Having A Color Blind Approach To Racism Is Actually Racist

Racism sucks. I think we can all agree on that; well, all of us who are aware that it is still a prevalent problem that affects everything from an average jail sentence to whether or not I’m going to be followed around in a clothing store. Unfortunately, some people who see themselves as very progressive and anti-racist are doing more harm for victims of racism than good. That’s why I’m going to talk a little about something that I think is the most destructive concept that supposedly anti-racist people adhere to: Color blindness.

How many of you have heard this: I don’t see color! It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white or green or purple.

If you’ve used this line before, know this: You’re doing it wrong. Like, really, what are you doing? Stop, right now. Please.

I get why the color blind approach to racism is popular. Color blindness suggests that the best way to end racism and racial discrimination is by treating everyone the same. It sounds nice, right? We can all agree that people should be treated equally, so what’s so bad about color blindness?

Here’s what’s bad about it: Color blindness thrives on the notion that racism isn’t really a problem anymore, and that everyone and everything is judged purely on merit. The problem is that that’s a bunch of crap and isn’t true whatsoever. Studies have shown that color blindness actually makes people more racist. Color blindness is really just an easy way for people who don’t experience racism (i.e. generally white people) to feel a little less squirmy about the possibility that racism is still a problem. The best way to feel less squirmy is to ignore it, because we all know that the more you ignore something, the faster it’ll go away, right?



Source: Tumblr

Well, I’ve tried that plenty of times with dirty dishes, and it hasn’t worked yet. The same can be said for racism.

Our generation has been raised to embrace equality, but many of us take the concept so far that we fail to acknowledge basic facts. For people who embrace color blindness, fighting racism is no longer about acknowledging existing inequities in society. Nope, now it’s all about pretending that it is no longer a problem because we have a black president and because one of your best friends is Mexican and you really love Korean food, so everything is all fine and dandy and you can’t possibly be racist.

Does that sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? Well, I’ve heard people say ” I don’t see color and my best friend is [insert race/ethnicity here] so I can’t be racist” so many times that it makes my head spin.

aunt viv fresh prince

Source: Tumblr

If you still don’t see what’s so wrong with color blindness, look at it this way: By claiming not to “see color” you’re refusing to acknowledge the fact that race still matters in 2013. For example, I’m black. Telling me that you don’t see me as black is not only a lie, but it is also incredibly dismissive of my experiences as a young, black woman. How am I supposed to share stories about dealing with racial insensitivity when I’m talking to someone who believes that racism is merely a product of the past, and that race isn’t important as long as I don’t make it important.

I’ve had to deal with plenty of friends dismissing my personal encounters with racial insensitivity. People say that I’m exaggerating, or that I’m only seeing something as racist because I want to. Newsflash: Nobody goes out of their way to experience racism. We don’t look for it, we’re not swapping stories about racism like they’re Pokemon cards, trying to one up each other for fun.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury to be color blind. I don’t have the luxury to ignore race. I don’t have the luxury to assume that everyone will see me as a fellow human being instead of a black chick. When I wake up every morning I see two things when I look in the mirror: First, I see Ashley. Second, I see a black woman.

Which brings up another reason why I hate the idea of color blindness: It suggests that acknowledging my blackness is shameful. When you say that you don’t see my color, you’re saying that you don’t see a pretty big part of my life. Well, despite all the negativity that comes with it, I like being black. So I don’t want it to be something that someone can decide to ignore because it makes them uncomfortable. My blackness isn’t like the wilted piece of lettuce you find in your salad and quickly discard.

If your non-white friend decided to open up to you about someone calling her a racial slur, telling her that we all bleed red isn’t helpful. You might think that coming up with arbitrary crayola colors (Robin’s Egg Blue, anyone?) is somehow making your friend feel better, but if they’re anything like me you’re making them feel worse. Dealing with racism is bad, but having your experiences dismissed is even worse.

Instead of being color blind, allow yourself to acknowledge the fact that racism is still a problem that hurts a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Some acts of racism are violent and obvious, others are more subtle and even unintentional. If you want to really be an ally for people who experience racism, listen to them. That’s all you have to do: Listen.


Source: Tumblr

And please, if you do happen to run into somebody who is purple, take them to the hospital immediately; they might be choking.


What do you think about a color blind approach to racism? Do you experience people dismissing your experiences with racism? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Kait

    I’m trying so hard to navigate this topic, but the logic as explained in this post (which is the same I receive from the African-American friends I’ve engaged with, though not at all the same as my very close friend who was born and raised in Ghana) is lost on me.

    If I say I don’t see color, people of color (though I hate that term because are we not all colored? I may be “white” on a census, but my pigment certainly includes tans and browns) say “You’re not acknowledging my skin color!” Okay, but if I acknowledge your skin color, then I’m “racist” for having done so. I don’t know where to go with this logic.

    I know that for every generation born in America, we become less and less racist. People WANT equality. The elder generations were far more likely to be racist, and they’re dying off. But now the tides are turning to where it’s almost as if it’s being demanded that we not just allow equality to come into being. What is that? I don’t care one bit what color your skin is. I SEE it, but I don’t care. You are not your skin color. So please, explain to me what the solution is. I’m aware that I enjoy white privilege, though I was in truth oblivious to the concept until well into adulthood. I’m aware that brown people experience unique challenges within our society. Nobody in their right mind would deny that. Everyone is aware of it. But why does this involve so much tip-toeing? If we can’t even discuss racism with “people of color (because no matter the approach or how not racist you are, certain people will always be offended) “, how will racism ever be overcome?

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  • Shanikwa

    So basically she wants racism to suck in others who aren’t racist and show them what this world is racism is all about. Forcing it down their throat. Real nice sista. This is why racism will continue to live on and spread.

  • Ashlei

    This is an excerpt from a white person who owns the tumblr whites teaching whites. It is basically a white person teaching other white people about racism, also i will post another excerpt and privilege if you would like. Also i am a sociology major who studies everything from race, culture, politics, sexuality and gender. ((If whites make colorblind arguments, here’s what we need to understand:
    *People may be part of a larger race of humans, but social experience does not reflect this.
    White arguments in favor of colorblindness, or seeing everyone as “just human beings,” enables white folks to ignore history while also continuing our tradition of dictating the meanings of race. In theory, colorblindness might be a nice fantasy, but in practice it is an act of violence. To explain, not all violence is physical: the attitude that very real experiences POC have with race and racism can be dismissed by deciding not to see color is to dismiss and devalue their experiences as human beings. Race is a social experience and an institutional force, it is not just an idea. If white folks pretend not to see race, then we also refuse to see racism or racial oppression, which begs the question: who has the power to decide when race matters and when it doesn’t? Until there are social arrangements that do not create division or inequalities along lines of race, class, gender, disability, or sexuality, then these issues will always exist and matter.
    *To say “I don’t see color,” means the individual claims to have made a decision to not personally “see” race even though institutions and fellow individuals will still see it.
    Race is not just a matter of vision. If we think we can refuse to see someone as Black, Brown, Red, or Yellow, then what does this really mean? Are we simply pretending not to use these words? This is one of the major problems with the ‘political correctness’ of colorblind thinking: folks assuming race is a “bad thing” and stumbling to find ways of not seeing it, while we aren’t deconstructing myths or stereotypes about racial identity. Race is not just a matter of individual agency. Because race and racism are present in institutions, policies, housing, etc., an individual ignoring these issues does not make them socially disappear. When whites treat racial modifiers as “offensive” or meaningless we are also refusing to acknowledge the significance these modifiers have to POC, and we insult them by ignoring their historical, social, and cultural experiences.
    *Making the argument that race “no longer exists” gives white folks the power to decide race is not an issue for POC, but we can still decide it is an issue for us.

    White privilege allows us to deny racism as a reality for POC, then make a mad dash to collect, twist, and invent information that “proves” we are “victims” of racism, which requires a seriously heavy dose of historical amnesia. If we examine the current presidential election in the US we can see that white folks are very much concerned about race when there are POC in positions of power, then there are those of us that claim Barack Obama as President establishes the US as a “post-racial” society. So which is it? If the US is “post-racial,” why are there white folks that claim they are the targets of racism? How are white folks experiencing racism if race no longer exists? If race is supposedly “over,” how can racism still exist? Colorblindness and a Black president are not going to answer those questions.
    *We can’t claim to be colorblind, then freak the fuck out over the “white race” disappearing.
    Recent US census statistics have revealed that there will no longer be a population majority for white folks in upcoming years, which makes the colorblindness approach that much more unlikely to survive. This information is treated as important source material for journalism and is often explained with a sense of foreboding when it is cited by conservative white politicians or anti-immigration platforms. If we only see race when it is a problem for us, then colorblindness is nothing more than a way for us to escape the accusation of racism. It is a way for us to say “I don’t see race, so I couldn’t possibly be racist.” It is a way for us to say “I don’t see race, so my issues with [insert ethnicity] people have nothing to do with color.” When we invent blindness, we are only blind to our own racial power and privilege. Refusing to see systems of oppression and inequality is just another way to prevent their destruction.))

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  • Brian

    Treating people of all ethnicities the same is not analogous with ignoring prejudiced experiences people have had or will have. I don’t want to be treated differently for the color of my skin, whether in a negative way or in a way intending to be positive. I want it to be a non-issue as it should be. I think this article misses the mark by incorrectly assuming that all white people who treat different ethnicities the same are going to automatically brush off other people’s negative experiences or not show compassion for them. It is possible to treat all ethnicities the same without discounting their experiences or assuming no one else in the world is racist.

  • Kate

    The comments on this article are so sad. Clearly people can not read with basic understanding anymore. Dismissing a person’s color is dismissing their experience, just as she says in the article and if you can’t see that then I think you are part of the problem. A large part of it.
    It is sad to admit, but even in 2014, a person’s skin color shapes their experiences. We have come a long way as far as human rights are concerned but we have not erased our history or the privileges that exist because of it.

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  • Ann

    Dear Ashley Renee,
    I am sorry that this wasn’t a safe space for you and other black women. The comments on this article derailing the debate (by centering white people’s experience and actually getting the definition of Racism wrong) are atrocious.
    No Racism isn’t just discrimination and no it’s not about Individual Acts of Meaness.
    And for those wanting to actually learn something read bell hooks.

    Please know that there are safe spaces like BitchMagazine, Womanist Musings, Colorlines, Racialicious to name a few.