The Sickness of Racism (pt. 1) "Color Blindness"
Updated: Jan 15, 2019
My first encounter with racism and racial superiority happened at a very young age.
I was six-years-old and I was watching Saturday morning cartoons with my friend, Trevor (yes, that's a good fake name to give him) who was four-years-old at the time. We sat next to each other on the couch and I turned to him and asked, "Trevor, why are you black?"
He looked at me blankly. "Ummm, I don't know."
I shrugged my shoulders and that was it. We carried on watching cartoons as if nothing had happened... and yet, looking back as an adult, a lot was happening under the surface.
See, I never asked Trevor, "Why am I white?" because society was already teaching me at a young age that my skin color was the superior, default tone, while any other skin color was "other" or "different". Sure, we were just two innocent kids who had no idea how white supremacy was permeating our culture and influencing our conversation at the time.
But sadly, it only gets worse.
In my child/teen years, I got the "color blindness" lesson, which essentially was, "We are all just people at the end of the day—not skin color." And yet, the very same folks who perpetuated this rhetoric also spoke in code-speak regarding "model Blacks" and "model Hispanics," meaning if nonwhite folks acted more white, then they were accepted into the "color blindness circle," but God help those nonwhite folks who "acted black" or "acted Hispanic."
Ultimately, the biggest issue with this form of thought is that it doesn't work in solving the problem of racism. Just like saying, "Micah, I don't see your tallness" doesn't make sense, saying, " I don't see race" is the same attempt to erase a person's body—a person's identity.
As a result of this flawed ideology, I missed out on building some meaningful relationships with people of color prior to college, because I was subconsciously (sometimes consciously) befriending folks who I was comfortable being around. In other words, I became friends with people who acted like me even if they looked different than me, thus perpetuating white superiority through the "color blindness" approach.
Today, the same folks who buy into the "color blindness" message also believe Dr. King solved all of our problems in the 60s and 70s and paved a pathway for people of color to thrive in white society. We know this to be false because:
Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white folks and, "In 2016, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population." (Pew Research Center)
On a national level, whites have 20 times the amount of wealth than blacks, and 18 times the wealth of Hispanics (Eric Alterman).
Black infants are over three times as likely to "die from complications related to low birthweight as compared to non-Hispanic white infants." (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Police killed 1,129 people in 2017 and "a quarter of those killed were black—even though they comprise just 13 percent of the population." (Newsweek)
This is just a taste of white supremacy at work today.
And when I say "white supremacy," I am not just talking about the KKK neighbor who lives next door to you, or your grandad who tells racist jokes during the holiday dinner party. I am talking about a systemic ideology—a chronic sickness that sinks so deeply into this country's immune system and history that it has even affected white people.
Yes, that's right. White supremacy hurts everyone, including white folks.
When white Polish immigrants gave up their native language to "assimilate" into the U.S., white supremacy promised a pathway to success for them. The same was true for the Irish. So long as they gave up their Catholicism and assimilated with white protestantism, they could gain their "whiteness." So long as Jewish people accumulated wealth to bolster the capitalistic system, they could gain their "whiteness."
The difference is there was no such pathway made for people of color. Even after we massacred Native American tribes and stole their lands; even after we lynched black men and raped their wives and enslaved their children; and even after we exploited LatinX people in the fields with poverty wages and grueling labor—white supremacy never promised recompense for these atrocities. Why? Because the system was designed to keep all nonwhite people at the bottom. Just take another look at the bullet points above. Can we really say that the system has changed?
No, we cannot.
So as Christ-followers, atheists, humanists—everyone—we have to stop perpetuating the "color blindness" rhetoric and resist/disrupt white supremacy in current contexts. Our neighbors' lives depend on this resistance, our communities depend on it, and our future depends on it.