Perils of Colorblindness; The Case Of Racial Injustice

Rather, it is both the collective indifference and narrow focus that life gradually tricks us into that results in this oversight. This oversight, or failure, is the cruel ideology of colorblindness, which ostensibly posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity.

Two things happened in 1964. In March, Kitty Genovese was stabbed and brutally murdered by a psychopath in Queens, New York. What is horribly significant about this particular murder is that among the 38 reported neighbors who claim they heard Genovese scream, not one alerted the police during the half-hour ordeal. Today, Genovese’s nightmare is better understood within the definition of the bystander effect, which explains the phenomenon of what occurs when individuals, in the presence of other bystanders, fail to offer assistance to people in danger or in an emergency. This diffusion of responsibility occurs as a result of the assumption that if there are other people present and the situation is one that truly warrants help, then the other people would act.[1] Thus, if other people do not act, then the situation is misinterpreted as not an emergency.

“Racial and ethnic identities will always be a part of how we identify ourselves. Until we confront it head-on with empathy and compassion, we will continue to sleep comfortably at night, thinking we are taking steps forward, when we actually do not even understand where the starting point is.”

Months after Genovese’s murder, during the summer of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which effectively dismantled the encaging and insidious system of Jim Crow laws by making segregation in public accommodations, voting, education, employment, and many other realms of daily life, federally illegal. It is important to note, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated on many occasions during the Civil Rights Movement, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was hardly inevitable. As he said then in response to his critics, human progress came “through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation”. Unequivocally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the direct result of staggering sacrifices, transcendent vision, and valiant efforts. It remains true today as it did five decades ago; relying on time alone can never heal the prevailing divisions and enduring wounds of our country’s tradition of racism, both in its subtle and overt manifestations. Yet, despite this realization and the substantial progress we have made in the half-century since 1964, many of us, willingly or not, seem content to continue remaining as bystanders in the struggle for ethnoracial equitability.

Naturally, spirited denials will directly object to any degree of complicity or culpability. However, simply because it is not deliberate or with concerted intent does not mitigate its significance. Rather, it is both the collective indifference and narrow focus that life gradually tricks us into that results in this oversight. This oversight, or failure, is the cruel ideology of colorblindness, which ostensibly posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity.[2] It serves as comfort to those who unfortunately do not understand that progress has actually plateaued and reached stagnation, allowing them to reject the corrosive effect that racism continues to have in 21st century America and to abdicate responsibility. This is dangerous, careless, and weak. This is our emergency.

Though some believe it to be exclusive to one school of thought, the ideology of racial colorblindness is something commonly sought among people across various spectrums. Across ideologies, conservatives adamantly maintain the remaining vestiges of racism have effectively been addressed and subsequently eliminated, often quickly citing the symbolic election of former President Barack Obama as evidence. Black exceptionalism lends legitimacy to the type of individualism that is common among conservative thought.[3]

However, it also shrouds the truth, which is that the institutions and policies that constitute the larger American system have an often-pernicious effect on the aspirations of people of color. Those who are unaffected and perhaps even benefit can then speak to personal responsibility for their successes and simultaneously ignore the realities of destructive prejudice. Conversely, many liberals also subscribe to this misguided ideology but for a different reason. Instead of an oversimplification of reality and outright rejection of racial incongruities, they avoid the matter completely. They cite and envision an ideal world as one in which color is overlooked and finally no longer perceptible. This too is flawed.

In other contexts, the colorblind stance also has the liberating effect of absolving racial guilt. If there is no race, there can be no racial conflict and therefore no impetus to address historic wrongs. For this very reason, colorblindness is also uniquely cruel. In a colorblind world, many White Americans, who in this nation’s history have always remained at the pinnacle of the social hierarchy, are able to overlook the persistent presence of racism in the daily lives of others.

The ideology glorifies an imagined and sanitized utopian-esque world, in which everyone is the same, but in reality more sharply resembles a superficial society defined by hidden truths and camouflaged cultures.

Seeing color is not the problem; it is not the reason why we have racism. Racism is born of poisonous ignorance, infectious fear, and false senses of superiority. Colorblindness is not the cure to racism. It is a metaphorical slap to the face and spits on the foundational groundwork laid by visionaries like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and President Lyndon B. Johnson. Believing race does not matter or that one does not “see race” is the moral equivalent of a white towel.[5] It is a social euphemism for “the notion that we, as a society, can never be trusted to see race and treat each other fairly or with genuine compassion”.[6] On both sides, the very real and potent power of race is intentionally denied and blurred in an effort to turn away from our ethnoracial legacy as opposed to negotiating through it with courage, understanding, and respect. Ultimately, it is the bedrock for a post-racial society that extinguishes the hopeful flames of coexistence.

We all come from an array of cultural backgrounds, each rich with experiences and traditions. They are the driving forces of our identities and ultimately where we source our pride, values, and perspectives from. Instead of the ill-advised pursuit of a colorblind future, a wiser one would be of a world of color consciousness and multicultural appreciation. “A commitment to color consciousness, in contrast, places faith in our capacity as humans to show care and concern for others, even as we are fully cognizant of race and possible racial indifferences.”[7] It is saying “you and I come from different places but I refuse to allow it to feed into prejudice” instead of “I do not see orm am unable to see, the richness of where you come from and therefore, I am unable to embrace the complete you”.  Instead of the extreme liberal interpretation of a colorless melting pot, our spirits should be striving towards a vision of coexistence. What we are doing now is not enough. One side thinks race is not an issue while the other wants to mistakenly erase the issue altogether. Colorblindness is equivalent to remaining neutral, and neutrality in the circumstances of racial inequality is an injustice. Racial and ethnic identities will always be a part of how we identify ourselves. Until we confront it head-on with empathy and compassion, we will continue to sleep comfortably at night, thinking we are taking steps forward, when we actually do not even understand where the starting point is.

FOOTNOTES

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

Alex is one part Southern CA and one part all of the cities he has been fortunate enough to have visited and lived in. He is as likely to be found listening to Nas, Elton John, and Sam Cooke as he is likely to be found playing basketball, attending a Ducks game, hiking Crater Lake, or reading about neuroplasticity. Long-term, his focus is two-fold: to challenge every corner of his comfort zone and to evolve into leadership so he can help to empower his 7.5 billion brothers and sisters. Oh, and he loves a good conversation.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons