In examining the development of race and ethnicity in the United States, a number of ideologies and approaches have been formulated to address these developments. Black Nationalism and multiculturalism, among other ideals have historically had great effect over public discourse and societal proceedings. Of the worldviews that came into fruition in response to issues regarding race and ethnicity, Colorblindness is one that saw a prominence particularly around the liberal masses of the United States. Colorblindness in these terms refers to the view that a person does not “see color” in a person, in addition to believing that in order to overcome the racial and ethnic disparities/inequalities in society, aspects of both need to be ignored in discourse and every day affairs rather than addressed to achieve social, political, and economic equality. This ideology, while built off of good intention, is fundamentally flawed in practice due to the reality of history and contemporary material condition. The internal contradictions of colorblindness as a worldview are ones that fundamentally weakens discourse on race and ethnicity, and as such, disproving the narrative of these ideals is a necessity for further development of both societal perceptions and ideological expansion.
The fallacy of the colorblind ideology is that in order to achieve a true form of racial harmony and stability, those who follow it believe that discussions of racism and ethnic discrimination are detrimental rather than beneficial to the racial and ethnic orders of society. Followers of this worldview also tend to emphasize that they are, in one way or another, upholding the doctrine of Martin Luther King Jr. and his view of judging a person based on their character rather than their skin color. The contradiction in the colorblind conviction, however, is that their application of this concept is ill-informed and more often than not bolsters the racial disparities in the United States rather than weakens it. A number of those who espouse these beliefs bring along with them a liberal worldview, and it is common for these beliefs to be held by white people, albeit well-meaning white people. Through a privileged lens, the colorblind ideology allows for white people to effectively ignore and even deny the existing racism that persists in the modern age, subsequently giving justification to these same racial orders.
One of the strongest shortcomings of racial colorblindness is the inability to address nuanced forms of racism, forms that have often been embedded into the human perception due to years of exposure and the normalization of these continuing racist perceptions. According to the colorblind point of view, if an act is not explicitly racist and latent with slurs and negative stereotypes, then it practically cannot be racism as society has supposedly moved past the abundant history of racism. This notion essentially promotes “racist absolutism,” falsely equating racism only with the most blunt of examples, placing a veil over the reality of housing discrimination, disparities in quality of education for whites and nonwhites, and other such racist aspects of society that have ultimately strengthened, contrary to the doctrine of colorblindness.
While achieving a greater prominence in the modern day, the idea of a colorblind society is not a particularly new or original worldview. Even in the earlier stages of so-called colorblindness in American society and politics, the views and actions associated with the idea have brought deterioration and weakness to the progress of nonwhites. The Reagan administration of the 1980s brought with it a strong colorblind influence on existing policy designed to benefit nonwhites and historically oppressed groups. President Reagan, those within his cabinet, and others close to conservative leader had been opposed to policies such as Affirmative Action other legislation relating to Civil Rights had enacted an institutional shift in racial and ethnic politics; ultimately these shifts sought to bring about a popularized right-wing view of race for the 1980s, this was enacted “under the guise of supporting a ‘colorblind society,’ and supporting ‘equality and fairness.’”
The Reagan administration’s detrimental shift in racial and ethnic discourse has not been exclusive to the political realm. In general society and public institutions, this colorblindness has succeeded in embedding itself deep within the structure of such establishments. Although in legal terms segregation is thought to have been dissolved, there maintains the presence of segregation within American culture and societal relations. To quote sociologist Margaret Anderson, as cited in an article from The Society Pages; “losing a focus on racial inequality may be especially likely in institutional settings where there is some inclusion of diverse groups, but where the institutions remain structured on the needs and experiences of the dominant groups.” This examination displays the inherent privilege that accompanies the idea of a colorblind society and colorblindness as a whole. Superficial adherence to promises of diversity and equality in institutions such as schools are often mistaken for larger steps towards racial and ethnic societal progression, however the greater trust in these superficial gestures allows a strengthening of “whiteness” in American culture and society. This superficial understanding tends to bolster the lingering sentiment of the “white man’s burden,” in essence granting the delusion that they are doing something for the good of people of color, when in reality they’re simply reaffirming their privileged status. This “whiteness” ultimately leads to a fractured understanding of racism, thus creating an ignorance based on lack of consciousness towards race and the material conditions surrounding race and ethnicity.
The supposed “post-racial society” described by many who accept the colorblind doctrine is often understood to have risen to prominence as a result of Barack Obama’s election to President in 2008. Obama’s rise to prominence bolstered societal colorblindness due to both the level of public consciousness during and after Obama’s election, and by Obama himself in his various speeches and his approach to racial and ethnic issues. Post-racial colorblindness has utilized the election of Obama to advance the narrative that society has moved past race as a legitimate issue, that the ability to elect a black president in the United States is evidence enough that racism is a thing of the past. This serves as an example of the misguided reliance on superficial progression, as this assertion ignores the privilege exhibited by Obama himself, such as his background of ivy-league education and rise to prominence as a senator prior to his ascension to President. This notion plays on a fallacy of individualism, conflating the achievements of one person with the achievements of a certain race in its entirety.
In addition to this ignoring of privilege, the sensationalism of Barack Obama’s election ultimately lead to the dismissal of stories detailing the continuing detriment experienced by nonwhites and the persistent racism that remains embedded into American politics and culture. As a result of crusades to be “tough on crime” and the “war on drugs,” the criminal justice system has embarked on a process of mass incarceration of nonwhites at disproportionately high rates, particular people of African-American or Hispanic-American background, often for minor and/or non-violent offenses. In addition to exuberant rates of racially motivated arrest and incarceration, education, employment, and housing have maintained a disparity in access and affluence for nonwhites, as exemplified through 2010 census data explaining that upwards of t25% of African-American and Hispanic people were living in impoverished conditions in the US, contrasted by the significant lower rate of poverty for white people at a rate of 9.4%.
As mentioned before, Barack Obama through his own rhetoric has worked to perpetuate the notion of colorblindness and the post-racial society. In a commencement speech delivered to Morehouse College in 2013, then-president Obama provided a contradictory display encouraging black empowerment while simultaneously perpetuating the individualist fallacy and the supposed establishment of a post-racial United States. In order to promote the collective ascension of African-Americans, Obama utilized the history of black struggle and those prominently involved with such struggle to imply that the graduates being addressed are essentially the new torch bearers for black empowerment and enfranchisement, effectively stressing the actions of black people as a whole and as a movement.
“You now hail from a lineage and legacy of immeasurably strong men – men who bore tremendous burdens and still laid the stones for the path on which we now walk. You wear the mantle of Fredrick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, and Ralph Bunche and Langston Hughes, and George Washington Carver and Ralph Abernathy and Thurgood Marshall, and yes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Despite this push for furthering collective enfranchisement, Obama would go onto to play into the fallacious rhetoric of colorblindness. Diving into the realm of individualism, Obama would go on to cite that “too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices.” Essentially, Obama is trivializing the struggle of the modern black/nonwhite youth through the colorblind lens by stating that the modern struggle is nowhere near as brutal and discriminatory as hardships faced by the likes of Frederick Douglass and Langston Hughes, practically saying that since those in the past had dealt with and overcome discrimination on a much higher level, the younger generations can put up with the “minimal” racism still existing today. Engaging in the ahistorical fallacy, and by extension historical revisionism, Obama had effectively reduced the struggle against racism, discrimination, and other such ugly acts to an individual struggle, making claim that many of the prominent Civil Rights activists had gone about the individual route rather than addressing the system at hand.
The ahistorical basis of colorblindness is a primary reason as to why these ideals need to be done away with. By ignoring historical reality and by extension contemporary realities, the colorblind mythos allows for culturally inherited racism to continue passing down from generation to generation, falsely claiming that the actions of the past have ultimately no effect on the modern day. The contradictions, revisionism, and fallacious foundation of racial colorblindness and claims of a post-racial society despite the persisting inequalities only strengthens and fuels the continuing of racism on a cultural and structural level. Anything that perpetuates inequality, especially on such a high level, is not something that must be maintained, it is something that requires eradication. The consensus for addressing the problems of colorblindness is the promotion of a multiculturalism/cosmopolitanism based on a legitimate racial consciousness.
By actively studying the realities of contemporary discourse regarding race and ethnicity, in addition to the histories of Civil Rights, institutional racism, and other such significant factors, such a racial consciousness has the potential to be built. In establishing this consciousness, it is hoped that people will eventually be able to challenge the inherent dichotomy of “whiteness” through both the intellectual and the interpersonal means. This education, however, cannot exist only on an individual level. In order to properly address this issue, the colorblind narrative that is entrenched into the American educational system must be challenged on an institutional level, and thus the introduction of study material and other scholarly outlets into American grade-school and college level education, so as to combat the post-racial delusion on a mass level.
Williams, Monnica. “Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism,” December 27, 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism.
Powell, J. (2013). Tracing the History of Racial Inclusion and Debunking the Color-Blind/Post-Racial Myth. Human Rights, 40(1), 17-21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24630111
Miah, Malik. “Race and Politics: A Color-Blind America?” Against the Current, no. No. 79 (n.d.). https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/atc/1784.html.
Miah. “Race and Politics: A Color-Blind America?”
Burke, Meghan A. “Colorblindness vs. Race-Consciousness-An American Ambivalence.” The Society Pages, July 24, 2013. https://thesocietypages.org/specials/colorblindness-vs-race-consciousness/.
Burke. “Colorblindness vs. Race-Consciousness-An American Ambivalence.”
Thomas, Sheila. "Debunking the Myth of a Post-Racial Society." Human Rights 37, no. 4 (2010): 22-23. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23032409.
Thomas. “Debunking the Myth of a Post-Racial Society.”
Branch, Lessie. “Reexamining the ‘Obama Effect’: How Barack Obama’s Rhetoric Spread Optimistic Colorblindness in an Age of Inequality.” Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric 6 (n.d.): 7. http://contemporaryrhetoric.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Branch13_5.pdf.
Branch. “Reexamining the ‘Obama Effect’: How Barack Obama’s Rhetoric Spread Optimistic Colorblindness in an Age of Inequality.”
Jymee C is an aspiring Marxist historian and teacher with a BA in history from Utica College, hoping to begin working towards his Master's degree in the near future. He's been studying Marxism-Leninism for the past five years and uses his knowledge and understanding of theory to strengthen and expand his historical analyses. His primary interests regarding Marxism-Leninism and history include the Soviet Union, China, the DPRK, and the various struggles throughout US history among other subjects. He is currently conducting research for a book on the Korean War and US-DPRK relations. In addition, he is a 3rd Degree black belt in karate and runs the YouTube channel "Jymee" where he releases videos regarding history, theory, self-defense, and the occasional jump into comedy https://www.youtube.com/c/Jymee