as: When Colorblind Dreams Meet a Harrowing Reality

When Colorblind Dreams Meet a Harrowing Reality

By Tai Gooden

“I don’t really see a person’s color because it doesn’t matter. Race doesn’t matter. We are all a part of the human race, right?”

Conversations about racism, particularly between people from different races, is often an uncomfortable experience for both sides. People from a marginalized groups are seeking to educate those born into racial privilege (read: White) by imploring them to view situations from an alternate perspective. They want their justified feelings of frustration and rage to be recognized and respected. In response, some of their White counterparts try to redirect the topic to pacify their need to remain comfortable. Why? Perhaps confronting the unbridled truth about White privilege in society and their own subconscious beliefs is too great a burden to bear. Since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s-1970s led to the dismantling of many laws that protected explicit racism, colorblind ideologists believe society is currently in a post-racial state and race is no longer a prevalent issue. Claiming racial colorblindness appears to be non-biased and politically correct on the surface level, but this mindset is often as detrimental to effecting change as overt racism.

Racial blindness weakens a person’s sensitivity to offensive acts like cultural appropriation. In a 2010 study conducted by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of Educational Psychology and African-American studies, Dr. Brendesha Tynes revealed that White and non-White students who had strong beliefs in color-blind attitudes were more likely to be not offended by images posted on social media of other students portraying racial stereotypes (ex: students in blackface makeup) at race-themed parties. When Professor Tynes exposed 217 students to pictures depicting cultural mocking and stereotypical imagery, another key finding in the study was revealed in the following excerpt:
People who reported higher racial color-blind attitudes were more likely to be white, and more likely to condone or not be bothered by racial-theme party images. In fact, some even encouraged the photos by adding comments of their own such as ‘Where’s the Colt 45?’ or ‘Party Like A Rock Star?’

From a statistical perspective, 58 percent of African-American participants were bothered by the photographs compared to 21 percent of Whites. Among white students, 41 percent were actually disturbed by the images, but either chose to not comment or offered comments that suggested nonchalance. However, participants who were not as entrenched in colorblindness were more likely to vocalize their disapproval and even unfriend the poster over the controversial images. While this study focused on social media photographs, it suggests that a colorblind attitude makes a person more likely to ignore discriminatory actions. Dr. Tynes closed her remarks about the study by offering her professional analysis of colorblind attitude and how it can be properly addressed:
“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist. You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on. You’re also not very likely to support affirmative action, and probably have a lower multi-cultural competence…. 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.”

Consciously viewing with world through a colorless lens is a personal choice, but it does not address pervasive racism issues that exist on an institutional level. The existence of White privilege is evident in the case of Dylann Roof. On June 17th, 2015,  he committed an act of domestic terrorism when he took 9 innocent lives at the historically Black Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. Despite his heinous crime, he was apprehended alive and handled humanely by police the following day. Conversely, in August 2014, a young Black unarmed teen named Michael Brown, accused of stealing cigars from a store, was shot 12 times and left dead in the streets for the world to see because his Blackness made an officer “fear for his life.” And, while Dylan was framed as a “quiet boy who had Black friends,” Michael’s family suffered from his post-mortem character assassination by the media when he was described as “no angel” for his imperfect past. These juxtapositions can be made with several incidents of violent Whites (“Dark Knight” shooter James Holmes, Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner, etc.) being captured alive and given a “mentally ill” or “lost soul” narrative versus Black people who were either accused of non-violent crimes or perceived to be a threat and died at the hands of police (Vonderrit Myers, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Eric Garner). As much as a colorblind theorist wants to perceive everyone as solely a member of the human race, their outlook is not widely accepted nor practiced in the world. Race EXISTS and it is a key determinant in how a person is viewed and treated by authoritative figures.

When marginalized people or a White ally who fights for equality faces discrimination, their stories become important chronicles to confirm why the fight against inequality is still necessary. Colorblind ideology often delegitimizes their experiences by taking overtly racist situations and inserting an illogical analysis which blames the oppressed instead of the oppressor. “Solutions” like respectability politics are suggested due to a false belief that all races are operating on an equal playing field. If this were a viable resolution, then “respectable” people with degrees and high salaries wouldn’t still have to worry about being pulled over for “driving while Black.” Attempting to downplay these situations by suggesting that it is not a color issue is both insulting and vexing for victims.

The only way to shift society’s focus from a colorblind mentality to is to replace utopic dreams with reality. There is no better example of the harrowing reality of racial injustice than when McKinney, Texas police officer Eric Casebolt showed his prejudice and abuse of power to the whole world via video. Casebolt arrived at a Texas pool party filled with unarmed teenagers and violently slammed a 15-year-old Black girl named Dajerria Becton on the ground. The frightened teen, who was wearing a bikini, called out for her Mom as he shoved his knees into her back and forced her face downward. While Officer Casebolt had the girl in the grass, a White male from the neighborhood stood as a shield over the officer and seemed to encourage his actions. Black and Mexican teens in pool party gear are also handcuffed and verbally abused in the video while a White attendee later admitted to the news that he was essentially overlooked by the police.

Unlike the incidents involving Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, there is clear video and audio of the entire encounter. There was no chance of Dajerria Becton being armed or even remotely dangerous enough to warrant brute force. The footage also depicts how his demeanor was much more aggressive than other officers on the scene. But, despite the viral video clip, his actions were still defended by other White people. This entire instance proves one fact: RACE MATTERS. Colorblindness is simply not an option in a world where stories like this are still the norm. Allowing colorblindness to go unchecked will only contribute to non-White’s continued dehumanization under the strong-arm of White supremacy. And, racial blindness aspirations will continue to be a far-fetched fairytale.

Tai Gooden is a freelance writer, mom, dreamer, and Whovian. She has written for The Guardian, Paper Magazine, Paste Magazine, and Geek & Sundry among many others.

Dawn Wu