We talk a lot around here about the dangers of colorblindness. Well, once again, social scientists have proven us and a bunch of other anti-racists right. Go us!
But seriously, recently Brendesha Tynes, professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at the University of Illinois, conducted a study that found that white students and those who claim color-blindness as their racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially-themed parties where attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes.
According to the U of I News Bureau, Tynes recommends based on her findings, “that mandatory courses on issues of racism and multicultural competence are necessary for students from elementary school through college.
Specifically, beginning in elementary school, texts should provide a more comprehensive view of American history and culture, not just focus primarily on whites.”
Simply telling people to celebrate diversity or multiculturalism or saying, generically, that we believe in tolerance isn’t sufficient. We need to teach people about structural racism, about the ways that race still shapes people’s life chances and how the media informs our attitudes toward race.
Much of “colorblindness” comes from the laziness that privilege inspires. I don’t learn about or alter my lifestyle for those people because 1) as a white person, I don’t have to in order to move successfully through society and/or 2) they should just assimilate to our culture if they want to succeed.
But another part of “colorblindness” comes from fear. Fear of offending someone. Fear of getting it wrong. Fear that if we recognize the differences between us, that the recognition itself makes us complicit in oppression.
In our ignorance and prejudice, because we think the words “white,” “black,” or “latino” are negative labels that carry certain meanings (or at least they carry negative associations in our own minds), we won’t even name them. But the labels themselves aren’t the problem. It’s the thinking behind the labels that points to the real problem. It’s like how “Puerto Rican” is a pejroative term for Jack Donaghy:
Being “colorblind” is our attempt to reset the clock on history and call everything from this point on “even” or “fair” so that we don’t have to do the complicated and personally risky work of reparation, restoration and reconciliation.
While I think that having relationships with people are different from us is the most transforming experience we can have in our move toward anti-racism, I do think Tynes is right about formal education on the subject. Anti-racist education has to be a life-long effort if we are going to aggressively combat the systemic injustices that still exist in our society.
Developing relationships outside our own race is paramount. Having friends or family of a different race allows us to heal the myopia that prevents us from seeing the teeming and entrenched prejudice in our culture and in our own lives. But many of us will never move to a place where we form those relationships without a little kick in the pants. Formal education can provide that. It can open doors and allow people different from us to come in without feeling like they have to explain themselves to us. Moving beyond colorblindness can eradicate the fear that our ignorance on these issues will keep these new relationships from ever working out.
God is moving His Church toward kinship, not merely co-existence. We have to be committed to fully seeing one another and learning to love what we see, if that good work is ever to be accomplished in us.