June 24th, 2008
08:15 AM ET

The fallacy of colorblind post-raciality

Carmen Van Kerckhove
Co-founder, New Demographic, a consulting firm that addresses race and racism

It has become increasingly fashionable to bandy about the words “post-racial” and “colorblind” when discussing race in America.

Apparently, many Americans have convinced themselves that they even if racism does still exist, they are not part of the problem. When asked the question "If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say that you have at least some feelings of racial prejudice?" in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, only three in ten respondents answered yes.

The other seven must be afflicted by “colorblindness,” that odd phenomenon that drives people to insist that they “just don’t notice race” and claim that they don’t care whether people are “black, brown, green, or purple.”

Of course, colorblindness and post-raciality are both mythical constructs.

All of us notice variations in skintone, facial features, hair texture, eye color, and the myriad of other phenotypic factors that cause us to draw conclusions as to what race a person is.

Then why do people insist on claiming that they don’t notice color? Often, it’s because they are scared to death of being labeled a racist.

But here’s the thing. Noticing a person’s race doesn’t make you racist. What does make you racist is if you make assumptions about that person’s intellectual, physical, or emotional characteristics based on the race you think the person is.

And unfortunately, too many of us do make those assumptions. We’ve all internalized racist ideas – consciously or subconsciously – from our families, our environments, our media consumption, and more. Until we can understand that and begin to de-program ourselves, we cannot be truly “post-racial.”

Even more importantly, when people proclaim that they’re colorblind, what they’re really implying is that race no longer matters in America. While it’s true that race is not a biological reality, it is a very real social construct that has a profound impact on our lives. Race still matters because racism is alive and well. Pretending otherwise negates the everyday experiences of millions of people of color in this country.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said it best when he stated that colorblindness means being “blind to the consequences of being the wrong color in America today.”

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