Guest Post: the myth of colorblindness

My friend, Alicia, has a blog over at Manifest Freedom. Because I thought it was so on point, I have copied the following from her blog (here), with her permission:

“I don’t see color, I don’t care if you are white, black, or purple with stripes.” oh, good ol’ post racial america. we have a black man in the white house, we are all MLK’s dream realized, right? um…i think you know the answer. there has never been a question more rhetorical. I’ve been having some very interesting conversations about race and color blindness lately. and quite frankly, much of it has me feeling spent and hopeless, wondering when racism will end, because at this rate, talking about it daily is getting exhausting. I mean, sure. I’d love to be in a world where race doesn’t matter, but we don’t live in that world. there have been a few troubling things about these “color-blind” conversations, but in the interest of not writing a dissertation, I will pick my favorite questions. and by favorites, I mean my least favorites.

while, it would be nice to live in a world that didn’t see race, or where race was not a barrier, when I open my eyes in the morning, I am acutely aware that I a person of color. media, and systems have made me the “other” or “exotic, ethnic, spicy and plain ol’ black” and I experience the world in that way– but what about people who genuinely don’t see race as a big deal? or the people who say: “I don’t see color, I don’t care if you are white, black, or purple with stripes”?

well, in addition to being an absurd statement (noting that as far as we know, there are no humans who are purple with stripes) it is dehumanizing. it also minimizes the fact that for some of us, race is an important part of our history, culture, and lived experience. if you don’t see my race, you don’t see me; my history, my culture, and something that has a huge impact on the way I view and experience the world. here’s the thing. you can’t help to end racism if you swear you don’t “see race” or say that “race is no big deal to me” or that “race doesn’t matter.” it’s a big deal to me. denial of racial difference does not make racism go away. just like in AA, in order to change something- you have to admit that there’s a problem.

ok then. what about those who say “well if you keep talking about race, it will keep being a big deal. it’s the people who always bring it up that are the real racists”?

two comments on this point. 1. often (but not always, as I have learned more than once this week) the people who propose colorblindness are white folks. why is that? in my opinion, colorblindness gives a perceived (but impossibly false) sense of a clean slate. however, what it does not give is accountability. if people of color are saying, “hey, this is a big deal to us” and white folks continue to deny that any socio-economic or educational differences exist based on race, people of color are continuing to be silenced. when women say to men “we want our rights, and sure, we can vote, but rape is still happening, so the work isn’t done yet” most would not accuse women of sexism. stating reality, and lived experiences should never be discredited. ignoring race is racist. 2. “real racists” is a misnomer, i believe. here’s the thing about racism (classism, sexism, and heterosexism). besides all being quite interconnected, one does not cancel out the others. if i am a white, gay man, i can still be incredibly sexist and racist. being gay doesn’t give me a “pass” on using my white, male privilege. similarly, if i am a black straight man, I could very well be homophobic and sexist, while still experiencing racism. i know this seems pretty confusing. we all have multiple identities. some of which give us social and institutional power and advantage, some that do not. we are complex people, living in a complex construct of oppression. the other thing about racism (classism, sexism, etc) is that there is no inverse or reverse. there is no “reverse oppression.” oppression, by it’s very nature, is created by one group, and experienced by another. therefore, men and women cannot both oppress based on gender. i have heard many different theories on racism (and oppression in general, but especially race), including the belief that “anyone could be racist” and “we are all a little racist.” i have a different perspective.

prejudice (unreasonable, or unfounded bias against a group)+ power (institutions, laws, socio-political status quo)= oppression.

therefore, even if i have a prejudice against a person, or group, based on a physical, or spiritual difference, without power, i am not oppressive. for example: i could hate every man in the world. (i don’t) and obviously prejudice is bad, damaging, unhelpful, and on a very interpersonal level, is very hurtful, that is not the same as systems of oppression. my general disdain for men will do nothing to keep them out of militaries, government services, keep them from being the ruling majority and decision makers for everything from reproductive justice issues to domestic violence laws. it will do nothing to curb incidents of rape, it will not undo laws that keep women making 80 cents to every male dollar and will not change society’s ideas about a woman’s place vis a vis men. similarly, as a woman of color, i simply do not have the laws, government control, the current or historical power to influence white folks lives, histories, educations or pockets. as a queer person, i could hate every straight person in the world. but am i oppressing them? my [inter-personal] hatred may make one straight person cry, which of course, would be very sad. but my hatred will not take away their ability to marry (over and over again) or be with their partners in the hospital, or get tax credits because of marriage status. oppression is not interpersonal.

there are those that will say, “well, i’m not racist, i’m a first generation polish immigrant, and i had nothing to do with anybody’s slave trade” or “hey, that was my great-great grandparents. they weren’t bad people, and they were just doing what was normal for the time. and besides, i wasn’t there.” no. no you weren’t there. neither was i. yet, what you receive now, based on that slavery my ancestors endured is great. white folks are still receiving benefits based on 400 years of slavery. and people of color, are still experiencing disproportionate amounts of unemployment, unequal housing, unequal education. indigenous people are still living on reservations- so, while neither of us were there, we cannot dismiss that things that happened a year ago, still affect our lives today. white folks get to write our history books. white folks are primarily the ones making major decisions about brown folks’ education. the fact is, you didn’t have to be a slave-owner to benefit from institutions of slavery and racism. you still get white privilege today. right now. it doesn’t matter if you a KKK member or a white liberal gay woman. you still get white privilege. you can’t give it back. but it’s not hopeless. what you can do is be actively anti-racist. by being a good ally.

ok. so what does this have to do with being colorblind? well, white folks have created whiteness as a standard. i am non-white. simple, right? white folks are never “non-people of color.” this is because whiteness is the standard by which all other races are judged and compared. therefore, in an ideal world, sure, it would be nice if whiteness was not the standard, but the fact is, i do have a visible difference based on race. so, to suggest that those differences do not exist is false. it minimizes and silences. color-blindness is in fact white-washing our diversity. because when white folks don’t see color, i think, what they are actually saying is “i want to see everyone exactly like me, because my way is right.” colorblindness wipes away any larger, governmental accountability about inequities in policies, and allows the government to place blame on individuals, to re-write our histories, and make the past seem irrelevant to the present. for example: “there is a black man in the white house now. the rest of these blacks are uneducated because they are just good for nothing” vs. “ok. there is ONE black man out of many presidents who is the exception, not the rule. and black folks were not allowed to read in the usa for 400 years in an effort to keep them uneducated, and then when the government finally gave them the “right” to read, black children had inaccurate text books, and sometimes none at all. black and brown children are disproportionately not provided with the same educational tools as their white counterparts.” see the difference?

and besides. what’s wrong with being “different?” what would happen if we could acknowledge our differences, and notice it, and talk it about it, and still be loving, and treat people with respect, taking into account our various needs and experiences? my hope is that world. that world where we are finally equalized- not through dismissing, white-washing or downplaying our differences, not through erasing painful histories, and not through guilt. but through accountability, owning up, speaking our truths and being heard. and then real healing and reconciliation can occur.

have you had conversations about colorblindness? what were they like?

One Response to “Guest Post: the myth of colorblindness”

  1. Rochelle Spencer Says:

    I LOVE this post! Love it. Especially this sentence, ““I don’t see color, I don’t care if you are white, black, or purple with stripes.” It’s so not true. I once had a woman (who had met me in person) say that she wasn’t sure if I was white or black because she “didn’t notice race.” I’m 5’10, with a big fluffy Afro, and to paraphrase Jay-Z, I don’t believe her/she needs more people…It all starts with what you said about “speaking our truths,” but what’s scary is that how many people are so afraid to do that.

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