Americans are today encouraged to be color-blind. The gist is that all, regardless of race, should enjoy the same opportunities and privileges. I completely understand and agree with that premise. However, I prefer and choose not to be completely color-blind. Here is why.

In college, I roomed with a Chinese student from Hong Kong. She appeared foreign and very different to me at first. But over the course of our sharing a room for a year, I saw her more as a norm and recognized beauty that was a result of her racial identity.

When I first lived in France years ago, I considered French men to be effeminate compared to American men. Most were slight in build, shorter in stature, lacking muscle, and some even carried what appeared to be purses (that’s because their trousers lacked pockets). After living a year or two in the south of France, I began to see French men as the male norm. Upon my return to the States, I was surprised to find myself seeing American men as overweight and way too muscular. They no longer appeared attractive or handsome to me while in comparison, French men seemed more attractive.

Then I lived in Tunisia situated between Algeria and Libya in North Africa. Many of the Tunisian men, due to Arab, Turkish, or Berber influences, wore long, white flowing shirts over their white, loose pants. Some wore a Jasmine flower over their ear. Once again, I balked at appearances that were foreign and strange to me. Hardly a year passed when I began to see Tunisian men as dressing elegantly.

During this period of time, American men were wearing bright colors—red slacks, for instance—and stood out in an otherwise conservatively-dressed world.

My experiences in two different countries and on two different continents affected my perceptions. Why were my perceptions affected and changed from first impressions? They were changed due to familiarity. With the passage of time, I had grown more familiar to the build and dress of men in these two countries than those of my own country of origin.

I believe it is the same explanation for why I prefer and choose not to be color-blind. I am White, and my best friend is African American. As I have grown to know her more personally, I have been privileged to see a beauty I would have missed had I not become more familiar with her, with other African Americans, and her race. Her and their beauty is based on their skin color or tone, on their physical features, on their mannerisms. Had I chosen to be color-blind, I would have also been blind to the beauty that is a result of racial characteristics. I have been bold enough to even express this phenomenon to my friend.

I do believe we should be color-blind when it comes to rights, to opportunities, and to privileges. I choose to be color-blind in these areas. But I refuse to be color-blind when it comes to relationships. What would I miss if I were color-blind to diverse flowers, diverse autumn leaves or diverse colors and patterns of material? I would miss so much that would bring me joy. T hanks to my dear friend and others along with my “foreign” experiences, I am experiencing the beauty, joy, and wonder that comes from healthy, positive relationships with those who are different from me. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but it helps if we are willing to get to know each other better. Choosing not to be color-blind brings benefits that our society desperately needs. That’s what it’s done for me.

Helen Louise Herndon is a freelance writer who has been previously published in op-ed pieces in several recognized national newspapers, and in several Christian journals and magazines.