the face of discomfort to engage in the conversation.
Over the years, Hobson has learned to stop apologizing for being herself and says she thinks we all sometimes apologize for our race without even being aware.
Hobson, who has a daughter with husband George Lucas and plans to talk to her about race the way her mom did with her:
“I will make sure she’s aware of what it means to be black in America, and that she is not immune from these issues because she grows up with more money than I had, I will make sure she understands the responsibility she has to the world. When you’ve been given a lot in terms of resources, two loving parents and being born in America, you have to pay that forward. I want her to be a person who’s inclusive, a person who’s curious about all cultures and all people.”