This is part two of my three part series on oppressive systems in the United States. In my previous article “Lessons From Nature On Resisting Oppression“, I discussed how even minuscule creatures like ants can teach you a whole lot about revolutionary thought. Now, I’m going to delve a bit deeper into an issue that oft is spoken of in hushed whispers: color blind racism, or as I call it, “back burner inequality”. I will get to why I call it “back burner inequality” later on, but for now, let’s focus on color blindness.
What does it mean to be “color blind?” Indeed, there are color-blind people who are incapable of seeing [certain] colors, but in American society is such blindness to race and class even possible? From its inception the U.S was deeply rooted in classist principles such as Horse and Sparrow economics, nationalistic categories which favored German, French and English immigrants even over other “whites” and most of all: racial distinctions which justified slavery. In light of these facts, it is unfathomable to believe that Americans don’t see race or class. Unless of course, you are Bill “Papa Bear” O’Riley satirist , Steven Colbert.
Quite frankly, to be color blind is to [literally] turn a blind eye to pervasive oppression. Color blindness is a liberalistic, postmodernistic euphemism that seeks to assuage the sins of the past by ignoring them in the present. It doesn’t matter if you say you don’t see race, it is a primordial instinct for humans to note differences, and even to spot faces that aren’t even there such as the Smiley Face on Mars. Turing our gaze to color, no two humans see color the exact same way, humans literally evolved to note pigmentation distinctions. Throughout history we see such inclination towards racial categories too; “Ethiopia” comes from the Greek word Αἰθιοπία meaning “Burnt Faces” and after encountering whites the Chinese called them Foreign Ocean Ghosts (西洋鬼子).
The irony of color blindness is that Martin Luther King was, perhaps unknowingly, one of its chief proponents.
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
While whites and non-whites do walk hand-in-hand more often now than 50 years ago, race is still the foundation for a plethora of American problems because it is built into the law (Vreack vs. Cocaine sentencing anyone?) and as such, undergirds our culture. It is still built into our language too. Consider the terms “urban youth“, “street gangs” or “inner city violence”; if you thought of a group of Lacoste wearing Polo playing white lads when you read these terms, then you are either a liar or have a great sense of humor. In all seriousness, race and the stereotypes that come from racism – overt or color-blind – do affect our daily lives to the point that if a man is a lawyer he is presumed to be white, yet if he loses his job and goes to prison, he is assumed to be black. We live in a society that codes “white” as right, legal and good and “non-white” as wrong, illegal and evil.
Our society has simply shifted the “grammars” of oppression. We use new words to describe antiquated inequalities. If whiteness was no longer the default norm of society, then intellectual blacks would not be told that they “act white“, a non-white president wouldn’t have to defend his blackness (check out Silvercloud’s link, seriously) and writers like me wouldn’t be writing about color blind racism because such racism would no longer exist. Sticking your head in the proverbial sand does not undermine elite privilege or vindicate the subaltern; in this case, one has simply stopped looking at the problem because they may benefit from it. We must stop being a bystander justifying inequality, and take a page from Dennis Leary when he said, “Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two year old son. You know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”