Growing up in a very white area, having a lot of white friends and family, and being white I’ve heard phrases like “I’m colorblind: I don’t see race”, “we all bled red”, “I don’t think of you as [insert race]” way too often. I fully admit that in my more ignorant phases growing up, I used that phrase and fully believed in it. Since then, I’ve come to realize the racism that is stated with the belief.
*I want to preface this post by saying that I am not trying to speak for any person of color with writing this but instead trying to articulate the best I can of what is wrong with colorblindness. This is written by a white person for other white people and as a way for me personally to better articulate why colorblindness is really problematic.
Being colorblind comes from a place of privilege and negates the experiences, cultural values, norms, and expectations that come with being a person of color. Not only does this sentiment deny the experiences of racism that people of color experience but it also removes you from seeing and addressing your privilege as a white person.
By not seeing or talking about race, you don’t magically cure racism or live in a post racial society. (In fact! A study found that white people and those that ranked high in color blind ideologies were less likely to not be offended by images of people enacting racist stereotypes.) Instead, you just don’t address critical issues and alienate people from interacting with you. Being aware of someone’s race does not make you a racist. Making stereotypes and assuming things because of someone’s race, on the other hand, most definitely makes you a racist. Also be careful not to assume how someone identifies.
Quotes and media on the issue of colorblindness:
“Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities’ being denied access to the political process. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter what neighborhood he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’ The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
– Sonia Sotomayor, on why pretending that America is a colorblind, post racial society does not make it so
“You do not have the right to say to a person, ‘I do not see you as you are. I want to see you as I would be more comfortable seeing you.’”
– What you are actually saying when you say that you don’t see color
“You know what I love? When people don’t see my race. There is nothing more affirming for me as a person than to have essential parts of myself and my experience completely disregarded. I mean, inside we’re all the same. And there’s only one race: the HUMAN race! Amirite??? Ugh. Listen. If your ability to respect someone’s right to exist requires pretending that they are just like you, that’s a problem. We are not all the same. And things like race, gender, disability, etc. are exactly the kinds of things that shape our lives and our experiences and make us different from one another. Being different is not the problem. The idea that being the same as you is what gives us the right to exist is the problem.”
– Mia Mckenzie, 8 Ways Not to Be An “Ally”, found in her new book “Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender”
Statements like these assume that people of color are just like you, white; that they have the same dreams, standards, problems, and peeves that you do. “Colorblindness” negates the cultural values, norms, expectations and life experiences of people of color. Even if an individual white person could ignore a person’s color, society does not. By saying we are not different, that you don’t see the color, you are also saying you don’t see your whiteness. This denies the people of colors’ experience of racism and your experience of privilege. “I’m colorblind” can also be a defense when afraid to discuss racism, especially if one assumes all conversation about race or color is racist. Speaking of another person’s color or culture is not necessarily racist or offensive. As my friend Rudy says, I don’t mind that you notice that I’m black.” Color consciousness does not equal racism.
– from shitrichcollegekidssay, by Debra Leigh
7 Things Your Colorblind Friend Might Say and How to Respond – Atlanta Blackstar (also includes a great definition of racism)
The Problem with Colorblindness – Alex Seitz-Wald, Washington Post