From the time I was a kid growing up on a farm in Nebraska, I was taught not to notice or comment on racial difference – to be “color-blind.” Not calling attention to differences was the way white people like me showed that we believed in equality – you are just like me. I carried this with me into college at Stanford. I already felt out of place among the students there. There weren’t many farm kids like me on campus. But then I met my roommate, Kenneth, who is black. It was there that I first realized that color-blind wasn’t the reality for Kenneth, and it shouldn’t be for me, either.
Over time, I began to see just how deeply rooted the idea of “color-blindness as goodness” is in our society. As I dug deeper into my work as a philanthropist, I met and worked with colleagues and partners who pushed my thinking, and had many conversations around the dinner table with my family that further pushed my perspective.
One of the people I have learned from is Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and the person I will share the stage with at the Aspen Ideas Festival. We started life in dramatically different places. He, a poor, black, gay man in the south. Me, a white, straight, middle class man in Nebraska. But we’ve ended up in similar places – leading foundations trying to reverse inequities. It’s hard to do. But I think one of the reasons it is so hard is that our society still aspires to color-blindness. As Darren said to me recently, “color-blind is a cop out.”
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