Say what? Colorblind, Part II.

So now you have the history. Let’s get to the context.

Why am I talking about colorblindness? Yesterday The other day, amidst the many many bloggy happenings that went on, one of Aunt B’s threads ventured into (pardon the pun) some muddy waters.

Or, should I say, water that is difficult to see through but which has no discernable or relevant hue-related qualities. Heh, I kid. But the spectre of “colorblind” philosophy raised its head, and I had a mild, squeaky fit.

Since it was tangential, though, and since all sorts of other stuff was going on that day, I kind of let it drop. It’s hard to explain how such sincere well-intentioned comments made me start squirming around in my chair, wondering what to say. And firing off a half-baked, poorly linked reply wasn’t really going to help. So I dropped it.

Then I noticed that Kat, in the “When all else fails, blame black people” thread, had asked for my opinion on the matter, and I rethought it. So I gave her a short answer, and said I’d find the links and theory to beef that up today. Here’s to hoping nobody asks me to do anything strenuous today.

(Is it bad that I totally didn’t notice it was a different thread until just now, when I went to link it?)

Remember when I said I was working on two other posts? Well, one was a response to the “colorblind” thing, and the other was a fuller explication of some things that were snipped from my comment over at Mack’s place. Well, this post ate them both. Hopefully, I’ll be able to show you how all of this ties together.

*cracks knuckles* This is a huge subject. And I’m jittery enough right now, between the caffiene and the Adderall and the thirty million different ideas running through my head that I want to make sure to bring in, that this isn’t going to be the most eloquent post I’ve ever written. If you want eloquent and well-written, you might try the hair post, or It’s not that simple, or go over to Aunt B’s instead. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

I will be linking to a lot of POC blogs. Because this is a touchy subject, they may not always be nice, or explain their terms in ways that are comfortable for white readers. Keep in mind that although the tone may be challenging or confrontational, no one is trying to insult you personally.

Please also remember that, just as in your home communities, there are inside jokes, ideological shorthand, and codes of conduct that may not be immediately evident. If something seems unnecessarily harsh, or ill-explained, generally more looking will produce an explanation. If not, asking politely will usually get you pointed in the right direction.

If you are going to post in any of these places, I ask that you respect their rules, and treat them as safe spaces. Tekanji’s look at “minority spaces” may be useful here.

Oh, and even though this was inspired by some things that happened at Tiny Cat Pants and elsewhere, it really, truly isn’t directed at anyone. I switch back and forth between “I” “we” and “you” pretty frequently, and I know it’s a literary failing of mine. Bear with me, and remember: this isn’t (specifically) about you.


Some of the terminology I’m going to use here is necessarily going to be pretty specific. Since I always wind up wading into comments to clarify my terms, I might as well do it upfront.

Color-blind refers in this case to the philosophy that, in order to eliminate racism, one must (simply) ignore race entirely. It emphasizes treating everyone equally, and not judging based on skin tone or percieved ethnic features. It relies heavily on the (erroneous) assuption that it is the ability to (linguistically) mark people as “other” that facilitates the hatred directed to out-group members, and, much like in 1984, strives to simply eliminate the ‘bad’ words/concepts from the lexicon.

It’s sibling, race-neutral philosophy, is what I generally call the “charitable” reading of color-blind philosophy. Where colorblindness depends on near-literal “blindness” to racial characteristics, often to the tune of “I don’t think of you as black” statements, race-neutrality instead emphasizes the relative weight of percieved race or ethnicity in various situations. Under this philosophy, race is often likened to eye color; a real, visible marker that nonetheless has no legitimate bearing on hiring decisions, relationship matters, or other decisions.

POC – People of Color. Generally self-identified, but often used as a general marker denoting the ethnically non-white.

Brown – a recently popular term covering most of the same ground as POC. It is generally a reclamatory term, and despite popular colloquial color metaphors, may include Blacks and Asians if they so choose.

Essentialism – the belief that things are as they are because they are essentially, or inherently, that way. Often extended causally to include behavior, lending itself to arguments along the lines of “women like to cook because the nature of woman is to nurture.”

I will probably be using terms which may be found in Nezua’s Definition of Terms section as well, though I will try to link when doing so. Bear in mind that these definitions are tongue in cheek, but well convey the ire that often accompanies their use.

On to the analysis…

So what’s the deal? Being colorblind sounds like a really great idea, doesn’t it? After all, if you teach your kids not to notice what race people are, they won’t think to disparage people on the basis of things that don’t matter, right?

As far as it goes, it’s not an inadmirable sentiment. I fully believe that most people who profess colorblindness do so from a well-founded desire to do the right thing. Unfortunately, many of those same people have either not thought it out entirely, or simply don’t know what to do with it. And some people are just mean, and relish the increased opportunities for passive-aggressive bullying it allows. Sometimes, it just comes out racist.

As XicanoPwr puts it:

A common mistake among many white liberals is that they honestly believe if you merely announce to the world that you believe in the equality of all people, that would be the end it. This is NOT to say just because they do not “get it” that they should be compared to white supremacists that practice the overt forms of racism. I sincerely believe most white folks despise racism; however, many of them still do not “get it.”

There are a couple of problems with the framework, though.

1) It paints “color” as the problem. The problem is coded as race, not that people are racist.

I don’t want to be not black, I want not to be a problem. When you say “I don’t think of you as black,” you are ignoring me, plain and simple. I am black. That’s part of who and what I am. As Nezua (paraphrasing Rafael) said: “if you are COLORBLIND, then you don’t see my struggles.”

It is not my fault that race relations are fucked up. If you cannot simultaneously think about me as being a person of color and a regular person, a friend, a smart person, a potential employee, or what have you, that is your problem and you need to fix it.

2) It doesn’t address the underlying power structures. By pretending everyone is white, it implicitly casts “white” as better than any “race.” It just moves everyone into the same category, without addressing how and why those categories are constructed, or what might be messed up about constructing hierarchies the way they currently are.

3) It relies on the framework of white as the unmarked default. It only really works if you agree that the dominant cultural paradigm here is not a white one, and that white isn’t a racial and cultural framwork at all. Because otherwise, it would be “whitewashing,” and not “colorblindness.” You can only pretend to ignore race as long as you steadfastly deny any racial taint in the system you want everyone to hew to.

And make no mistake, that system has rules, and those rules are white rules. How you speak, how you dress, what your name sounds like, what music it’s okay to like… those are all coded into it. It’s worded indirectly, softly, “for your own good.” Don’t name your kid Quanishia or Shaquanda or Aalaiyya if you want her to get ahead. People will think that’s “ghetto,” you know. Make sure you wear your hair just right, so people don’t get the wrong idea. Oh, it’s not about race! Heavens no. It’s about propriety. It’s about class. It’s about presenting your best face to the world.

Never mind that to do that, you have to scrub off all the messy bits and pieces that remind other people that you’re not white. That well-meaning people will denounce your music and its accompanying culture[1] as “worthless,” because some of its prominent figures are unrepentantly misogynist. (Never mind the misogyny in pop, or rock, or jazz, and never mind that it’s not that simple. Never mind that there are white rappers, or that the music is consciously packaged and marketed toward a predominately white audience.)

4) It’s awkward. For people who are invested in their identity markers, it’s really uncomfortable to interact with a person who steadfastly refuses to admit those markers exist.

Going back to the gender parallel, as I said in my short original reply, it’s as if someone decided “I’m going to be gender blind; I’m going to treat everyone like they were men, just like me,” and proceeded to then hold everyone to masculine gender norms, regardless of their preferred, professed, or represented gender.

Or, to flip it, if someone decided they were going to be orientation blind, and went around talking to absolutely everyone as if they were homosexual. If I went around ignoring straight men’s girlfriends and trying to set them up with my male friends, and told them “Oh, I don’t think of you as straight,” the awkward would be the least of my issues.

Atheists – you know how your hackles rise every time someone assumes you’re Christian? And ignores your statements to the contrary? That’s what it feels like to have someone pretend you don’t have a race. It’s awkward at best, and tooth-gnashingly frustrating at worst.

Worse, it makes you the problem.

6) It makes me the problem.

One of the major, oft-repeated tenets of the vocally colorblind is that talking about race is a problem all by itself. If race isn’t explicitly talked about – even when a policy, decision, or act directly and specifically impacts a particular race over others – then obviously, racism isn’t the problem. Anyone who says differently is obviously bringing race in where race oughtn’t tread, and is probably racist themselves.

If, for instance, one wanted to comment about how it was strange that there were so few people of color at a certain elite institution… the conversation would magically shift to wondering why the person was talking about race. That race isn’t a valuable diversity characteristic, being reduced to “the color of their skin.” You don’t want to be fetishizing people for the color of their skin now, do you? Obviously, background was important… so we should be recruiting more poor people, more people from foreign countries, more republicans. Ideological and historical diversity. And if all of those people happened to be white, well… that just goes to show that you don’t need people of color around to be a diverse place.

You have turned your problem (that you think differently of people coded “other”) into my problem (that I am coded “other” in your presence, and making you think about it).

It’s like those boys in the Rebelution survey, talking about how girls and women were the problem because “they keep reminding us that we’re different.” Suddenly, it’s my problem for mentioning it, or looking like it, or reminding them of it.

I get to spend all of my time hearing the whispers “Look, there she goes, that black girl… always playing the race card. Why can’t she just shut up about it and talk about real problems?” And if a white person should mention it, suddenly the whispers shift to “Oh, poor thing… look at all that ‘white guilt’ he’s carrying around. Someone should tell him it’s not his fault.”

It’s not just complaint, of course. Simply being as you are, claiming that you are black, or asian, or what have you, is often enough. Stating that out loud, claiming pride in it… well that’s downright oppressive. White-as-unmarked people don’t get to claim White Pride, so what gives you the right to clam that your Brown is something to be proud of? Why are you dressing so ethnically? Are you trying to make a point? What political statement does your hair make?

7) It can lead to some racist-assed shit. (as if the stuff above wasn’t enough) Because the colorblind schema focuses so heavily on the semantic issues, just about anything goes if you frame it right.

Especially, it seems, within the feminist/progressive community. And once other issues (such as class) enter into it, it becomes that much harder to point out, and deal with. After all, so-and-so is such a good feminist/lefty/blogger/politico/”ally” that they couldn’t possibly be racist (or sexist, ableist, heterosexist, or what have you)

These aren’t issues solely linked to colorblind philosophy, obviously. A lot of this happens in people who think the very concept is silly. But I have seen and heard colorblind rhetoric employed in this manner, over and over and over again. Mentioning race is a problem. Calling attention to your racial differences is a problem. Talking about racial group phenomena is a problem. If we ignore it, then it won’t be a problem any more, right?

I suppose I could have just said: read this. But that would have been too easy.

Tying it all up:
Whew! That was long. Long enough to take me two days, and not nearly as eloquent as Part I… but I think I covered most of my issues with the framework itself. LEt’s see if I can squeeze out a Part III to bring some specificity to this discussion.

[1] I recognize the specificity of her complaint – the “pimp” culture instead of the “rap” culture or “black” culture. Their steady conflation in that and other threads, however, is part of what I’m talking about. It’s “their culture,” and it is a monolith somehow. As if there weren’t feminist rappers. Or critiques from within. As if all of rap could be reduced to pimp culture, or thug culture, when in fact that’s a subculture… a prominent one, but a subculture nonetheless.


  1. this is fantastic! i will definitely find a place somewhere to add this.

    why have we no “racism 101” blog yet? we could cram it full of just these types of posts. those ones we are finally driven to lay out for ourselves and for others. these are precious education.

  2. I guess I have a lot to say on this, and pardon if I’m not as clear-headed as I should be. When I say “colour-blind”, I use that as a subset of my upbringing. I’m a Mennonite. We’re a weird group of religious stepchildren, closer in faith and cultural kin to the Amish than just about anything else. We are taught that all people are equal on all playing fields. We use Scripture as our justification for this belief.

    It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve read various POC talking about the villainy of Colour-blindness as a philosophy. And as I read people’s tales on the subject (people like you and Mark over at Dork Nation) I see where you are coming from ideologically.

    What bothers me is the assumption which many POC bring to this argument. That assumption is that everyone who says things like “colour-blind” approaches that philosophy in the same way that POC culture has defined it. I guess if I had to short-hand my argument I’d phrase it thusly: You say I can’t understand the problems with Colour-blind because I’m not black. I say you can’t understand my total philosophy of Colour-blind because you aren’t Mennonite.

    Our teachings, which as I have said before elsewhere, go beyond “I see you all as myself: ie, white” and move into the realm of “I strive to see you all as Jesus sees you: ie. loved and valuable” And by “you all” I don’t just mean people of darker hue. I mean people of different faiths, cultures, political opinions, sexual orientation, etc.

    Do I believe racism exists? sure. Do I believe we can eradicate it? Yes and no. I think if everyone believed as the Mennonites believed, there would be no discrimination of any kind, against any person. I know realistically that can’t and won’t happen but it is a goal toward which I strive.

    So I don’t in any way mean to diminish your concerns about Colour-blind, and I think you have many valid points. I’d be a fool to not listen to the concerns of POC on this issue. But I’d also ask that folks do me the same courtesy of realising that when I speak of my worldview on this matter I’m not doing so to be hurtful.

  3. Hmmm. I don’t mean to argue that people can’t understand the issues with color-blind philosphy if they’re not black; I mean to argue that the philosophy as generally articulated (in the conversations I’ve experienced) has some gaping social and logistical holes, and that even those who get the philosophy down often have trouble with its application – which then turns out to be frustrating and condescending and racist.

    I think a philosophy that says “I strive to see you all as Jesus sees you: ie. loved and valuable” is pretty cool. I also think this is one of those times when we run into linguistic theft. When I’m talking to people at school, or browsing the internet, or listening to the TV, that’s not what people are saying. Sometimes there’s Jesus, but most of the time it’s just hiding. That’s why I delineated the race-neutral concept as distinct from the color-blind concept.

    And of course I don’t think you’re trying to be hurtful. I tried to make that clear… but I know there was a lot of text and that by the end I was pretty annoyed. I figured that you meant what you said, and that it was probably pretty close in form to what you just said now. I was trying to articulate why reading that particular term gave me the squiggies, and the particular ways I’ve been hurt by people arguing like that in the past.

  4. Heh, Nezua…I’d totally contribute to a Racism 101 blog. I just don’t want to do all the work of maintaining one. ;)

  5. this is one of those times when we run into linguistic theft

    And that’s my fault. Because I don’t even consider my philosophy “Colour-blind” as much as just my worldview, which happens to include colourblindness alongside the rest. I didn’t even realise that “Colour-blind” was an official term used in race-relations until Mark brought it up in January.

    I was trying to articulate why reading that particular term gave me the squiggies, and the particular ways I’ve been hurt by people arguing like that in the past.

    No I got it, and that’s why I asked you to explain. I know that if anyone is going to take the time and the words to explain it’d be you. Because I’ve had a lot of people hear me say ‘well I was raised colourblind’ and just freak right on out, leaving me totally in the dark as to what I had said wrong. When I ask for clarification, it’s usually followed with a “you’re white so you won’t get it” response.

    To which I always want to say “I’m white but I’m fat so there’s a lot I get about prejudice. Try me. If you want me to be educated about your position then educate me.”

    And I asked and you did and I’m glad because I’m learning.

  6. That’s a pretty good response, Kat, even if it’s unlikely to further the conversation with anyone being stubborn. But for me that’s always one of the things that will bring me up short… if someone just says that they really want to understand and I’m walking away too soon. So maybe try it next time!

    And I’m glad you’re finding it useful. I think that’s just about the biggest compliment someone could give me. :)

  7. I don’t want to step on Mags’ toes by reading ahead, Kat, but I wanted to cast this thing from a different angle, one that makes more sense to me.

    Seeing everyone as equally loved and valued in the eyes of God is a fine, fine thing, and one that’s done a lot of good work. And not everyone professing ‘color-blindness’ is always coming from the angle of ‘I just see you as being like me–normal–which happens, in my head, to be white!’ The overwhelming majority of people Mags and I have met, I think, professing ‘color-blind’ are coming from there, after some digging.
    Even if they aren’t explicit about the ‘white’ part, or whatever, the point is, they’re removing in their heads the markers that make the other person ‘different.’ And this is a thing only white and privileged people, in general, have the luxury of doing. Only men get to avoid thinking about gender–women on the whole can tell you volumes of the minutiae of gender relations men generally blink at, because in our society they don’t have to think about it–because they’re the ‘normal,’ unmarked case of ‘people.’

    Similarly, in our society, the general belief in a benign, singular, omnipotent-and-omnipotent Deity is sort of default–people only ‘stick out’ if they see the Divine differently or believe it doesn’t exist, and those people have to worry about their difference, and pay more attention to the dividers. It isn’t that people of color, or women, or queer folk, or atheists-and-heathenish-types like having those dividers there, or think they should be there; but if they don’t pay attention to them as established realities, they run into problems.

    If a woman decides that ignoring gender differences–because people shouldn’t be prejudged on the basis of their gender, and folk of all genders are equal in the eyes of God, which is true, and good things to believe generally–is the way to go, then she will probably put herself in danger, or at the very least some extremely awkward situations, because people who have power over her don’t ignore those distinctions, and there are consequences, worth it or no, for stepping out of bounds.

    I’m transgendered. I would love to not think about gender much, but I’m the marked-of-the-marked case. If I ignore gender because it shouldn’t be a problem, I am very likely to be killed.

    Race can work very similarly. I agree with you: it shouldn’t divide us. But if I make myself ‘color-blind’ then I can’t see the structure of stuff working against me, and lose certain tools and traction to do anything about it. The point isn’t to tell white people–like, God forbid, my father–that they’re bad, or that it’s individually their fault. The point is to not let them be ‘raceless,’ or the ‘unmarked case’–they don’t get to just be ‘normal people’ while the rest of us are variations.

    And that gets more at the angle I’m pushing for: color-blindness, on an individual philosophical level, generally comes from good intentions because much of it is basically admirable. But the problem is not just that only a few people have to luxury of not thinking about race all the time; it’s that color-blindness casts racism as an individual problem while ignoring it as an institutional problem. It keeps you from seeing, and fixing, the problems that crop up because other people are still dealing with race and treating you accordingly. Yes, it’s possible that you, yourself, are no longer discriminating–but then, if that person of color tells you that on an institutional level–say, by a governmental organization, or a school, or a cultural idea widely-held–they’re getting screwed, it starts to look like they’re making their own problems by believing in race as a reality, and can’t they just get over it?
    And that drives people of color absolutely crazy. And then the next response is, “Why are you being so irrational, POC? I’m not racist. I don’t see race at all, because we should all be equals.”

    We should be, but it’s not a level playing field to start with, and if we don’t look at the ways, institutionally, that playing field isn’t level, then we’re never going to be able to make it level so that we can, maybe, all eventually move on to not worrying about race. So long as race, the idea, is still having a real and concrete negative effect on people’s lives, they can’t afford to be color-blind. It that would be like ignoring incoming punches toward your face because you believe violence is wrong, and then being surprised when you didn’t have the chance to block or run away as options. When someone who has a bunch of bodyguards asks you why you’re being so weird–violence is wrong, and shouldn’t exist, so what was it that happened to you?–sometimes you get, well, really defensive.

  8. I should emphasize–I was largely raised color-blind, too. My parents both still strive for it. But it turns out only one of my parents really can try for it–my white dad. My mother has been dealing with the racism thrown at their interracial relationship–and the interracial relationship between her own parents–her whole life. And when they raised me to think I was just ‘normal’–sort of an honorary white person–it made me completely defenseless when I had to deal with the effects of racism on my own life.

    On a sidenote, Mags, did you ever see this?

  9. Dude, Little Light… I never saw that before, but that is awesome.

    It totally makes me want to go off on a tangent about that “using other people/cultures to fill in the bits of your identity.” I spent high school (and the beginning of college) trying so hard to be asian. To prove how Japanese I was, how with it. And I could totally relate to most of what my friends would say, but there was this constant need to fit. To not have to tell people my geneaology in order to like what I liked and be where I was. That would be an interesting counterpoint, maybe.

    As for the stuff actually on the main thread topic… you nailed my thoughts pretty exactly. That dynaimc of how individual positions come to cloud one’s view of larger phenomena, and then it seems like everyone else is being silly.

    Yes, it’s possible that you, yourself, are no longer discriminating–but then, if that person of color tells you that on an institutional level–say, by a governmental organization, or a school, or a cultural idea widely-held–they’re getting screwed, it starts to look like they’re making their own problems by believing in race as a reality, and can’t they just get over it?
    And that drives people of color absolutely crazy. And then the next response is, “Why are you being so irrational, POC? I’m not racist. I don’t see race at all, because we should all be equals.”

    You should paste that on a wall, or something. And maybe tattoo it on my ex-boyfriend’s head. That’d be neat.

  10. Wow, what a great way to start off my morning. Race theory! What can I say that magniloquence and little light haven’t already said?

    In terms of colorblindness, I tend not to agree with it. Seeing everyone as equal is a noble thing, perhaps, but it’s also a luxury. Furthermore, this blindness really only works if you’re looking down. When you’re of color, poor etc, the inequalities become extremely apparent extremely quickly. And being aware of them becomes a necessary part of your survival. Many of us, as Little Light has said, do not have the luxury of overlooking them, they affect us on a day to day basis.

    On another level, I also feel that color blindness is just sort of wrong headed in general. We are not the same. Everyone comes from a different place, has different opportunities, different levels of access to resources, connections, and power. This should be acknowledged. I dislike the idea that race should be overlooked, it shouldn’t! It may disadvantage me in some ways, but my race is not some mark of Cain I carry around with me, it’s part of me, it makes me different. I’m fine with that. I don’t want my differences to be overlooked necessarily. Rather than not seeing differences, shouldn’t we be more concerned with acknowledging them and attempting to respect them? That seems more constructive to me.

  11. We are not the same. Everyone comes from a different place, has different opportunities, different levels of access to resources, connections, and power. This should be acknowledged.

    Mennonism never claims that everyone is the same. Not at all. We only claim that everyone should be treated with the same grace.

  12. I believe you said above that non Mennonites might not understand your philosophy of color blindness. Ok, that’s fair. Tell me about it. I’m curious how everyone can be treated with the same grace when they come from different cultural backgrounds and (perhaps) have different religious beliefs without being condescended to.

    Also, forgive me, I come from a godless household. So where is this grace coming from exactly? From God, or Jesus? Or from the believer to the nonbeliever. Or from believer to believer? Also what is grace exactly anyway?

  13. Okay, wow. That’s a lot of questions with a very long answer. For various reasons I’m not as able to type as voluminously as Mags right now (although I can usually match her closely.) So if this initial answer is too brief or incites further questions, please feel free to ask for clarification and realise that I’m not meaning to be glib. I just literally am having physical difficulty at typing right now.

    Mennonites are a sect within Christianity. That being said, we believe that all people are fallen and that redemption is through the blood of Christ. We believe that Christ died for and loves all people. That death and redemption is the root of all Grace. The short answer on “grace” is kind treatment despite all circumstances.

    Unlike other sects of Christianity, Mennonites place a strong emphasis on service. We believe that God’s instruction to us is to act in all humility and kindness to others, to act in service to others. We believe that all human beings are deserving of the utmost respect. Like Quakers we are a Peace Church, which means that we disavow conflict as a means to resolution of differences.

    All of that is to say that when a Mennonite encounters someone, our first thought is always to be “how can I be of service to this person, whom God loves and has put in my path?” It could be a poor person who needs food or clothes or shelter. It could be a wealthy person who needs consolation over the death of his cat. It could be a Chinese immigrant who needs a place to stay, a job, help navigating immigration.

    If you are always thinking about service to people, you are always dealing with individuals and their individual circumstances. Ethnicity is generally a factor in some individual’s circumstances and you deal with it as it comes up.

    That’s another thing about Mennonism. We tend to be very individualistic. And see the world in the same way. Which means we don’t really see groups or classes of people or institutions, but each person as a constellation of circumstances. I guess. I mean, I’m more used to looking at people as people and not “that group of ______ over there.” So this is kind of a hard conversation to have. Because the more we talk about “colourblind” I get the feeling that I’m less “colourblind” and more purely individualistic. Because reading all of your words about CB, it seems as though that’s just looking at a group of people and saying that the thing which identifies them as a “group”–their skin colour and attendant culture–is irrelevant. And in the culture of Mennonism that’s not really how it works. We just believe that everyone is to be equally loved and equally served.

    As to what their faith may be, that’s irrelevant. To us God is God and our God instructs us to act in humble service to all mankind. We do not serve you because of your faith or your ethnicity or your government. We serve you because God put us here to serve you.

    A bit more here.

  14. Sorry, I tend to make up in compactness what I lack in quality. Looking back on that now, I see that that was kind of a lot to ask at once. I wanted to ask more detailed questions, and then kept running up against the fact that I didn’t really know much about the terms. Anyway, I apologize for any difficulties you had in typing, and your response is definitely long enough to suit me and make me think.

    I see where you’re coming from in terms of seeing the individual. I think that’s also something I try to apply to my social life.

    Colorblindness it seems to me is not just about erasing race or categorizing certain people as “those people”. It also seems to assume the idea that when two people meet, they are completely free of any accompanying baggage. However, sometimes two individuals inhabit unequal positions in relation to each other. The positions of those with privilege and those without. These positions will shift depending on the time, the issue, or the person encountered.

    If I, as a Japanese American, encounter a Korean person, I need to be aware, that while I am not directly responsible, I may represent to them a legacy of ethnic cleansing, imperialism, and rape. They have history and cultural experiences which will influence the way they perceive me.

    Given this, I don’t think I can treat them like an individual completely removed from cultural considerations. To do so, I believe, would essentially deny what Korean people suffered at the hands of the Japanese and would put me in the wrong. I need to be conscious of my position in relation to this person. I don’t believe you can separate a person from their culture, or fully view a person without it.

    Also, although you might be able to overlook the race of a person of color, they might not be able to do the same thing. If you are a member of a community which is struggling for political legitimacy, or for recognition of its existence, a white person saying that this integral part of you does not matter in the way that they view you can be deeply threatening.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your beliefs with me. It definitely cleared some stuff up for me.

  15. nm said

    Seeing everyone as equal is a noble thing, perhaps, but it’s also a luxury. Furthermore, this blindness really only works if you’re looking down.

    Lovelesscynic, this sums a lot of things up that I wish I had been taught as a child. It’s a tremendously painful thing to have to come to grips with within oneself. The problem is that once having realized it, a person can become so wary and distrustful of her/his own motives as to become paralyzed — which, I think, is why many people in privileged positions resist seeing it.

    KC, a side question on the Mennonism: most Mennonites I have known seem to be group-oriented in their ideas of service. That is, they act as a group/community to be of service. I was not aware of the idea that service is central in individual interactions, as well. Would you say that your interpretation is an idiosyncratic version of Mennonism, or is it just that when I’ve dealt with Mennonites they’ve been there consciously representing the community?

  16. nm, I do have some idiosyncratic takes on Mennonism, most specifically to my personal stance on guns.

    But as for individual vs. corporate service, I think I’m fairly mainstream.

    is it just that when I’ve dealt with Mennonites they’ve been there consciously representing the community?

    Probably that. You’ve probably been dealing with the MDR groups or one of the Peace groups. When we go to help out various places, we generally go as an organised group. But the humble service approach to living is pretty central to Mennonite teaching.

    Whereas a lot of Christians think their job is to convert people we take it as our job to serve people.

  17. nm, I think that it’s always easier to be (self) righteous from the position of the oppressed rather than from one of privilege. So, although I’m not white, I can sympathize I think. There are times when I feel unsure of what to do, because I am in a position of privilege.

    That said, I do think that the privileged person has the responsibility to overcome their own paralysis. (I think you describe the feeling quite well.) Personally I’ve found that learning about what gives me privilege empowers me. Also, by reading by myself, it’s much easier to learn without offending someone or burdening someone else with my uninformed good intentions.

  18. XP said

    That was a great post. You touched on so many aspects of the this color-blind rhetoric, while at the same time summarizing it nicely.

    I just have say, I totally understand where you are coming from when I read this:

    And I’m jittery enough right now, between the caffiene and the Adderall and the thirty million different ideas running through my head that I want to make sure to bring in, that this isn’t going to be the most eloquent post I’ve ever written.

    I just have a question, do you find it hard to find an ending point to your post. For me, I feel I haven’t said enough and find it hard to end it. It is not until I hit “post it” I feel bad that I have written too much.

  19. nm said

    lovelesscynic, I don’t think that sympathy is exactly what white people need in this dilemma. Empathy, sure — but the kind of empathy that says: “Yeah, that truly is tough, so you’d better fix it. Now do something about it.” Because otherwise the paralysis just becomes a piece of the privilege: “oh, poor me, I don’t know what to do so I don’t have to do anything.” As you say, learning about privilege, how it works, where it shows up, what it feels like, that’s the first step. And usually in discussions about white privilege in particular, I try to sit back and learn, at least for a while, before jumping in. But I know Magni (internettily) from elsewhere, so I feel free to speak up here. And, I guess, creating connections that let us feel welcome to be part of the discussion is a good second step.

    Anyway, this is a good post with helpful discussion.

  20. […] and a word from a blogger i just discovered who did a three part series on racism: Feline Formal Shorts […]

  21. […] Relations 101 – Colorblindness Colorblind Racism Say what? Colorblind, Part II Colorblind Racism vs. Old Fashioned […]

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