“I don’t see color, I just see people.” One of the most well-intended conveyances of reassurance that someone is not racist. Many praise the intention behind such comments with little acknowledgement of the damage it perpetuates. The myth of color-blindness is shot around rooms filled with progressive—and non-progressive—white ‘allies’ who believe their ‘inability’ to see obvious variations in skin pigmentation negates their a. white privileges, and b. their complicit participation in a white supremacist sociopolitical system. If you are in a hurry, I will save you time: color-blindness, as it pertains to race dynamics, is not real, and yes, one can still participate in, and benefit from white supremacy even if done so reluctantly.
Many brilliant authors rightfully call out color-blindness for its contribution to a white supremacist society; I am in full agreement, and wish to discuss the ways in which we have woven this ideology into anti-racism training, therefore stalling progress towards any semblance of racial justice in this country. Predictably, many anti-racism trainings/analyses rely heavily upon a few factors: grouping whites and non-whites together within trainings to ‘share’ their experiences living in a racially mixed society; ‘let us treat everyone the same’ mentality; advancing the narrative that talking, and learning to tolerate one another is the answer—all of this, despite worsening racial dynamics. In other words, what we have been doing is not working.
The grouping of white folks, and non-white folks within anti-racism trainings/analyses primarily serve the white demographic while simultaneously placing the burden on people of color to ‘teach’ white folks about our possibly traumatic experiences. Therefore, it is not often an equal exchange of information, insight, or experience. People of color, in racially mixed groups, act as barely consenting experiential learning opportunities for white folks.
We are not all the same. Can we all agree to that? To treat everyone the same, regardless of ancestral or personal history, is the equivalent of an “All Lives Matter” chant. We cannot treat everyone the same, as there are differences in historical and current context, which should inform our engagement with specific demographics. For example, at one time, I was the only person of color working on a local political campaign on behalf of a great friend of mine who happens to be white. As a Latinx person with an ancestral history of raising the children of white folks, cleaning the homes of white folks, and being exploited in exchange for a larger profit margin to line the pockets of the (usually white) business owner, there were things other group members could do to ensure my friend’s success, that I could not. In the process, it created distrust, and resentment between myself and the other folks in the group. They did not consider the historical dynamics of folks like me, and folks like them.
We keep investing in the unproven method of talking, and tolerating. Simply talking about race, racism, white supremacy, and institutionalized discrimination without reevaluating the content, and delivery of our messaging is irresponsible at best, and willfully negligent at worst. Tolerating one another is a fruitless ideology based in the mediocrity of good intentions. Due to the state of racial tension in our country, we cannot afford to strive for mediocrity.
Color-blindness is the racial framework equivalent of ‘abstinence-only’ sex education. We cannot pretend unwed, young folks are abstaining from sex, just as we cannot pretend that we do not see skin tone. If we are privileged enough to have the gift of sight, we can see one another. Claiming otherwise does not absolve you of white guilt, or the responsibility to use your privilege, and power for good. In fact, I hold you most accountable to spend more time teaching your white peers about racism/white supremacy—whether active or passive—than you spend time trying to prove that you are not a racist/white supremacist.
“Love insists well-intentioned white people, officially stop calling themselves color-blind. Insists hope lace its f**king boots. Always calls out the misogynist, racist, homophobic joke. Refuses to be a welcome mat where hate wipes its feet.” – Andrea Gibson