Why ‘Colorblindness’ Contributes to Racism Instead of Solves It

These 7 examples are from a post by Jon Greenberg on Every Day Feminism in February 2015. Other information quoted here came from a 2011 article in Psychology Today by Monnica T Williams.

What is “Colorblindness”?

On the surface, many statements of colorblindness look like they come from a good place, as if the person is trying to take MLK’s words to heart. “People are just people.” “I don’t see color.” “We’re all just human.” “Character, not color, is what counts with me.” Colorblindness is the “racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity.” (Monnica T Williams)

But, colorblindness is an example of being non-racist versus anti-racist. It is a way to avoid the difficult conversation of race. It comes from a place of privilege. Colorblindness has “helped make race into a taboo topic.” (Monnica T Williams)

1. Colorblindness Invalidates People’s Identities

“Race is…intimately tied to people’s identities and signifies culture, tradition, language, and heritage – genuine sources of pride.” (Jon Greenberg) So, statements of colorblindness ignore the whole person and their experiences.

Denying people their identities is not racial progress, but rather harkens back to this country’s sordid racist history. Slavery depended on severing the cultural ties of stolen people. The Indian Boarding School movement had similarly devastating effects on Indigenous groups.

“True progress will come when White Americans no longer feel threatened by the racial identities of groups of color.” (Jon Greenberg)

2. Colorblindness Invalidates Racist Experiences

Because colorblindness dismisses race, it also dismisses experiences people of color have on a daily basis. When a person’s experience of oppression and bigotry are pushed aside, they can experience shame, self doubt, and “internalized oppression.”

It is not people of color who benefit from the dismissal of their experiences. It merely makes the speaker feel more secure. We must embrace others’ experiences. 

3. Colorblindness Narrows White Americans’ Understanding of the World and Leads to Disconnection

“White Americans are not the only ones who adopt a colorblind approach to race but, in my experience, they are far more likely to than any other racial group. Ultimately, however, colorblindness hurts them as well.” (Jon Greenberg)

If we do not learn to listen to the experiences of others, we are creating a narrow view of the world for ourselves. It creates a divide. It keeps us disconnected. When we listen openly, we learn and grow.  Being open in this way is how we will begin to truly heal.

“Colorblindness cuts you off from so much beauty in this world.” (Jon Greenberg)

4. Colorblindness Equates Color with Something Negative

Another implication made with colorblind statements is that being a person of color is a problem that should be overlooked. The speaker can see the good in a person of color, despite the color of their skin. 

We know this is a problem because the phrase “I don’t see color; I just see people” is nearly always said by white people about people of color. You then see that being white is the “norm.”

5. Colorblindness Hinders Tracking Racial Disparities

I’ve seen time and again people quote Morgan Freeman – that the way to solve racism is to stop talking about it. But, that seems to ignore the far-reaching effects of racism and how deeply it is rooted in our culture.

Colorblindess would never allow for us (as individuals or a society) to acknowledge the reality of race. When we see the high number of incarcerated black men or the higher mortgage rates given to people of color or the high rates of school drop outs, we cannot ignore that racism is at play. 

Now might be a good time to point out why the phrase “All Lives Matter” does damage. Yes, every life has meaning. But, the lives of people of color are not actually treated that way. If, in fact, all lives mattered, we would not see racial disparities like we do. 

6. Colorblindness Is Disingenuous

If you have the ability to see, how is it even possible to not see skin color? There’s nothing more to say about this beyond that it is insincere or out-right false.

7. Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism

Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun famously wrote: “To overcome racism, one must first take race into account.”

Colorblindness is an example of white privilege. People who say colorblind statements are effectively ignoring racism because they do not experience it first hand. “This approach ignores the incredibly salient experience of being stigmatized by society and represents an empathetic failure.” (Monnica T Williams) Saying that “race does not matter” is saying that the real life oppression of people of color isn’t real. Colorblind statements are saying “I’m not interested in seeing the truth of the matter. I wish to remain blind to injustice.”

What’s the alternative?

Williams says that multiculturalism is better than blindness. 

“Given how much is at stake, we can no longer afford to be blind. It’s time for change and growth. It’s time to see.

The alternative to colorblindness is multiculturalism, an ideology that acknowledges, highlights, and celebrates ethnoracial differences. It recognizes that each tradition has something valuable to offer. It is not afraid to see how others have suffered as a result of racial conflict or differences.

So, how do we become multicultural? The following suggestions would make a good start 

  • Recognizing and valuing differences,
  • Teaching and learning about differences, and
  • Fostering personal friendships and organizational alliances

Moving from colorblindness to multiculturalism is a process of change, and change is never easy, but we can’t afford to stay the same.”

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