Colorblindness: 21st Century Racism
Photo by Jayeesh
As we begin to discuss race, ethnicity and diversity more as a society, a term that has drawn recent controversy, is the term “colorblindness”. Although usually referred to as a medical condition, “colorblindness” has now taken on a social adaptation referring to a thought process or ideology on how to view race. At its bare minimum “colorblindness” is an ideology that suggests discrimination can be ended if we treat each other equally without focusing on racial, ethnic and diverse backgrounds. Advocates of “colorblindness” claim race has no factor on their decisions, actions or lives, while those that oppose this ideology label this thought process racist or racially insensitive. So why is this new usage of “colorblindness” so incredibly controversial? How has colorblindness come to describe an ideology regarding race? These are all important and interesting questions that need to be asked in the 21stcentury, as race continues to be a hot button issue around the world and especially in the United States.
When I was younger I attended an inner city public school in Albany, New York called Montessori Magnet School. The issues that plagued my school, are generally the same issues found in other inner-city throughout America today. We had a major lack of funding leading to a whole host of negative problems, including a lack of programs, adequate equipment and even a lack of security. Another interesting feature at my school was its level of diversity. Many of the students came from different ethnic and racial backgrounds and as a result, I grew up exposed to a variety of people, places and languages from a very young age. Like many young kids, some of my best friends looked completely different than me, but we played together and interacted as all kids do, and that was all we knew at that age. I would say that at this age I was “colorblind”; My friends were just my friends and we never paid attention to our racial differences. We just played.
If we are all born colorblind, why is this topic so controversial?
As children, everything we learn is taught to us. For example, I did not know what a square was or what a tree was until I was told what they were and how we classified them as such. I had seen squares and I had seen trees, but had never assigned any value or meaning to their existence or understood what made them part of that category until I was taught how and why we categorized these objects. Similar, to how we learn to categorize objects and ideas, we also learn how to categorize race. As a child, I had extensive experiences with many people from different races and cultures, and even though I had these experiences, I was never fully aware of race and its importance until it was taught to me. I was “colorblind” in the sense that I didn’t see race as an issue or a deciding factor. I was unaware of the social and historical importance assigned to race and how it impacts people. I was physically aware about different races and skin colors, but had no awareness of the values or meaning it meant to be of a certain race until this time.
Even though this behavior is expected of young children, the metaphor it creates towards “colorblind” adults is incredibly important. In both circumstances, both a child and the “colorblind” adult are “unable” to see race beyond its physical attributes. A child sees the physical differences of race (skin color) but does not understand it, because he/she has not been taught the historical and social implications of race yet. The “colorblind” adult on the other hand sees the physical differences of race and has been made aware of its social and historical context, but chooses to ignore its societal implications, and effect on the world.
Photo by Fibonacci Blue
Although this idea appears to have some logical and idealistic merit in theory, its application would never work in the real world. By trying to ignore the existence of different races and the enormous social and historical implications that come along with it, “colorblind” adults are doing nothing more than fooling themselves. Like a child, once someone is educated on race, society and history, their eyes are permanently open. They connect race to meaning and value, in the same manner that I connected having four equal sides meant something was a square. Obviously, the topic race is much deeper and more impactful than a square, but both examples show the way in which we learn and understand things. The violation of human rights in the name of racism and segregation cannot be easily forgotten after being learned and has even less of a chance of being forgotten later on in life. This endless history of oppression and struggle becomes officially linked to race upon learning their relationship and highlights the strong ties that race currently has within our society. To claim that one does not “see race” is a blatant false statement and one that becomes false the moment you are taught the reality of what race really is and means in terms of our history and society. The practice of “colorblindness” is an extension of racist ideology that not only ignores race, but seeks to ignore all of the racial injustices done in the past. It is a form a censorship that looks to ignore the issue of race, in a society founded, involved and still heavily influenced by racist ideologies. The ideology of “colorblindness” treats race as if it were an unnoticeable quality that we can willingly disregard. It denies the existence of prior negative racial experience and the cultural uniqueness of different races, while mitigating the importance of racial diversity and identity. This is incredibly frustrating for individuals of oppressed and disadvantaged races, that see “colorblindness” as an attack on their race, their identities and historical past.
Cartoon by Brooke Dancy
Even if both the child and the adult cannot “see race” the reasoning behind it is completely different. the child has no understanding of race and what makes it special and is still being taught its new world, while the adult understands the context of race and what makes it special. The child is forced to live in ignorance while it accustoms itself to the world, while the adult makes a conscience choice to ignore race. This is the difference between the two and really serves as the basis of the controversy behind the ideology of “colorblindness”. Race is a concept that cannot be untaught or ignored. It exists in a physical, social and historical realm that makes it important to our everyday lives and interactions. To claim that you “cannot see race” and that it does not factor into your life is a false claim and will always be a false claim. Race touches practically every facet of our very lives and has played a major role in the foundation of countries like the United States. Race is also a physical attribute and probably the first thing we notice (subconsciously or consciously) in any given physical interaction with someone. To say that you are “colorblind” is inaccurate at best. In fact, it’s quite racist. People claiming to be “colorblind” see race whether they like it or not and make an active attempt at trying to alter their perceptions and reality so they cannot. So, the real question here becomes, who really “sees” color…people who address race in their daily lives or those who alter the landscape of their entire lives to ignore the reality of race? To me the answer is clear.
Williams, Monica “Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism.” Psychologytoday.com, 27 Dec. 2011,https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism. Accessed 26 Feb 2019.
“Color Blind Racism: Definition, Theory and Examples.” Study.com, 3 March 2018, https://study.com/academy/lesson/color-blind-racism-definition-theory-examples.html. Accessed 24 Feb 2019.