“Colorblindness” has long been touted as the end game in America’s quest for racial equality. Since debuting in John Marshall Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, colorblindness has provided the intellectual framework for our laws and social programs. With additional scrutiny, however, “colorblindness” as an ideology is fraught with inherent constraints that make it a less than desirable pursuit. Consider the points below.
“I don’t see color/race” is a statement made almost exclusively to people of color. This belies the crux of the assertion because if you are not making this statement to everyone you encounter, including all white people, then the comment is, in fact, only triggered when you see race/color.
“Racial colorblindness” is an inherently flawed analogy to actual colorblindness (it’s also ableist because it hijacks the currency inherent in how that community expresses itself while doing nothing to advance the efforts of that community). As Critical Race Theory scholars point out, biological colorblindness involves never perceiving color in the first place which is materially different from experiencing a stimuli then choosing (or attempting) to disregard it. The choice to disregard necessitates a consideration of all the things you wish to disassociate from the subject.
The very act of making the statement undermines its point because if nothing were wrong with my race, you wouldn’t have to not see me in racialized terms. What you mean to say is that you don’t associate any of the negative stereotypes about race with me. Stereotypes you had to consider in the first place in order to disassociate them from me.
Colorblindness is a framing that conflates equality with neutrality and racial neutrality is dangerous. The Colorblind Ideology posits that fairness looks like feigned ignorance. Unrealistic ignorance of racial history, of racial stereotypes, and of racial anxiety. Colorblindness asks us to pretend that we operate in a world where race does not exist while making decisions with the full knowledge of it and often contingent on its very realities. Colorblindness provides cover for the parts of our societal identity that we wish did not exist. It does not render those parts non-existent. People who adopt this ideology refuse to acknowledge that distinction.
“Colorblindness” alludes to a facade of racial neutrality that is impossible to achieve or sustain in a society that was designed largely predicated on race. This is the same reason “not racist” should be undesirable. Racism is embedded into the DNA of America. Our founding documents literally assign numeric value and life prospects to the lives of people based on race. If that’s the origins of the place you were born and grew up in and those origins have shaped and influenced everything that’s come after it, neutrality is impossible. You either actively work against that notion or you succumb to it. There’s no neutral third position.
Think of racism as a weed. You either uproot it or it flourishes. You don’t have a garden full of weeds suffocating your roses then claim neutrality. If you don’t work to remove it, you want it there. These simplistic notions of race cannot withstand rigorous analysis! I hope these points give you some tools to meaningfully engage other people who use this rhetoric! Happy learning:)