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Robin Boylorn on the Problems of Colorblindness

Kierra Wright

Colorblindness is an invention intended to eliminate racism. When well-meaning white folk say they don’t see color, what they mean to say is they don’t want to be held accountable, or held hostage to the ways white people have historically victimized people of color in this country.

When they say skin color doesn’t matter, what they mean is they are uncomfortable admitting that race translates to disadvantages for people of color and privileges for people who are white.

When they say they see all people the same way regardless of race, what they mean is that they don’t share the racist views of their parents, and they don’t want to promote the ideas of racial difference that led to institutionalized racism and the ideology of white supremacy.

Truth is, people of color want to be seen. They don’t want their race ignored, their color erased, or their culture whitewashed, and they don’t want to be told they are “just like white people,” which is the promise of colorblindness.

Colorblindness centers whiteness by assuming that an absence of color, or a refusal to acknowledge it, is preferable to being of color and embracing it. It also implies that the only way people of color can be treated fairly is if they are treated like they are white, and if that is the answer, we’re asking the wrong question.

Race is biologically arbitrary, but socially relevant. If race doesn’t exist, then racism can’t exist either, and neither can racial discrimination, which are realities people of color live with everyday, the consequences of which have generational implications.

Colorblindness wants to shove race under a rug and leave it there, but race is not a dirty word, and we can’t cure what we cover up.

Colorblindness will not end racism. In fact it can be argued that colorblindness is itself a form of racism.

The problem with colorblindness is the assumption that “seeing” and acknowledging race is racist.

The problem with colorblindness is it oversimplifies the relationship between perceived race and racism.

The problem with colorblindness is it ignores the lived experiences of people of color.

The problem with colorblindness is it wants to pretend that race doesn’t matter (when it does), or that we are in a post-racial moment (when we’re not).

Colorblindness is not a cure for racism, because racism is a byproduct of white supremacy, not the ability to tell the difference between skin tones.

And perhaps instead of pretending we don’t see color, we need to instead try to see whiteness and the harmful ways its inherent invisibility and assumed normality makes spaces unsafe for people of color.

Another problem with colorblindness is the ableism implied in the term. As a medical condition, colorblindness isn’t the inability to see colors, it is seeing colors differently. Perhaps if seeing race differently were the point of colorblindness, instead of ignoring it altogether, it would be a notable option.

We need better ways of engaging race, not those that attempt to disguise the problem, but those that seek to eradicate it.

I’m Robin Boylorn, until next time, keep it crunk!

Written by Robin Boylorn

Edited by Brittany Young



Brittany Young is Alabama Public Radio's Program Director and Content Manager. Brittany began her public radio journey in the spring of 2015 as a news intern for APR while in graduate school at The University of Alabama.
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