Race 101: Colorblindness and the Privilege of Not Seeing Race
Race 101: Colorblindness and the Privilege of Not Seeing Race
By Whites Educating Whites / whiteseducatingwhites.tumblr.com
Dec 27, 2014

For white folks to claim that race should not matter is to reveal that race has never negatively impacted us. The invented supremacy of whiteness has provided us with privilege and power in politics, social institutions, and our personal and professional lives, making it a positive issue and, by extension, easily converted into a non-issue. We are so comfortable with a white identity that we have a tendency to imagine ourselves as not possessing race at all. Part of white privilege is the freedom to simply forget we possess race because it works so effectively to our advantage. We have the power of deciding when to acknowledge race and when to ignore it because there are no negative consequences for us to suffer in the process of doing so. Whiteness is not dehumanizing to whites and it is not willfully imposed upon us as a form of oppression. White privilege removes racial oppression from our social experience and normalizes our lives to the extent that we can think of ourselves as “just human beings.” 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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Race 101: Colorblindness and the Privilege of Not Seeing Race