Note to my white self…

When it comes to race, color blindness is not now – nor has it ever been – an admirable goal for a white person. Color blindness, both physically and metaphorically, is a human deficiency.  It has a negative impact on a person’s ability to navigate in a world where recognizing and discriminating between colors is a necessary and valuable tool.  While you – and most other white people – were taught to strive for color blindness in your racial interactions, this is not commendable or helpful.  Color blindness is always a disability.

Think about it.

Where else in our culture is a lack or deficiency in sight considered preferable? Parents are rightly saddened by a child born blind.  A loss of vision in an adult is considered a tragedy.  The restoration of sight is thought miraculous.  When used as a metaphor, blindness is almost universally negative.  Acting, judging or loving blindly is irresponsible. To be blind to a condition of life is a cause for concern. In “Amazing Grace,” we do not sing that “I could see, but now I’m blind.”  To do so would be ridiculous.

Though physical color blindness is certainly less traumatic, it is hardly celebrated. When severe, color blindness is a dangerous condition causing many difficulties for those so afflicted.  An inability to discern between red and green makes every major street intersection challenging.  When it comes to identifying colors, discrimination is not a negative activity.  It is a positive attribute allowing the person to make better judgments and avoid mistakes.  That, when it comes to race, color blindness is upheld as noble should seem odd.   That, in a white dominated culture, color blindness is applauded should be suspicious.

Why, in this instance, has a white dominated culture used a lack of visual acuity as a positive metaphor?

You know why.

As with all things white, this practice is advantageous to white people. By extolling color blindness, you escape the responsibility of identifying, acknowledging and addressing real social, economic and political disparities between yourself and people of color.  You can pretend, though racial prejudice is deeply embedded in your psyche, that the color of someone’s skin does not influence your attitude, judgment or actions.  You can even use the exaltation of color blindness to further oppress people of color.  People of color who refuse to affirm the positives of color blindness can be accused of “reverse racism” and identified as morally deficient.  After all, good people are color blind.

Think about how absurd that sounds when applied to the physical condition of color blindness.

Can you imagine a culture that extoled the physical condition of color blindness as superior and condemned those who discriminated between red and green? How would you explain a culture where not being able to see differences in colors was considered admirable, as something to brag about?  What would you think of a culture where people were pressured, even if they could see the differences, to ignore this discernment and pretend that they couldn’t?  How would you judge such a culture?  Wouldn’t you assume something odd or unacknowledged was behind such an attitude and behavior?

Such is the case with the use of color blindness as a positive metaphor in a white dominated culture. The something odd or unacknowledged is white privilege.  This privilege gives white people the power to demand that people ignore real disparities and inequities in how people of different skin colors are treated in our culture. According to the proponents of color blindness, if we refuse to see the differences, they will go way.  This claim that there are no real differences between black and white in America is as absurd as claiming red and green are the same.

Here is the truth.

Color blindness is not your goal.

Your goal as a white person is to see yourself and people of color as they truly are, to recognize how differences in skin tone continue to seriously impact the experiences of men, women and children in our society, that these differences privilege some and oppress others. To treat people equally, regardless of the color of their skin, isn’t inherently admirable or just.  When justice is blind to past injuries, this blindness is also negative.  When justice does not acknowledge the color of someone’s skin, it inevitably perpetuates rather than rectifies injustice.

Color blindness is not your goal.

To ignore the inequities that still exist because of differences in skin color is insulting and irresponsible. It is only in removing our blindfolds, that we become capable of seeing discrimination for what it is; the diminishment of some colors more than others.  The reason color blindness is metaphorically extoled and blackness is metaphorically maligned has the same ugly source – racism.

Stop claiming to be color blind.

It is not true.

It is not admirable.

It is not helpful.


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