For White People Who Believe Colorblindness Is Enough
For White People Who Believe Colorblindness Is Enough
The past few week has felt like America is at war with itself. Every morning I woke up to a new hashtag, a new Black American killed by police. Over and over again, I saw the same images, heard the gunshots on repeat. My Facebook and Twitter feeds turned into spaces of Black grief and, more often than not, white passivity.
White friends of mine posted the videos of Black people being shot in the street as if it was the latest Buzzfeed video, videos which autoplayed and forced me to watch the same executions over and over again. Too bad, so sad. White outrage reserved for the death of people we ignored and stereotyped in life. Dust to dust.
When I was younger, it was easier to pretend that I could wash my hands of racism by pretending that I did not see race. In first grade, listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. tell us that one day he dreamed of little Black boys and girls and little white boys and girls holding hands, I looked across the table at my Black classmate and felt a sense of pride. We are sitting at the same table, I thought to myself. Martin would be so happy. As if it were that simple.
King’s face plastered the walls of my white friends’ social media accounts this week, statements of non-committal calls for racial unity taking up the space reserved for outrage and grief with their bloated, Times New Roman styled forms. It will all be okay, just forget our differences, they seemed to plead.
White America looked to President Obama, the man Maureen Dowd today called “Barry” like he was a schoolboy and not our nation’s leader, for some sort of quick fix and, when he provided none, openly scorned. He was White America’s promissory note, Post-Racial America personified. But nothing about America is post-racial, and so we turn to him, the person we believe is supposed to fix this, and rip into him because he’s a Black man who has been openly Black and never once said sorry for it. It is easier to blame him than it is to blame ourselves.
If we don’t see race, we can’t see racism. There is no disparity in the non-entity. We believe that by closing our eyes and willing our minds to bleach ― and yes, bleach, as in whitewash, because colorblindness is only useful if it’s done on white terms ― out the shades of inequality inherent in our skin, we can starve the systems of inequality that persist behind the scenes.
Inequality does not care whether or not you recognize it. It continues to bleed across the lives of people across America who wind up in prison for decades for selling marijuana to white college students or who are kept in cycles of abject poverty. More uncomfortably, it seeps into the lives of millionaire football players whose bodies we scrutinize for flaws before naming our price and singers who are not supposed to be angry that their husband strayed to Becky with the good hair because that emotion is reserved for a select few.
Blindness is never a desired trait. If you are colorblind in the literal sense, you are unable to fly a plane in the Air Force. No one envies the woman walking down the street with a guide dog as they ensure a distance between themselves and her. We want the kind of blindness where you can still see, but you can shut your eyes and claim that you did not know any better when someone asks you to look inwards and think critically.
Color blindness is what encouraged me when I was younger to look through my sixty-four pack of Crayola crayons and pick out the perfect shade of peach when I wanted a skin color. It is what rests in the minds of little Black girls who point to the picture of the girl with the darkest skin and label her stupid. It is a broken promise, the shards of which form the vitriol flowing from the mouths of former New York City mayors when we are asked to get in formation. Color blindness does not protect you from the consequences of racial disparity, it merely shields you from having to take responsibility for them. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Colorblindness has deadly consequences when we do not possess the capacity to acknowledge that we all possess racial biases. When you cannot admit that you have been conditioned to associate Black bodies with criminality, lawlessness, and depravity, you can do nothing to unlearn those associations. The price for acknowledging the reality of racism is high, because it means that behind closed doors and through the mouth of a megaphone you will be labeled all sorts of terrible things.
Ironically, white people are often so concerned with being labeled a racist when they understand that racism still exists that they further entrench themselves in racist practices to protect themselves from an expected backlash.
I’m not a racist, but. The construction of racism as an ephemeral idea lacking grounding in bodies makes it impossible to end. If racism is not embedded in our person and our practices, there is nothing we can do to stop it. We sustain it by refusing to acknowledge that yes, we are racists, and yes, we want to change.
Our colorblind society is one that permits genderblindness, sexualityblindness, ablilityblindness, and classblindness. Indeed, any collective permission for us to pretend that our loathing of a Black Ghostbuster is not informed by her Blackness or her womanhood allows us to continue acting like it is normal to make a movie trailer one of the most disliked videos of all time, or like it is normal to watch a girlfriend cradle her dying boyfriend in her arms and call for help from a police force who respond by restraining her while she listens to him stop breathing. It allows us to sue our universities for granting Black Texans admission while pretending that it’s not our mediocre grades that kept us out but our white skin that we conveniently see when it helps us get all the way to the Supreme Court.
It allows us to ignore the fact that 509 people have been shot by the police this year and instead attack an actor on a flagging show about doctors who sleep with each other for asking white people to look in the mirror and ask themselves where they sit in our society. It allowed me at the age of seven to believe that I was permanently recused from racism because I sat across from a boy whose skin had melanin and I didn’t call him the kinds of names I heard people use on television.
Your Instagram posts of quotes you found on Tumblr, those NowThis videos you shared the other night in between episodes of Love & Hip-Hop, that meme you liked after crossing the street to avoid the Black man with the shopping cart outside of Union Square Park, they are all meaningless if you don’t open your eyes. None of your posts or strings of binary code erase that racist voice inside of every white person’s head. It might make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it does not work to end racism. It does not unlearn your racist ideologies if you refuse to perform in an anti-racist way. It does not save you.
The only thing that can is your decision to work, and work hard, on changing your mindset. It’s possible, although not easy. But it requires time, and energy, and action, and discomfort, and you de-centering yourself in a world that normally doesn’t ask you to do that. Once you open your eyes, it is impossible to look at things the same way again.