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I Need You To See My Color

By Lex Gillette | July 03, 2020, 9 a.m. (ET)


If you don’t know my story, I’m originally from North Carolina. I started experiencing sight loss when I was eight years old, and that led to a string of 10 operations that I had in hopes of fixing the issue, but after the last one, doctors said there was nothing else they could do to help my sight and I would eventually become blind. I was transitioning from a world where I could see, to a world of blindness.

Fortunately, one thing led to another and I found Paralympic sport, and it has totally changed my life in ways I would’ve never imagined.

I want to circle back to the mention of North Carolina though, because with everything going on in the world right now with racial inequality, systematic oppression, police brutality, there was no way you could grow up in North Carolina and not have a conversation surrounding racism.

It was something my mom brought to my attention at an early age, but the frequency of the conversations were never to the point where racism was always front of mind.

My mom wanted me to go into the world and graduate from high school and college, get a job and contribute to society, be the best athlete I could be, be the best speaker I could be, be the absolute best I could be in everything I did.

But, she always let me know that no matter how many degrees that you have, no matter the jobs you may hold, the medals you might win, the stages you may grace and no matter the amount of good you may do on this earth, you still may be subject to some sort of mistreatment and discrimination just because you’re Black.

It’s so mind boggling to write that sentence because you would think in 2020 we’d be past all of this - but we’re not.

My experience is different because I stand at the intersection of being both Black and blind.

I can remember a few times where I can say, "Oh wow, I was treated differently because I’m Black." In all honesty, I can think of many more situations as a person with a disability when I was discriminated against, mistreated and not afforded the same rights as the next person.

Now that I think about it, who's to say that mistreatment wasn’t caused by me being Black also? Given the state of our country, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

If we venture into the world of imagination though, maybe there were more moments when I did experience racial inequality. I may have walked into a building or a neighborhood, and people’s actions and behaviors might’ve changed simply because I was Black. Maybe even a white person put a finger over their lips to signal to a friend, "shhhh." This could be done to eliminate my ability to detect if someone was there. People can see me coming way before I ever see them. Again, just imagining here. I can’t confirm if those things have ever happened.

The reality is that I’m blind, and blindness has provided a type of protection to me from these visual responses and reactions, but that protection is not there for other people of color.

Let me restate that. We don’t have the same protection that the next person may have, and specifically people who are white. We can go down an everlasting list of examples of how people of color are marginalized within our country. Life is different for us.

I had a friend say recently, “You know, I don’t see color.” I understood his sentiments, I really did, but the reality is you can see color my friend and if you didn’t, you’d be like me — blind.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing color. Seeing color and the varying shades of race in our world is beautiful, but the problems arise when you’re triggered to think, behave, and act inappropriately because of color.

I need you to see my color.

Things like systematic inequality, police killings in broad daylight, injustice, mistreatment, and other egregious acts are linked to my color specifically. So I need you to see my color so you can gain an understanding of what comes with it. This is not just a battle for people of color to fight alone. I have friends who just so happen to be white, and they don’t subscribe to racism, nor do I believe everyone who’s white in America does, but there are a lot out there who do stand firmly on racism.

For my brothers and sisters who have white skin, the ones who are on the front line with us and want to squash racism, just know that it’s okay to see color. I want you to see my color and understand the struggles that come with it so that you’ll be able to advocate for us, speak in support of us, and fight to break down the walls of oppression that have been built to keep us marginalized.

Lastly, I want to address this so called “all lives matter” mentality. I personally think we need to toss that in the trash right now. Toss it! If all lives mattered, then we wouldn’t be saying Black lives matter. Black lives make up a portion of all lives, and as it stands right now, we don’t matter. We don’t matter as much as a life that is white.

I certainly don’t want to bring up any dark memories for anyone with this next mention, but we’ve seen mistreatment and egregious acts against other groups in our country specifically women in the workplace. What about the egregious acts against women in the entertainment industry? Even our LGBTQ friends have experienced unnecessary obstacles and struggle. Correct me if I’m wrong though, when these things started coming to the surface, I don’t recall anyone saying, “all genders matter” or “all sexualities matter.” We acknowledged it was a problem that needed to be addressed, discussion was had, and swift action was taken to rectify the issue.

Now, I understand there’s still more work that needs to be done for both women and LGTBQ rights, but my point is, now that we say Black lives matter, there’s push back, there’s resistance from folks who want to say, “don’t all lives matter?”

Not to make this about myself, but when I began losing my sight, the doctors took me through an examination, and they said that we need to operate on your eyes because you’re suffering from retina detachments. They didn’t say they’d operate on my whole body, all of my body. The issue was with my eyes.

Let’s stop beating around the bush here and acknowledge the fact that we need to operate on the issue and problem at hand, which is the marginalization of people of color within the United States of America.

As it stands right now, conversation is being had, dialogue is open and that’s a good thing. We need to continue talking. Everyone needs to acknowledge that racism is real, police brutality is alive and systematic oppression breathes within our laws.

I understand that some of the discussion may be uncomfortable, but don’t run from it. Don’t steer clear of it. If you continue to ignore it and not address it, you will continue to directly, and indirectly, administer these cruel acts against people of color.

It’s great that we’re having open and transparent conversation, but talking only does so much. Let’s get up, get a plan, and get moving to a point in our country where people of color can occupy this space with equal rights and equal protection. Until there is equality, it would be more accurate to say “some lives matter” or maybe even “most lives matter” and that probably is stretching it. But if we don’t break down the biases and systems that currently exist against people of color, it’ll never be “all lives matter."

On Twitter recently, someone asked, “How would you explain 2020 to someone who's blind?” My response was “Well, I’d say it’s been the year where I’ve been able to sit back and say to everyone, all this time I wasn’t the only one who's blind. Our country lost sight of a lot of important issues many, many years ago, and now we’re witnessing it run into the consequences head on.”

Sight reveals our current reality and vision allows us to see past our reality. It…WILL…TAKE…TIME. But let’s make an honest effort to suffocate the systems created to marginalize people of color, and let’s eradicate the evil that is currently seen by eyes everywhere.

Things look blurry and bleak at the moment, but if we operate on the problem specifically that is ruining our mind’s eye, things will eventually change, and a new vision will emerge. A vision where our thoughts, actions and behaviors are guided by a genuine love that resides in the hearts and minds of us all.

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Lex Gillette

Track and Field