Activism looks different for everyone and in every circumstance. It ranges from the radical and the public to the personal and almost undetectable. Activism is speaking up about an issue, but it’s also so much more. It is important that we are not only advocating for ourselves, but for the people around us and the people that are unable to advocate for themselves. With this being said, activism can be counterproductive if not paired with education, open-mindedness, mindfulness, and so much empathy. In some cases, we are advocating for a cause that has not directly impacted or affected our lives, and in these instances, it is imperative to make sure we are a part of a bigger conversation rather than operating on emotions and assumptions. Without getting all the information, we risk our activism taking an ignorant and potentially damaging turn. A specific instance of this detrimental activism that we would like to discuss in this article is the use of the term/ideology “colorblindness” in regards to race and ethnicity. An argument sometimes used is that one does not “see” race because we are all one race, the human race. While we see the rationale and argument for this concept, we fear it can be less productive than one may initially think.
A Look Back at the Beginnings of Racial Colorblindness
The term “racial color blindness” originated during the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s, the central issue that was dividing the nation was the rights of African Americans. Conflicts between activists and their opponents were beginning to become more violent and common so finally, in 1965, legislation was put in place to prohibit racial discrimination and provide equal opportunities for all colors, creating a “race-blind” ideology. The goal, as said by Martin Luther King Jr., was for individuals to be judged on their quality of character rather than the color of their skin (Racialized Politics, 2000). During this time, the term was used as a catalyst for change, urging people to stop focusing on what people looked like and focus more on their abilities. At this point, in order for something to be considered racial discrimination, there had to be a clear intent by the perpetrator to have a discriminatory outcome. Over time, this was too difficult to prove to the government changed the keyword of “intent” to “effect.” The difference here was that the perpetrator did not need to have the clear goal of discrimination but if their actions in effect reduced black representation or rights, it was punishable (Racialized Politics, 2000).
The Positive Nature the Concept
When discussing the negative nature of declaring oneself to be “color blind” in regards to race, we are by no means discounting the good intentions and positive qualities behind it, as we do recognize that they exist. Of course, nobody should ever be excluded or oppressed on account of the color of their skin or for any reason, for that matter. Without a doubt, the concept is still applicable today. Even in 2018, we are still seeing discrimination and hate between races and a “colorblind” ideology could be beneficial in several regards. Before all else, we should see people as who they are before what they look like. In theory, by not “seeing color,” we are removing any negative stereotypes or connotations many individuals experienced on account of their race. In employment interviews, for example, someone’s race should not be a deciding factor (just the same as their gender should not), so it would be wise to use this sort of mentality to avoid stereotyping or biases.
That said, individuals are experiencing oppression and choosing not to recognize or acknowledge this oppression only works to the benefit of those who are not being oppressed. Those who are being oppressed need to be understood and advocated for. Though race should not be affecting our interactions with each other, it does – and in a very real way; for that reason, it needs to be acknowledged.
The Negative Face of Colorblindness
The problem is not race, the problem is the implications of race, how we engage in the conversation about race, and the overall oppression of people as a result of the color of their skin. Race has played a role in the opportunities, rights, and safety of individuals for as long as we can remember. o claim that one “does not see color because there is only one race, the human race” is detrimental because, while in theory, this is true, until color is no longer a contributing factor to one’s opportunities and interactions it is not fair to claim that color has no effect if we choose to turn a blind eye to it.
For hundreds of years, people of color have faced oppression in the United States; from slavery to being property to being considered 3/5 of a person to not having the right to vote, there is no doubt that people of color have had to work harder to still receive fewer opportunities. Every day, people of color are facing oppression and having a harder time getting the same opportunities as their white counterparts. For those who are not facing disadvantages, it is much easier to discount race as a factor in society; But by doing this, we are trivializing the oppression that people of color have not only experienced throughout history but are currently experiencing, as well. In 2017, on average an African American man made seventy-three cents to the dollar of a white man (which is a bigger gap than the gender gap we might add) (Pew Research Center, 2016). To us, this seems worthy of acknowledgment.
By choosing to not “see” race, we are not celebrating our differences our diverse and wildly interesting backgrounds. Though we most certainly agree that we should not be judged, excluded, disrespected, or any other such negative behavior on account of our differences, we don’t believe they should be ignored. In the fight for inclusion and equal rights and treatment, it would be far more productive to celebrate the differences among us rather than pretend they don’t exist.
Ways to Engage
The resistance or rejection of any concept or school of thought immediately begs the question: how do we respond in a mindful, positive, and educational way when we hear this term being used offensively or ineffectively? How do you let them know how you feel about the term without coming off as shaming, patronizing, or unproductive? Like all activism practices, it can teeter on the line of ignorant as a result of lack of education. The best advice we can give is similar to the advice we would give when confronting someone about any social activism issue: share the information you have learned, be respectful and listen to their side and what they are trying to accomplish, explain the drawbacks of using a “colorblind ideology” today, and brainstorm together how you can make it more inclusive, effective, and productive.
Let’s Re-Think the Concept
This article is certainly not suggesting that a “color blind” ideology regarding race is completely misguided or off limits, it is simply suggesting that the concept needs some reworking in order to be effective. So, here’s what we propose: rather than saying “I don’t see race,” try saying “race is completely irrelevant in this situation” if that is accurate. Alternatively, rather than saying you don’t see color, you can say “we are all equal.” These alternative phrases have very similar intentions but act in a far more productive way than disacknowledgement.
Efficient activism goes hand in hand with efficient education so educate yourself and educate those around you. In the end, it all comes down to the intentions we have when using certain language. If we are using a “color blind” approach in a positive way, we just need to make sure we are educated on the topic and are clear on what we are trying to get across. In addition, we need to be careful and mindful during our conversations and interactions with others. We must not only educate each other but ourselves first! Activism and advocacy are the building blocks of our country, we need to fight for what we believe in and try to make a change, but we mustn’t do so blindly.