Does "Color Blind" Mean Blind to Racism? New Study Finds Links

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A recent study, published in the March issue of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education by Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Suzanne L. Markoe of the University of California, found that people who consider themselves "color blind" are likely to not be bothered by racist images.

Professor Tynes, who "studies the convergence of race and the Internet," showed an ethnically diverse group of college students a set of images "from racially themed parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes (for example, photos of students dressed in blackface make-up attending a 'gangsta party' to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day)." Tynes then had the students respond as if they were seeing the pictures on a friend's Facebook or MySpace page. The more likely the students were to report that they hold a color-blind ideology, the more likely they were to also condone the images and, in some cases, even to support the images with encouraging comments.

Racial color blindness is often encouraged as a social good signaling the end of racism. Proponents claim inspirational heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his "I Have a Dream" speech, in which he spoke of his hope that his children would someday be judged for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Some parents feel that teaching their children not to notice, point out or comment on racial differences will help encourage egalitarian attitudes and that color-blindness on the parent's part will serve as a model of non-racist behavior.

Critics of color-blindness argue that color-blindness is a function of racial privilege (which is not racism, but rather a benefit people receive from society regardless of individual beliefs). In other words, the ability to say things like "I don't see race" is only possible when you are not consistently made aware of your race.

While Professor Tynes' work found that color-blind attitudes were associated with racism, her research also showed that, because color-blindness is considered a positive value, it also helps socialize whites to not talk about race. The result is that some students would not publicly express dislike of racist images and note their anger only in private.

As a result of these findings, Tynes believes that more education around issues of race needs to happen:

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," Tynes said. "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."

Do you consider yourself "color blind?" How and why could color blindness be considered a good thing? How can we get to a place where we as a society are not afraid to discuss race and don't hesitate to condem racism rather than condone it when we see it?

Additional Reading:

Lady Instructor at Seeing Race: Vindication!! and Seeing Race

And if we don't even "see race", how can we talk about it? How can we celebrate our different cultures? How can we explore the race related problems that continue to taint our society? We can't. Because we are just so awesome, so above the problem, that we claim to not even notice it.

Resistance at Resist Racism: "The convergence of race and the internet"

Rob Schmidt at Newspaper Rock: Where Native America meets pop culture: "Color-blind" people are more racist

What the "color-blind" ideologues are saying is that things are fine right now. Racism is over with, the playing field is level, and we don't need to help minorities any longer. In other words, we should continue the centuries-old system of white privilege exactly the way it is. Despite the occasional exception such as Barack Obama, Colin Powell, or Oprah Winfrey, whites should remain in charge.

BlogHer Contributing Editor PopConsumer Beyond Help

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