The Myth of Colorblindness

Recently I read a quote by a popular actor that troubled me. His words:

“The best way to stop racism today is to stop talking about it.”

Interesting thought. Should we end poverty by not talking about it? Should we close the achievement gap by avoiding the topic? We could begin to change so much of what is wrong in our nation if we engaged in honest and courageous conversations about our biases, beliefs, and misconceptions. One of those misconceptions is the myth of colorblindness.

Colorblindness is the belief that we don’t see color or race, that we see people and that we are all the same. These beliefs are widely held by wonderful and well intentioned people, including educators and school leaders. These are idealistic beliefs and there are a number of issues with this ideology:

  • We are beautifully diverse. Colorblindness negates our diversity, race and culture
  • We all see color and we all have biases. When we identify as colorblind, we are suppressing our authentic views and in the process, perpetuating systemic racism
  • Race matters. It impacts opportunities, education, and income in many ways
  • Colorblindness oppresses people of color. When you fail to see color, you fail to acknowledge the current narrative, a system of injustice for many non-white people

Why is the colorblind narrative popular?

For a few reasons. I believe it is easier to identify as colorblind than acknowledge differences that make us uncomfortable. This is easier for people to handle, especially in schools where we may lack the information and guidance to have difficult conversations about race. Another reason is simply not knowing…you don’t know what you don’t know. Many people also repeat what they’ve been taught and fail to reflect or question those beliefs. In the end, we don’t realize how harmful the myth of colorblindness can be.

Why is this important in education?

When we work with children, we are responsible for their learning, social-emotional development, and overall well being. We are charged with developing healthy relationships with our students and families. Part of this is embracing the gifts they bring to the classroom and using those diverse strengths to make learning more meaningful. This includes language, religion, culture, and race.

What can educators and ed leaders do to be color brave?

It takes courage and practice to shift from a colorblind to a color BRAVE ideology. If we want to challenge racism and begin a wave of change in our country it must begin in schools with children and educators. Our students, all students, need you to lead this change. I hope this post inspires you to do so.

“In order to get beyond racism, one must first take race into account. There is no other way.” -Harry A. Blackmun

References:

Hobson, Melody (2014). Color Blind or Color Brave? TED talk

Williams, Monica, PhD. (2011). Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism. Psychology Today