The difference between “colorblindness” and understanding other races is just that: understanding. When people ignore differences, it is almost as bad as refusing to accept them.
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This is a beautiful sentiment and is still inspiring today. It is important to judge a person based on character rather than appearance, but does that mean skin color should be ignored altogether? Did King really hope Americans would completely ignore everything that makes them and their cultures unique?
Colorblindness is an ideology that treats all people equally, ignoring culture, race and religion in order to put an end to discrimination. This may seems like a brilliant way to end the racial problems that plague American culture today, but in fact, it lends its own problems to the mix.
Pretending race does not exist makes racism a forbidden topic. When things like racism go untreated, they begin to fester until they explode into even bigger problems.
Additionally, when people claim they are free from racism, they don’t always understand how deep these issues go, and the viewpoint prevents discussion and understanding of the topic.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of the novel “Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking” and writer for The New Yorker, stated, “All of us, in our unconscious, harbor prejudicial thoughts.” This is not to say white people are the only ones who have racist thoughts or feelings, but it may be that they are the most willing to ignore these issues.
While race does not seem important to some Caucasians in America, colorblindness may be seen differently by Hispanics or African-Americans. Most areas of the U.S. are steeped in the culture of Caucasians, so this is an ideal many can get behind. They can pretend color is not an issue because their culture is fully represented around them. While other cultures are increasingly being represented in the media, the white male still has the majority of screen time.
According to Monnica Williams, a licensed clinical psychologist and author at Psychology Today, “most underrepresented minorities will explain that race does matter, as it affects opportunities, perceptions, income and so much more.” It isn’t fair to expect minorities to leave their cultures behind to assimilate into American society.
On the other hand, an understanding and acceptance of the differences between cultures can go a long way toward mending the wounds inflicted between the diverse peoples of this nation.
Of the two, understanding is definitely the harder path to take. Instead of covering your eyes and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that people have differences, you have to open them and actually take these differences in. It can be difficult at first to learn how to accept people instead of hoping all those differences will just go away or smooth out into sameness.
Understanding Race is a website designed to help people accept one another. The site features three lenses people can look through to reveal “the reality — and unreality — of race,” and these are history, science and lived experience.
The history of racism is something many wish would simply remain history, but it does affect America today. There is also the handy saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” By acknowledging what people have been through, it is possible to understand what they are going through today and therefore easier to communicate.
As for science, Caucasian scientists throughout the ages have attempted to skew data to reveal they are the most superior race, and many wholeheartedly believed that, but the facts are not truly represented in data.
In his article for Time, Nicholas Wade said that though there is a biological basis for race, racists receive no ammunition for racism. “Exploration of the genome has shown that all humans, whatever their race, share the same set of genes,” Wade said. “The overwhelming verdict of the genome is to declare the basic unity of humankind.”
Lived experience means people should try to walk in each other’s shoes and see life and stereotypes from another person’s point of view. As human beings, we most understand the events that affect us rather than what affects other people, so this is an important distinction.
Perhaps when King spoke those famous words, he meant for people to see that others are different, understand what that meant and treat people the way they deserve to be treated in the face of it all.