Glenn Bigonet, M.A.
Social Activist for Racial Equity
Facilitating Discussions about Racism
"White people think it's a compliment when
they do not 'see' you as a black person."
Morgan Jerkins, This Will Be My Undoing
Probably the most common way that progress white people have tried to fight racism is by trying to become color blind. Some people say this was inspired by Martin luther King when he said he dreamed of a day when he would be judged by the strength of his character instead of by the color of his skin. Many people took these words to heart and decided if we ignore the color of people's skin and keep our focus on who the individual is, then we will no longer be racist and we can stop racism in our society. A whole generation of us have focussed on being color blind and teaching our children to be color blind as well.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to be truly color blind as we are constantly bombarded with direct and indirect messages about race that influence our unconscious biases. It is impossible to truly be blind about something that is in front of us every day. Beverly Daniel Tatum writes "In theory, this sounds good, but it overlooks the fact that people of color are not having the same experiences as White people."(p. 226-227) In "Racism Without Racists" Eduardo Bonilla-Silva states that "If we take seriously whites' self-profession to color blindness, one would expect significantly high levels of racial interaction with minorities in general and blacks in particular."(p.16) Where this is not the case in today's world it is clear evidence that true color blindness does not yet exist.
Although good intentioned, attempted color blindness in the end supports racism. First, because we say we are color blind then we are clear that we are not part of the problem and therefore there is nothing we can do to change it. We therefore fall into white apathy and don't address it at all allowing the status quo of racial harm to continue. Second, because we refuse to see color we are much less likely to see racism when it is right in front of us. We simply can't allow ourselves to acknowledge racism when we don't acknowledge that people of color have different experiences than we do because of the color of their skin.
My Experiences around Color Blindness
For myself I have strived for years to be color blind but have struggled with my not being able to do it as so many racist thoughts would come into my head when I'd be interacting with someone of color. As I believed that others truly were color blind this caused me regular shame and distress that I was unable to. The one place that I thought I was truly successful was in my goal of teaching my children to be color blind. Their mom and I were determined to make sure that we weren't going to raise children who were going to be racist. As I've grown to understand the harm that color blindness can cause I've begun to have discussions with my now adult children about racism only to learn that they were not in fact color blind like I thought they were. I feel like we are now for the first time in a place where we can have real conversations about racism and our roles in supporting it.
|Copyright © 2020 Glenn Bigonet, M.A.|