Again. Discussions of privilege and the shameful lack of diversity on our über progressive campus occur. Racism is categorically denied, not just by admissions, but by students at large. Walking down the path to class, I overhear a loudly spoken remark between two girls, vehement: “Well if black people don’t want to come here, we don’t want them here!” Carefully not looking at me, but loud enough that I couldn’t miss it. After all, who wouldn’t want to go there? Our school was wonderful, and if students of color weren’t applying, accepting, or staying, well… that was just because they couldn’t hack it, or weren’t interested in our intellectual culture. It couldn’t possibly be a hostile environment. Nobody said anything about race. “True” diversity is all intellectual, anyway… we shouldn’t be focusing on anything as unimportant (and racist) as race.
Again, and again, and again.
I listened to my friends complain whenever race came up. I listened to my boyfriend gripe about me bringing it up again. Nevermind that I was a sociology student, and it’s kind of a big part of my field. We’d achieved equality. That there were some bad people out there, well.. that sucked, but it didn’t mean we had to keep talking about this race thing. Or that gender thing. We were just being mean to the rich white straight guys. He was being silenced. He was unwelcome. He didn’t see race at all. Why did we have to? Wasn’t that just paving the road for racism?
1) It paints “color” as the problem. The problem is coded as race, not that people are racist.
I don’t want to be not black, I want not to be a problem. When you say “I don’t think of you as black,” you are ignoring me, plain and simple. I am black. That’s part of who and what I am. As Nezua (paraphrasing Rafael) said: “if you are COLORBLIND, then you don’t see my struggles.”
It is not my fault that race relations are fucked up. If you cannot simultaneously think about me as being a person of color and a regular person, a friend, a smart person, a potential employee, or what have you, that is your problem and you need to fix it.
2) It doesn’t address the underlying power structures. By pretending everyone is white, it implicitly casts “white” as better than any “race.” It just moves everyone into the same category, without addressing how and why those categories are constructed, or what might be messed up about constructing hierarchies the way they currently are.
3) It relies on the framework of white as the unmarked default. It only really works if you agree that the dominant cultural paradigm here is not a white one, and that white isn’t a racial and cultural framwork at all. Because otherwise, it would be “whitewashing,” and not “colorblindness.” You can only pretend to ignore race as long as you steadfastly deny any racial taint in the system you want everyone to hew to…
I would love to see a world where we didn’t have to be blind to anything. Where we weren’t ignoring difference or making it unimportant, but actively celebrating it. Where being brown could be as important to a person as being a dancer or a blogger or a mom, and just as recognized by friends. And yes, as irrelevant to hiring and loan applications and school attendence as being a dancer or a blogger (or a mom, in theory, though we’re not exactly there yet on the motherhood front either). A good thing to be valued and explored, not something to move out of the way so we don’t trip over it. I’d like that.
But we’re not there yet, and I’ll take what I can get. If that’s focusing on individuals to the extent of not caring about race, that’s a start. If that’s pretending that race is as unimportant as eye color, that’s a start. If it helps bring about a world where I don’t have to worry about my children being teased, or held back, or hurt… then it’s a good start.