Colour-Blindness in the modern world

 

Colour-Blindness in the modern world

Thesis

There is a growing trend in the race movement of the modern world to claim a “superior” position of colour blindness which is a destructive stance as it provides an easy way to ignore minority issues for the ethnic majorities and often leads to the belief of reverse racism being real towards whites in western society.

Introduction

Historically speaking, the definition of racism in the minds of the common populace has revolved around the obvious kinds of discrimination, those that call for the killing of coloured people by the local KKK, burning of crosses, refusal to share public space with a minority. These are all the obvious forms of racism that people are aware of. There are however more subtle forms of racism that have entered the public domain in recent years. These insidious forms seem to be growing in terms of general acceptance in the population as opposed to the other more confrontational forms that have slowly and thankfully gone out of favour in modern society. For example, it has become frowned upon by the general population “blacken up” as a way of portraying African/black characters. The use of the word “nigger” is no longer socially acceptable by Caucasians and there are affirmative action policies that are seeking to redress the balance of power held by Caucasians in positions of power as well as in schools and higher learning institutions.

Out of this movement to level the racial playing filed, a growing trend has emerged especially amongst ethnic majorities to take a stance of colour blindness. This ideal, although well-meaning to start with as a legitimate millennial movement against racism in the modern world has now devolved into a catch all phrase which people use. Mainly as a way to discredit the experiences of ethnic minorities in society. It has now become a phrase used to silence the minorities when an accusation of racism, either institutional or racial bias, are seen in a situation. This stance claims that the person who holds the view does not see colour and as such cannot be accused of racism as said person treats all races equally.

The phrase has most recently been used extensively and heavily by Caucasians against African-Americans fighting for an end to the institutional racism that exists in the American justice system. It has become a way of shutting down discord during conversations, by immediately stating that they treat everyone equally. This stance is an admirable stance to have, especially by ethnic majorities. The problem with this stance however, is the fact that we do not live in a post-racial world.

 

Body

The stance of colour blindness is problematic to say the least and regressive as a movement against racism. It renders the people who utter the phrase blind, figuratively to the struggles of the ethnic minorities. It invalidates their pain and assumes that they start life on a level playing field with Caucasians. In this essay, I will attempt to trace the roots of the word which began as a movement against racism; from the beginning of the civil rights movement to the birth of the millennials and the ideals of a post racial world being superimposed in a race dominated world, and the claims that reverse racism is real towards Caucasians.

For centuries in the west, mainly in North America, ethnic minorities, especially African-American people were victimized, enslaved, brutalized and were owned as property. After the abolishment of slavery, the status quo did not change much for centuries after with African-Americans being denied decent schools, hospitals and decent government services. This led to a majority being uneducated and stuck in a cycle of poverty for generations. As a result extreme poverty continued to dominate the lives of the minorities and most led the lives of share croppers and maids, not far from conditions that their grandfathers experienced as slaves centuries before.

Schools and public services in America especially were segregated to black and white schools until the famous Brown vs Board of education, 347 U.S. 483 in 1954. It ruled that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The decision overturned a previous decision, Plessy v. Ferguson which allowed state-sponsored segregation in pubic education. This ruling in 1954 was a major victory to the civil rights movement and paved the way for racial integration in schools.[1]

Full racial integration was not achieved until after the civil rights act of 1964 was passed a decade later.[2]  This led the way for the rise of affirmative action policies being extended to African-Americans in a bid to redress the atrocities of the past. Unfortunately however, this has given rise to the myth that African-Americans gain the most out of other under-privileged groups as a result of the policies and it is frequently used as a way of belittling the achievements of African Americans in society today.

As Anthony M. Platt put it in his paper on the rise and fall of affirmative action, this policy was not originally intended for African-Americans, it was introduced as government initiated intervention to stop injustices against individuals or groups whose suffering was not self-inflicted; to correct the injustices caused by systemic discrimination; and to prevent its recurrence. Such a broad definition meant that people of different classes, ethnicities, racial designation, gender and sexuality who had been denied rights based on these factors were covered by the policy.[3]

It can be deduced from this definition of affirmative action that the majority of people who benefited from this policy were certainly not African-Americans but mainly white lower class Americans. In fact according to the United States labour department, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women. The department estimates that 6 million women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies.[4]

As a result of this perceived injustice in affirmative action policies, counter protest groups sprung up, rejecting the ideas behind it. Their main grudge was the misguided opinion that African-Americans have to do less and achieve less compared to their white counterparts. They argued that the university policies of reserving places specifically for ethnic minorities from under-privileged backgrounds was a form of discrimination. Their claim was based upon the ideas that living in a post-racial world at the end of the civil rights movement meant that no special treatment should be given to any one race. They argued that it was reverse discrimination against whites. And this movement was bolstered by some former liberal scholars who published books in the early 90’s criticising Affirmative Action as a negative policy.

According to them, Affirmative action and other colour-conscious policies betrayed the original goals of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. They saw it as a perversion of the colour-blind society promise. They saw it as a colour-blind policy of antidiscrimination being transformed into a policy of compensatory justice.[5]

Advocates of this movement have been called racial realists by Professor Alan Wolfe [6] in his book review of “Someone else’s house” in 1998. An extract from his review is below:

“In the past few years, however, there has emerged a challenge to the liberal consensus among liberals (or former liberals…they are united on two important points. One is that whites have not resisted demands for racial justice but have accepted tremendous progress in race relations. The other is that those who claim to speak in the name of African-Americans do not always serve the interests of those for whom they supposedly speak.” [7]

The books Alan Wolfe criticise in his review put the blame of continued racial segregation on the shoulders of civil rights leaders like the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who were public and vocal supporters of Affirmative Action policies and pursued race-conscious solutions to societal problems.

This played into a new feeling in the white community of reverse racism as well as a victim mentality in which they refused to see or acknowledge the still heavily racialized world we live in today. In a way, they rebelled against the status quo by pursuing a different, if misguided movement against racism.  The demographics that felt this the most were the “millennials”, those that had gone to universities with ethnic minorities and had seen affirmative action policies at the universities they attended. This group perceived themselves as the victims in a world which was increasingly catering to just ethnic minorities. The belief that racism didn’t exist anymore and affirmative action policies were unfair to them in a post racial world was and is widespread amongst this demographic. This was the beginning of the Colour-blind movement in mainstream society. [8]

As Joe Kincheloe put it in 1998, this idea or “benign” response works to deny and, therefore, erase the identity of the subject(s) of the response. According to him, Colour-blindness is a luxury that only those who are very secure in position of whiteness and power can have. This idea ignores the treatment that many people of colour encounter. Together, the defensiveness and denial of this “benign” response function to maintain the status quo while absolving the white reactor’s responsibility for any bias to race that him/herself carries[9]

As many scholars have pointed out, the myth of reverse racism has become a tool by the oppressors to oppress the minorities. Through claims of colour blindness and the rejection of affirmative action policies due to the myth of it conferring an unfair advantage on a group, whites in America especially choose to go down the route of subtle racism.[10]

Conclusion

The idea of colour blindness started out as a noble, if slightly skewed way of dealing with racial inequality by treating everyone as if they started on a level playing field. Its roots were indeed noble as a movement against racism in the modern world. However, over time the movement has morphed into one of the single biggest racial challenges in the modern world and as the views become entrenched, it becomes more of a stumbling block to the minorities it claims to help by being impartial. It is an idea that can only work in a post racial world where everyone starts life on equal footing. Unfortunately, we know this to be untrue, the criminal justice system is still heavily biased towards whites and against blacks to the extent that whole books have been written on the subject in the dawn of the new Millennia[11].

As a result of this, its proponents, whilst claiming not to see race, choose to discredit the voice of minorities that protest the unfair advantages at the start of life conferred upon individuals based on the virtue of their race. In this way, this movement that started as a movement against racism has now devolved into a blind movement that impedes the people it proclaims to help due to continued ring fencing of white privilege. Or as Lopez put it; the current trend of colour blindness allows racial remediation while protecting the status quo[12]

Footnotes

[1] Hartford, Bruce. n.d. 1954. Accessed November 15, 2015. http://www.crmvet.org/tim/timhis54.htm#1954bvbe

[2] “Civil Rights Act 1964”. 2015. In The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Abington: Helicon. http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/heliconhe/civil_rights_act_1964/0

[3] Anthony M. Platt, The Rise and Fall of Affirmative Action, 11 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol’y 67 (1997). Available at: http://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndjlepp/vol11/iss1/4

[4] University, North Carolina State. 2010. NC State University Affirmative Action in Employment Training. Accessed November 18, 2015. https://www.ncsu.edu/project/oeo-training/aa/beneficiaries.htm

[5] Brown, Michael K. Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society.( Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 169.

[6] Political Science Department, Boston College. 2015. Alan Wolfe. 20 November. Accessed November 23, 2015. http://www.bc.edu/schools/cas/polisci/facstaff/wolfe.html

[7] Wolfe, Alan. 1998. Enough Blame to Go Around. Book Review, New York: The New York Times.

[8] Carr, L. (1997). “Color-blind” racism. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications)

[9] Kincheloe, Joe L. White Reign : Deploying Whiteness in America. 1st ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

[10] Anderson, Kristin J. Benign Bigotry : The Psychology of Subtle Prejudice. (Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.)

[11] Bell, Derrick A. Race, Racism, and American Law. 4th ed. (Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Law & Business, 2000.)

[12] Haney Lopez, Ian. “Colorblind to the Reality of Race in America.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 53, no. 11 (2006): B.6-B9. (Pgs 1-2)

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