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?
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.
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.
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!