Lately I have been writing and thinking about the concept of “colorblindness.” My inspiration came from Coleman Hughes’ defense of the concept and the great analogy to a person being “warm hearted.” Nobody expects that person’s heart is literally above average warmth as measured in degrees Fahrenheit. And nobody seriously thinking about operating in a colorblind manner actually believes that they can not see a person’s skin color or infer anything about them.
In articulating, then defending colorblindness, the arguments against that concept have given me more insight into why it is the only way to move forward ethically. Because it’s main ideological opponent, being “color-conscious,” is surrendering to racism.
Being color-conscious surrenders intellectual territory to the concept that race is real in order to use that false presupposition to turn the tables on social/political power dynamics.
And to be clear, when referring to colorblindness I am not referring to the straw man version I often hear derided, but what the civil rights activists of the past meant. Specifically that a person’s color and character are independent variables. Any conflation that takes color into account when judging a person’s character is by definition racist.
Basic arguments against colorblindness don’t address it as it is defined above but take it to mean that people pretend that they are blind to color which also ignores the person’s culture and whatever else may be tied to their unique identity. When I Google “colorblindness” in regards to race, the first ten articles addressing this concept claim it is harmful but are arguing against a straw man, and frankly childish version of it. But nobody ever meant for that to be the case, because this version of colorblindness is just silly. And I don’t consider men like MLK or any of his contemporaries to be silly men.
Leaving the dishonest arguments aside, the most popular argument against colorblindness seems to be something akin to this: “Yes, that is all good and fine. However, you cannot just ignore the structure of society and live as if it doesn’t matter. People will see you in a certain light and your life will be affected by that, not what you wish for them to believe.” And I can sympathize with that. The structure of our society and the language we use make it really difficult to move outside of that structure.
But here’s my problem with that — again, it sounds like a surrender to racism. Why should I participate and perform a social act based on falsehoods?
The concept of race we are working within is one that was created with no scientific backing and its categories were used as an intellectual justification for a racial caste system. Those categories endured throughout the centuries and were used in part to justify horrible oppression and brutalization of people. Even throughout 20th Century America, beyond the abolition of slavery and through Jim Crow laws, those categories were used to solidify social and political power. But what should we do in response to that? Well, these seem to be our most popular options right now:
- Recognize how those socially constructed categories have been used for power and use them to reverse the power grab for people of color as opposed to taking it from them in order to establish socioeconomic equity.
- Recognize those socially constructed categories have no basis in reality and transcend them by focusing on common humanity as the basis for legal and social equality.
The former is what I’m referring to when I mention surrendering to racism. And that is in large part what we see coming from Critical Social Justice, CRT, woke — or whatever anyone would call them — “strategies.” Instead of fighting the original racist presuppositions, they surrender that intellectual ground and use those same false categories to advocate for social & political power.
“The white man is using race for power, so guess what. Me too!”
This is in part why the woke and the racist often end up saying very similar things. They are both working under the same framework and fighting for the same thing: social/political power.
I wrote about that awhile back here and provided some specific examples.
A perfect example of how this works out in action is this quote from leading antiracist scholar, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi:
“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination.”
What Dr. Kendi is suggesting here is a great example of that framework. In order to create what he refers to as “antiracist discrimination,” you must first identify groups of people against whom to discriminate. And how do you do that? By utilizing racial categories created with no scientific basis that have been previously used for ill. Instead of equality, this feels more like revenge. And even worse, revenge against people who committed no crime.
What we should be doing is remedying discrimination by making it illegal (which it is) and socially unpopular (which it is) based on principles already outlined in our national ethos. We haven’t always lived up to those principles, but the next step is to assure we do so by expanding those principles of human equality to more and more people, not by abandoning those principles to the original racist assumptions that put us in this position in the first place.