by Christopher Bowers
In white, liberal culture people often think of themselves as “colorblind”, seeing only humans, not their race. It seems reasonable enough. We want to be humanists and believe that we see people for who they are inside, for what we have in common with them. It is important to ask, is what we feel inside really a commonality or could that also be as different as the color of our skin?
A true humanist sees the beauty of difference as well as commonality and yet still isn’t satisfied. A true humanist tries also to understand the distinct struggles with which every human lives. We are humans and as such we live in societies. To be “colorblind” is to neglect a fundamental part of humanism: of the many realities we exist in, the most compelling, consuming, and dire reality, is our social reality. It is the reality that will determine our fate. While race is not a biological reality, it is a social one. Not seeing color is to not see reality; it is to not see adversity. Colorblindness is a fantasy world in which we don’t truly know one another. It would seem then that to not see someone’s struggles (struggles often related to race) is to not see them at all. How would white people feel if their markers of individuality and community, be it artistic expression, intellectual prowess, gender or sexual orientation were glossed over as inconsequential? What if these important factors were swept under the carpet in the name of overcoming prejudice? It is a hard irony indeed. Some might argue here that it is those markers that we have in common. This is true. It is also true that those markers are themselves marked by race and the social reality of inequality and history.
To be colorblind is to be simply blind. It is to collaborate with the inhumane practices of assuming that all humans have the same experience, whether they are black, white, gay or straight, male or female. So the consequences of colorblindness must also be dealt with. Colorblindness implies also that since we are all the same, we have all had equal opportunity. This implication has lead to enormous power differentials economically and politically that persist to this day.
It is doubtful that we can achieve a genuine equality without dealing honestly with our social reality. The social reality is that we are a diverse human family and that race affects every aspect of our lives. White people often have a hard time seeing this. It is as if they are blind.
Christopher Bowers is a white social worker, student, anti-racist and writer. He teaches Mindfulness-based anti-racism classes at the East Bay Meditation Center. He hosts a social blog about white privilege at www.whitepriv.blogspot.com and another blog of his own creative fiction and non-fiction writing at www.cryingjustbecause.blogspot.com. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.