“I don’t see people’s race, when I look at someone,
the color of their skin isn’t the first thing I see. I wish other people were like this, if we could all just be colorblind, racism would cease to exist.”
I take a deep breath, resisting the urge to put my forehead into my palm. What this young, white woman doesn’t understand is that she is privileged to be able to believe this.
If only we ignored race, it would go away. It is, after all, a social construct: if we made it, why can’t we unmake it?
The concept of colorblindness is very attractive idealistically, however I think that people who pursue colorblindness as an antidote to racism are very naive, like this woman I was speaking to. Firstly, I don’t really believe that colorblindness is possible if you are a human being raised in this world. Race has come to hold very deep and significant meanings throughout our history, and we are raised within those deeply engrained beliefs. One individual’s ability to completely shake off those beliefs upon a moment’s decision and banish them from their thoughts ever again seems difficult, if not laughable to me. So to those who profess to be colorblind: I don’t believe you for a second. Unless you literally are blind. Or are not from this planet.
And to those who argue that colorblindness is the goal, I still disagree. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we continue to use race as a means of separating and disadvantaging people of color from white people. But I think that it is crucial to remember that racism has existed for centuries and centuries. Therefore, claiming that race suddenly does not exist erases all the horrors and sufferings of those victims of racism. And it doesn’t change the fact that people have been (and still are being) hurt by racism. When a black man gets pulled over for “driving while brown” he can’t really tell the officer, “But listen officer, you see, race is a social construct, and therefore it doesn’t really exist. So can I go now?”
While colorblindness does nothing to erase the history of racism, it would also erase any steps towards amends that might be made, or positive changes that could be reached. If we were to suddenly stop believing in race, people of color would still be institutionally at a disadvantage, while white people would largely hold privilege over them, whether or not we understood it to be because of race. Even if we could change our mentality towards race, our being colorblind wouldn’t change the inequitable distribution of money and power within our society.
That is why I believe that one must be privileged to advocate colorblindness, so privileged to have never really been affected by racism. From my experience, advocates of colorblindness often center their argument around the idea that they are not directly rude towards people of other races that they might meet. This is admirable (though common courtesy and therefore not particularly commendable) however reducing racism to a matter of whether you use offensive words or not in the presence of a person of color rather trivializes a phenomenon that negatively shapes the lives of the majority if the people in this world.
Race may be a social construct, but we humans are good contractors. We have constructed race to be very big and sturdy, and it’s going to take a lot more than a simple negation of its existence for it to really go away.
Take a look at this previous post to see an awesome graffiti conversation I found about colorblindness in a campus bathroom.