Why is colorblindness not enough?

I have heard it a million times from white folk. "I am not racist. I see everyone alike. I am colorblind. What more do you want?"

Great . . . sort of.

Something about this logic feels hollow.

But why? Didn't MLK say, "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

So what is wrong with colorblindness?

Lately, I have been thinking of a few reasons why colorblindness is not enough.  I am curious to hear if folks resonate with these thoughts.  Perhaps you can expand on them.

1. True love isn't blind.  We say love is blind, but if a person who doesn't know me, says that they love me, it doesn't mean much. For someone's affirmation to really mean something they have to know something about me.

When I tell people around here in Brooklyn that I am from Canada, inevitably, I hear something like this, "Oh, I like Canada.  Its nice. I went to Toronto once."


That's like saying you love Canada because you like the smell of Pine Sol.  You don't know anything about where I am from by visiting Toronto once.  I hear the good intentions, but it doesn't mean much..

To love or affirm someone, you can't be blind.  What makes me feel loved is when someone takes the time to hear what it feels like to drift asleep by a glassy lake serenaded by the distinctive laugh of the loon or what it felt like to travel across America in a sweaty station wagon as a missionary coming "home" to a place that didn't feel like home. Don't say I am like you, when you don't really know me.

2. Colorblindness is not enough because sometimes it means, "I see you as if you were a White person." Can you pause a minute and listen for the hurtful assumptions?  The statement is not saying that you actually accept that person. You are saying that you are accepting them into the White culture -- at least if they keep "acting White."  The hidden assumption is that the Black person wants to be White and that it is somehow better to be White.  

3. Declaring colorblindness minimizes the African American experience. The truth is that as a White person I don't have the foggiest understanding of the African American experience. As White people we think we can erase all of someone's life time of experience just by saying we don't see it!

I would call this the Great White Fantasy.  Racism has been called "America's original sin."  It's the only thing that brought us to a civil war. I really think it is a source of deep shame to most White people. At times the shame is unconscious and is expressed as anger.  More than anything, I believe that most White people, want the issue to disappear from our history and culture.  We think that by proclaiming our personal commitment to equality, we can erase race. While it might be the first step, it won't go away with just a proclamation.

Let's make it super concrete.  Imagine you walk down the street and pick-pocket $20 that is hanging out of someone's purse.  When they notice and ask you about it, you say, "Oh, I believe in fairness. Let's split the $20.  You have $10 and I will take $10, and just forget that this ever happened."

Jesus idea of justice is much more extreme than we would like.  "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins"(Hebrews 9:22).  Its not that easy to get ride of something as evil as racism.  I really believe it takes a spiritual and sometimes physical act of death.  Are we White people willing to die?

4, Claiming colorblindness is claiming that we have not internalized the dominant values of our culture.  I am afraid that this is classic, individualistic, American narcissism. What is more American than freedom and independence for the individual?  We believe in the self-made man.  Unfortunately, we have been blinded to the collective forces that shape our values and beliefs.   We do well to cry with the ancients, "Woe to me . . . .  I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5).

5. Claiming colorblindness is a conversation ender. It's really an attempt to end the dialogue rather than grow in our understanding and enter the place of listening.

So, I am afraid I have to say it like it is. Colorblindness is still blindness.

The good news is that there is an alternative.  Light.  "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (I John 1:7).  Freely acknowledging our junk and the junk of our culture, cracks open the door for fellowship and healing. Like Isaiah, if we can declare that we are unclean and we live in an unclean culture, perhaps then we can experience a bit of the fire of God's purification in our lives.  Perhaps we can experience a death and a resurrection.

I know that's what I want!


  1. This resonates with me, especially number two. I'm always amazed at the number of people who think (and say) that opportunity is there for everyone to either hold a job, or live like "us". Just doesn't seem like people put a lot of effort into trying to see life from the eyes of the different races. Good article.

  2. That comment wasn't supposed to be anonymous.


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