The idea of contending with racism in the present day can seem somewhat paradoxical. Growing up we were taught that everybody was equal, that black people and white people and Hispanic people were all the same, and that the racists were the people who said that they weren’t the same. Our generation grew up with the mindset “so long as we act as if black people are not different than white people, so long as we treat them equally, then we’re doing our part of not being racist.”
We call this ‘colorblindness’, and we think it’s a great thing. “I don’t see color”/”I don’t see race” is our slogan; if you see color it must mean you’re a racist.
Because of this, when we hear people wanting us to acknowledge how black people have it different than white people, when they say we need special laws to help African Americans or Hispanics, some of us are confused. Isn’t it racist to say that? Isn’t that ‘seeing color’? But aren’t we not supposed to see color? Aren’t we supposed to be acting on the assumption that they have it the same? Rather than thinking about ‘race’, shouldn’t the ultimate goal be to think of humanity as just that, humanity? And so some of us don’t understand how making things a race issue instead of an humanity issue is productive to anything but more racism, to treating one group as if it’s different than the other.
Understand, we were raised to think this ‘colorblindness’ to be a virtue, and that is probably the biggest obstacle those of us raised this way have to overcome.
We don’t realize that claiming to be colorblind is ultimately a cop-out. It’s not that we want to avoid doing the hard work of examining our own internal schema and racial identity, it’s not that we would rather lazily look outward and pronounce others as “without color.” It’s not primarily out of avoidance or lazyness, it’s out of misplaced virtue – we’ve been trained to think it’s the proper way to beat racism.
We have no comprehension that in claiming this ‘colorblindness’ we are stripping others of their racial identity and making it match our own; we think we’re offering dignity, and we’re too unaware to realize that we’re doing so through the prideful motive of making them the same us, as if we are of a higher quality.
We were raised to see this ‘colorblindness’ as a virtue, and breaking that misconception is one of the biggest obstacle we face in educating people about racism. We have to learn that equating black with white is not the goal, that it in fact impedes the goal.
We have to learn that no matter how much we may act as if all people are the same, that they aren’t being treated the same, as equal. One group is being treated as a lesser group, and unless we acknowledge that they are being treated differently we’ll never work toward the goal of them being treated the same.
What we have to acknowledge is that seeing color does not degrade the color being seen, but that it frees it to be itself, frees it to not be defined by your own limitations. We have to learn that what we should want isn’t for black people to be white or to be seen as if they were white; we want them to be seen with dignity for who they are, without being defined by us.
And we have to learn that our entire concept of race and racism is faulty. This is a massive shift, because nobody is ever ready to learn that everything they know about something, that everything they were raised to believe about something, is actually wrong from the ground up.
So don’t hate them, don’t think they’re lazy or don’t want to change or just don’t want to learn how to fight against racism. They may very well want all of that, but they are hopelessly lost if nobody comes alongside them and shows them that they’ve been seeing the world through tinted glasses (and not for the better).