I Was (Color) Blind But Now I See

One of the things I appreciate about the internet is how the greater anonymity makes strangers more willing to broach topics that would ordinarily be taboo in such situations as riding on a public bus. It also gives me a chance to hear opinions and thoughts I am not ordinarily exposed to within the social circles I keep.

A topic from the other day concerned the idea of being “color-blind” with regard to race in America. This idea of being color-blind is a major part of the discourse in the post-Civil Rights era, and not essentially a bad one. Sure, what could be more ethical and noble than following the precepts of Dr. King who asked us to judge people on character rather than race?

That is… if that’s what King actually said. People are most familiar with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which I think more than earned it’s place in the annuls of history. What people seem to miss though is that King was speaking of a dream–in the sense of an event that is not real but is desired. And it’s on this axis that people often misconstrue his idea of a “color-blind” society in such a way that grossly violates King’s ideas and the entire Civil Rights movement.

While King dreamed of a raceless society, he was always aware that he lived in a racist one. And he knew that the solution to overcoming racial discrimination was not a matter of a mere shift in perspective, going spontaneously color-blind. Equality, as has been articulated a thousand times, requires justice. Without a redress of wrongs done and a correction, there is no justice in simply declaring even stevens.  The reality of social inequality would not evaporate by nullifying race; the inequalities would still be there, only instead of being there “because one is a minority” it’d be because “one was a minority.” Semantics wont fix up neighborhoods, schools or provide capital.

Another problem with “color-blind” is that it would take away our ability to know if equality exists or not. It’s not an opinion but fact that there is racial discrimination in society, but if we make race impermissible to talk about or see its every manifestation as an illusion we’d just be willing ignorance. Under that kind of hush-hush attitude it’s possible that racial problems could even get worse, as the perpetrators could not be made accountable.

So what is left? A vicious circle? We can never escape from race -thinking because we always need to be on guard for racism? Maybe, maybe not. I believe only the continuation of history will tell how far we can make it out of the circle. Certainly there have been changes. I’m thinking of an example of a black couple buying a movie ticket at a theater. Does race mean anything there? Probably not. But it wasn’t long ago where that couple might’ve been barred from that theater. On the other hand, maybe this same couple were denied a home that was later given to a white couple, even though their incomes & credit were better. Fact: it happens, all the more reason not to take absolute measures to a half-solved problem.

One of the most common reactions I get to such ideas is that of “victimization.” There is no justice needed for social problems, they say. That would only be “handouts,” which would degrade the self-confidence of minority groups. And, after all, “my Irish great-grandparents worked their way out of discrimination.” The only rational consequence of such ideas is to blame minorities for their situation. Talk about being blinded by color!

What this thought boils down to is insistence that racism is not a white problem. Blacks are simply in a disadvanted position because of some natural Act of God event or the actions of whites in the past, but the contemporary white has washed him/herself of prejudice, so they say. And it becomes a matter of collective guilt as well. A lot of whites react to the issue of white priviledge with a “well, I don’t discriminate!” declaration. Maybe, but nor do I rape, but I don’t deny that rape exists. Thing is, if whites continue to use social leverages to discriminate against blacks then the “victim card” rhetoric is all bullshit. It’s more a matter of a “denial card” at work.

My manifesto (simply): let’s not disregard race and hope for equality; let’s make equality then disregard race.


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