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Racism is the problem, not seeing colors or differences

  • Author: E.J.R. David
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published December 13, 2014

At first glance, the notion of being colorblind -- or "not seeing race"-- seems like a good thing. Relatedly, the idea of a "melting pot" society -- where we all become one -- looks like a wonderful scenario on the surface. Both of these concepts sound so good, look so attractive, and are so "catchy" that they've become popular buzzwords that almost everyone has come to automatically and uncritically regard as the ideals that we should strive for. They have been easily accepted by many as our vehicle toward the realization of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.

In reality, however, the "colorblind" and "melting pot" ideals have done nothing but to preserve oppressive systems and hide prejudiced attitudes, essentially operating as barriers to truly achieving MLK's dream.

Let's break it down.

The problem with 'colorblind' and 'melting pot' ideas

The recent tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice -- along with stories of many other black and brown individuals who were harassed, imprisoned, or killed by police officers -- have brought national attention to race relations and racism once again. Despite overwhelming data and research showing that black and brown individuals are disproportionately over-represented in our prisons, that black and brown folks are more likely to be perceived as threatening and deviant than white folks, and that black and brown boys are more likely to be perceived as guilty, face police violence, and be accused of a crime than white boys, many of our American brothers and sisters still continue to claim that race is not a factor and should not be a factor in these and all other cases. Despite the very different lived realities between peoples of color and white folks, as can be seen through the real life stories shared online under the hashtags #CrimingWhileWhite and #AliveWhileBlack, many of our fellow Americans still insist that race doesn't matter.

Some of us cannot even think of any rational reason for why people of color would perceive racism and injustice, because -- according to many of our fellow Americans -- we've already made so much progress as a society in eliminating racism that racism is essentially dead. So if racism is dead, we shouldn't even consider racism as a factor anymore. And because racism is no longer relevant, we shouldn't even see race anymore. This is where the notion of colorblindness comes in. And for the many of us who do acknowledge that racism does exist, the typical, quick go-to buzzword of an answer to solve racism is by not seeing race. Being colorblind comes in when someone says something like, "I don't care what your color is, or what race you are ... I don't even see or consider race at all."

But seeing color is not the problem, racism is. Also, seeing color is not the reason racism exists. Even further, seeing color is not racism. Racism is when we regard one color as superior, better, more acceptable, more desirable, and ideal than other colors. So, pretending or choosing to not see color will not solve racism; colorblindness will just ignore racism and maintain it.

Being colorblind is not what we should strive for because -- as a person of color -- I believe the colorblind ideology does not bring people up to make everyone equal. Instead, being colorblind puts us down, and keeps us down. It denies our existence. For many of us, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities are important parts of who we are. For many of us, it's our connection to other people -- our friends, families, and ancestors. We value such identities and such connections, so we don't want people to be "blind" to them. We don't want people to ignore such important parts of our identities, and we certainly don't want people to pretend that our race, ethnicity and cultural heritage do not matter in our current society.

We are proud of who we are, and so we want people to see, respect, and value the entirety of who we are -- including our color. We don't want others to not see our color; we want others to regard our color as equal to theirs.

Being colorblind devalues us, our heritage and our culture. Being colorblind devalues our realities and the lived experiences of our ancestors -- experiences of pain, struggle, trauma, devastation, as well as experiences of love, strength, resilience and hope.

Colorblindness sends the message that race and ethnicity do not matter, and that we shouldn't even see it. Essentially, it makes race and ethnicity -- and the inequalities and injustices based on race and ethnicity -- topics that we shouldn't even talk about. So how can we solve a problem if we can't talk about it? How can we solve the problem of racism if we won't even acknowledge that it exists?

Related to colorblindness is the notion of a "melting pot" society, which is problematic because it implies that we should all become one and the same, to be indistinguishable from each other. It sends the message that we should lose what makes our racial, ethnic, and cultural groups unique and that we should all just "blend" together and become one. And once we've all melted together, then there's really no need to pay attention to the variety of colors anymore, because there would be none. Just like the colorblind idea, the melting pot concept also tries to erase us -- to render us invisible. Again, we don't want to simply "assimilate" and lose our racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.

So we need to be more critical of the "melting pot" idea and question if that's what we should really strive for as a society. We need to remember that -- as is typical of many melting pots -- the scum usually rises to the top while the stuff at the bottom usually get burned. I doubt this is the type of society that Dr. King dreamed of.

Getting back on track toward Dr. King's dream

Dr. King dreamed that we will one day live in a nation where we are judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin -- not because we've lost the different skin colors of the world, not because we have become blind to colors, not because we choose to not see colors, and not because we are pretending that skin color does not matter anymore. MLK dreamed for us to not be judged by the color of our skin because he hoped that all of the colors will come to be equally valued, respected and loved. We are not there, and buying into the false promise of the colorblind and melting pot ideals will not get us there.

Perhaps, instead of colorblindness, it might be more beneficial for us as a society to see the reality that there are many different colors in our world -- let's be conscious about race and where we might be in relation to others. The real world has plenty of colors and they're beautiful. Don't you want to see reality and appreciate its beauty? Or do you prefer pretending that the diversity of colors in our world does not exist and does not matter?

Perhaps instead of a melting pot, we should strive for diversity and multiculturalism -- where we equally appreciate, respect and value different peoples, worldviews, cultures and ways of doing things. Indeed, we don't need to all be the same for us to have respect and love for each other.

E.J.R. David, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where he also serves as the Director of the Alaska Native Community Advancement in Psychology (ANCAP) Program. He was born in the Philippines, was raised in Barrow, Alaska, and is the author of "Brown Skin, White Minds" and "Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups."

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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