Like many of us would agree, the avoidance of race themed discussions is increasingly becoming the norm. The fear of coming across as condescending, ignorant, or racist, is slowly replacing our innate curiosity to explore our differences, and is turning into a risk too high for some that silence is considered a better alternative. To justify our refusal to engage in these controversial subjects, we often resort to different sociological ideologies – the most common of which is that of colour blindness.
What is ‘Colour blindness’?
Simply put, colour blindness, when used in a racial context, refers to the ability of an individual to see past the skin colour of another individual. As an ideology, it postulates that seeing everyone through the same lens, without giving regard to their perceived race or ethnicity, is the best, and sometimes, only way to end racial discrimination. Opposing this, however, is the counter argument, that our refusal to engage in the discussion of race-related issues, does more harm than good – both to us, and to the people who are most affected by racism.
If there is one thing that colour blindness does, it erodes our ability to empathise with the people, who are oppressed and marginalised because of the very aspect of their existence that we disregard – their colour. Think of it, how can you commiserate with people that are discriminated based on their skin colour, when you purportedly can’t even see their skin colour? In a colourblind society, we are taught to believe that we live in a post-racial world – that racism belongs in the past. As such, the day to day struggles that racially oppressed people face are often played down and blamed on everything but the negative connotations that we as a society, have attached to the colour of their skin.
White People and Colour blindness
Perhaps this explains why white people are more likely to subscribe to the idea of colour blindness than people of colour. White people are less likely to experience the systemic social disadvantages that come with darker skin tones. As such, they can conveniently ignore racism by denying the existence of colour and the role that it has played in shaping the realities of the darker people in society. For many black people on the other hand, their blackness is an integral part of their lived and learned experiences. As such, colour blindness is a luxury that they cannot afford. Many black parents, especially those living in white spaces, find it essential to speak to their children about race from an early age. Not to stir up feelings of hate and resentment, but to help them navigate through a world that looks at a black boy but sees a hoodlum.
Why We Should All See Colour
Colour blindness is a convenient way through which we can all be non-racist, without having to be anti-racist. It affords us the means to walk past the elephant in the room, without having to do anything about it. The problem with this, however, is the fact that, like Desmond Tutu said, “…If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”. Choosing to be colour blind allows us to ignore racial inequality. It allows us to live on the assumption that everyone, regardless of their colour and perceived race, starts on the same level and is afforded the same opportunities in society. It allows us to blame people of colour, for the collective difficulties they face. It allows us to passively uphold the system of racism without even realising that we are.
Colour blindness is a convenient way through which we can all be non-racist, without having to be anti-racist.
The argument, that colour blindness is the cure for racism, is both baseless and unsubstantiated. Racism is not kept alive by our ability to see colour. It is kept alive by our inability to see racist practices for what they are, and our unwillingness to fight them head on. Whether or not we see colour, it won’t change the fact that there are people in our communities, whose lives, choices, and daily experiences, are affected by the existence of racial inequality.
Colour blindness is based on the idea that as long as we see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil, we do no evil. But we must always remind ourselves that our inability to see evil does not always mean that there is no evil. So instead of hiding behind the fact that we don’t see it, I think we’d be better off taking a stand beside the ones that do, so that together, we can fight till the day comes, when we are certain that it is no longer there.
Never in the course of history, has a problem been solved by assuming it doesn’t exist.
Never in the course of history, has a problem been solved by assuming it doesn’t exist. A problem ignored will persist, but a problem faced may one day cease to exist. Colour blindness often leads to a place, where history is ignored, experiences are dismissed, and racial inequality can be ignored, but we must never forget that ignoring racism keeps it alive. Like Vernā Myers said, “the problem was never that we saw colour. It was what we did when we saw the colour.” So then, if seeing colour was never the problem, how can our refusal to see it be the solution?