Social Justice Usage
Source: Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House. Kindle Edition, p. 10.
The common idea of claiming “color blindness” is akin to the notion of being “not racist”—as with the “not racist,” the color-blind individual, by ostensibly failing to see race, fails to see racism and falls into racist passivity. The language of color blindness—like the language of “not racist”—is a mask to hide racism.
Term used to describe personal, group, and institutional policies or practices that do not consider race or ethnicity as a determining factor. The term “colorblind” de-emphasizes or ignores race and ethnicity as a large part of one’s identity.
New Discourses Commentary
In the Theory of critical Social Justice, the liberal ideal of colorblindness (not considering race or ethnicity a determining factor) is considered an unjust ideology that is used by dominant racial groups (white people) to oppress people of color by denying the relevance of race and racism in their lives. It is, in fact, considered a harmful and racist myth, and much theoretical work goes into attempting to deconstruct and dismantle the idea and problematize it. Nevertheless, the first sentence in the second example above is accurate to the term. The second statement gives away the game: Critical Social Justice Theory sees being colorblind as a problem. It sees it as such for two reasons, one mostly good and one nearly wholly bad.
The mostly good reason is because, not wholly wrongly, being colorblind also often implies being racism-blind, that is, ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of the fact that racism is still likely to be occurring in various ways that are attached to race (see examples below). That is, claiming “I don’t see color” (colorblindness) sometimes gets attached to a hasty generalization that concludes, “therefore racism isn’t a real problem anymore.” Racism-blindness is a legitimate problem that can come along with colorblindness, although it is a distinct concept and should be treated as such.
If Social Justice Theory left it at that, that reason would be a pretty good one to be more careful around the idea of colorblindness than we might otherwise be. It does not. Instead, it posits that this is an intentional ideological move by white people who wish to maintain their racial dominance of people of color and attempt to use declarations like “I don’t see color” to position themselves as “good whites” and thus avoid their need for doing antiracism work. A large variety of concepts have been Theorized to expand upon this cynical line of thought, including, to name a few, the racial contract, colortalk, white talk, white innocence, white ignorance, white equilibrium, white comfort, white solidarity, racial stress, and white fragility.
The almost wholly bad reason that Social Justice rejects the notion of colorblindness is that it promotes identity-first thinking and identity politicking, as opposed to taking more liberal approaches that do not center identity (in fact, it sees these as the problem). Identity politics is ultimately one of the core goals of the critical Social Justice endeavor, and this is incompatible with colorblind liberalism. If someone is colorblind, it isn’t just that they don’t notice race in the sense usually implied (not discriminatory); they also won’t see it in terms of a site for offering advantages (as under Affirmative Action or equity paradigms, which Social Justice advances vigorously). Much of identity politics can be summarized under a rubric of “don’t notice my identity when that works against me because that would be discrimination, but do notice my identity when it works for me because equity is important.” (Critics of identity politics tend to notice and do not appreciate this double standard, particularly since it is then applied in reverse to white people with roughly the same justifications.) Problematizing colorblindness allows this form of activism to proceed, even at the cost of increasing racial salience and thus, probably, racism.
Active ignorance; Antiracism; Center; Colortalk; Consciousness raising; Deconstruct; Dismantle; Dominance; Equity; Good white; Identity; Identity-first; Identity politics; Ideology; Injustice; Liberalism; Oppression; People of color; Pernicious ignorance; Position; Problematize; Race; Racial contract; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Racism-blind; Social Justice; Theory; White; White comfort; White equilibrium; White ignorance; White innocence; White solidarity; White talk; Willful ignorance
Source: Thompson, A. “Colortalk: Whiteness and Off White.” Educational Studies, 30(2), 1999: 141–160, p. 143.
Certainly there is some warrant for this equation of colorblindness with non-racism; in many everyday encounters with white people-in the grocery checkout lane, for instance, or when driving a car—people of color would indeed prefer not to be treated differently because of their skin color. But colorblindness is not always non-racist. In a multicultural and racist society, whites’ refusal to acknowledge color will sometimes mean refusing to recognize the obstacles facing people of color or to see that, depending on the context, different ethnic and racial groups may have distinct needs and interests.
Source: Delgado, Richard. Critical Race Theory (Third Edition) (Critical America). NYU Press. Kindle Edition, p. 27.
Color blindness can be admirable, as when a governmental decision maker refuses to give in to local prejudices. But it can be perverse, for example, when it stands in the way of taking account of difference in order to help people in need. An extreme version of color blindness, seen in certain Supreme Court opinions today, holds that it is wrong for the law to take any note of race, even to remedy a historical wrong. Critical race theorists (or “crits,” as they are sometimes called) hold that color blindness of the latter forms will allow us to redress only extremely egregious racial harms, ones that everyone would notice and condemn. But if racism is embedded in our thought processes and social structures as deeply as many crits believe, then the “ordinary business” of society—the routines, practices, and institutions that we rely on to do the world’s work—will keep minorities in subordinate positions. Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will do much to ameliorate misery.
Revision date: 7/8/20