With the resurgence of White Supremacy in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and electoral college victory, I am once again seeing many people return to attempting to exempt themselves from any guilt in the resulting racial discord by declaring themselves “colorblind.”
They uses phrases like “I don’t see color, I see people.”
This has been an approach used by White people since the civil rights era of the 1960s, to deflect accusations of racism from being made against them.
As Dr. Williams pointed out in a 2011 article for Psychology Today:
At its face value, colorblindness seems like a good thing — really taking MLK seriously on his call to judge people on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. It focuses on commonalities between people, such as their shared humanity.
However, colorblindness alone is not sufficient to heal racial wounds on a national or personal level. It is only a half-measure that in the end operates as a form of racism.
Ideally, the only reason skin color would need to be mentioned would be as a descriptive device, much like shirt color or hair color.
But that isn’t the case.
People are judged by their skin all the time. And we know all know it, regardless of our own skin color.
Those of us without dark skin haven’t had to cope with that knowledge as it led to our own disadvantage and mistreatment by society, economy, and law enforcement encounters though.
Many years ago renowned sociologist Jane Elliot went around the country asking a single question of White people who had trouble understanding what it meant to be victimized by discrimination.
She would ask full auditoriums of people “If you as a White person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our Black citizens do in this society, please stand.”
You can view the video of one such instance here.
Invariably, no one would stand.
Ms. Elliot has been a civil rights advocate and educator on the issues of discrimination for decades now and her body of work is quite impressive. I encourage you to research her further.
Just a few weeks ago. this large White man was resisting arrest to the point that three officers have to wrestle him to the ground to subdue and cuff him.
Even as this was happening, he knew deep in his core that being roughed up by the police is something that’s only supposed to happen to Black people.
You can hear him in the video complaining that “You’re treating me like a fucking Black person.”
He’s basically saying, in the middle of being arrested, “No matter what I did wrong, I don’t deserve to be treated as badly as a Black person.”
But despite this open display of cognitive awareness of racial injustice along with awareness of and demands for racial privilege, he’s still wrong.
Even as he is tackled by all three of them, he is afforded the privilege of being White.
A Black man of this size requiring three officers to subdue him in this same space would have been lucky to be tasered, likely to be beaten either during or after being subdued, and been at significant risk of being shot.
Clearly nobody deserves to be treated as poorly as our society treats people of color, especially not the people of color that are actually treated that way.
By claiming to be color blind, we aren’t claiming that we will treat them as well as everyone else. We’re claiming that we refuse to see or acknowledge the hardships, discrimination, overt and systemic racism that they face on a daily basis.
We are telling them that their struggle isn’t worth our attention.
We are telling them that they have to stop seeing their own color as well, so they’ll stop feeling like they receive this treatment because of their color.
People shouldn’t have to deny their cultural and ethnic heritage to “fit in.”
We shouldn’t have to deny their cultural and ethnic heritage or their experiences because of it to accept them.
We should not be color blind.
We should revel in our multiculturalism.
We should celebrate the things that make each ethnicity and culture unique and special while also celebrating and embracing the things that expose our similarities.
We are after all, all one race of humans, separated and shaped by our culture, family histories and personal experiences.
Far too many people love “ethnic” foods while despising the people and cultures that created them.
This is what creates cultural appropriation.
We need to allow our nation to be the multicultural melting pot that our history of immigration was meant to become.
Understand that an educated person of color isn’t surprisingly articulate, they just have an educated vocabulary.
Don’t use natural ethnic and cultural hair styles and dress to be an excuse to suspend children or to bar them from an education, as long as the clothing doesn’t leave them improperly covered for society’s legal standards, the clothing shouldn’t matter.
Don’t ignore the fact that a black person has to teach their kids how not to even appear threatening or intimidating just by having good posture and making eye contact.
Don’t ignore the fact that every time you feel like standing up to a perceived injustice, a black person has had to make that decision 100 times over knowing that their career, future, freedom, and life is on the line for daring to speak out.
Whether we’re talking about White kids that adopt the dress and hair styles of Black, Asian, and South American cultures, or people talking about “Down Home Southern Cooking” without acknowledging the fact that those traditional dishes were the result of the work by the slaves in plantation kitchens, and spread by poor southern Whites aspiring to eat like their wealthy White counterparts.
“We need to forget about this so we can heal,” said an elderly white woman, as she left my lecture on the history of enslaved cooks and their influence on American cuisine. Something I said, or perhaps everything I said, upset her.
My presentation covered 300 years of American history that started with the forced enslavement of millions of Africans, and which still echoes in our culture today, from the myth of the “happy servant” (think Aunt Jemima on the syrup bottle) to the broader marketing of black servitude (as in TV commercials for Caribbean resorts, targeted at white American travelers). I delivered the talk to an audience of 30 at the Maier Museum of Art in Lynchburg, Virginia. While I had not anticipated the woman’s displeasure, trying to forget is not an uncommon response to the unsettling tale of the complicated roots of our history, and particularly some of our beloved foods.
The paragraphs above are from the Smithsonian article:
Don’t appropriate cultural differences while discarding the people and cultures that brought them to us.
Celebrate those wonderful differences, acknowledge and honor where they came from.
It really is okay for Black people to wear khaki pants, polo shirts, and socks with sandals if they want to. Well, at least as okay as it is for White people to do such things.
It’s okay for Native Americans to wear jeans and cowboy hats.
It’s okay for White people grow their hair out and style it into dreadlocks or like rap music.
It’s okay for anyone from any culture to like and honor aspects of any other culture in their own lives.
It is not okay to do so as a means of mocking those of the culture you’ve appropriated it from.
It is not okay to do discriminate and mistreat the people and cultures that provided it to us.
It is okay to want to eat traditional Mexican food.
It is not okay to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement because you don’t like the fact that the people who cooked and served it were speaking Spanish instead of English.
This returns us to the article by Dr. Williams that we started with:
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 (McCabe, 2011):
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.
Can you imagine telling anyone you are friends with, “Let’s pretend that nothing that happened before you met me matters in any way to either of us, because I can’t see your history and still view you as a worthy human.”
Can you imagine anyone telling you such a thing. How would you respond to them?
That is what you are doing when you claim to be racially colorblind.
You’re telling them:
“I cannot like you or treat you fairly if I allow myself to see and acknowledge all of what has made you into who you are now, so please don’t make me.”
Why would you expect anyone to be okay with that.
You know you damn well wouldn’t be.