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Playing the 'Colorblind' Card: 3 Truths that Social Colorblindness Tells Us

02/13/2015 01:06 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

"I don't see race," came flying at me as a rebuttal during a discussion on white privilege and white ignorance with a friend of mine. I had to pause and dig deeper into my friend's comment. As I began exploring further, I realized that her words are shared by many well-intentioned white people who may not also truly understand the power of that statement. This begged a conversation on three truths that social colorblindness tells us; note that legal colorblindness is another topic.

Colorblindness assumes that we live in a world where race does not impact society.

Colorblindness ignores the experience of the Latino man who earns 65.9 percent of what his white male equivalent earns. Colorblindness encourages individualistic answers -- such as the misconception that Latino men do not work as hard as his white male equivalent, for example -- to our nation's poverty disparity, not systemic, racial patterns. (Poverty rates for whites are 9.8 percent, for blacks 27.6 percent and for Hispanics 25.3 percent.) Colorblindness defends the current education system as is and assumes that some other factor, never race, is to blame for imbalances of educational attainment along racial lines. (Average public high school graduation rates for whites are 83 percent; for blacks 66.1 percent and Hispanics 71.4 percent.) While these things may not be completely race-based, colorblindness has us believe that race could not possibly impact these societal imbalances.

Colorblindness invalidates the lived experiences of 68 percent of Blacks that believe there is an inherent unfairness in the court system, compared to 27 percent of whites. In fact, even in 1963, before civil rights laws were passed, almost two-thirds of white Americans told Gallup that blacks were treated equally in their communities in regard to employment, housing and education. Only a year earlier in 1962, 94 percent said black children had just as good a chance to get a good education as white children. More than 50 years later, research from the Pew Research Center and continuing Gallup research tells us that not much has changed and perceived equality bifurcates society along racial lines.

Colorblindness inherently erases examples of inequalities of the present and even our identity.

While Martin Luther King Jr. had said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," he was not advocating for a colorblind society; he was advocating for an equal society.

Colorblindness fast forwards our society beyond post-racial, when we have yet to deal with the inequalities of the present. Instead, colorblindness has us deal with race today as if it does not even exist. Colorblindness sanitizes any racial bias or stereotyping that may have been involved in the treatment of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or Rodney King.

Individuals often invest energy into using their racial and ethnic community as a tool to find their own identity. Colorblindness degrades this value when others say, "I do not see race."

Colorblindness is not synonymous with anti-racist.

Colorblindness maintains white hegemony, because it assumes that racism does not afflict our society and therefore we should turn an apathetic eye to any perceived racial inequity in the world. To "not see race," is to also not see the common struggle that directly impacts the lives of people of color and to ignore this struggle makes it difficult for someone to be an ally, also known as an anti-racist. In fact, to ameliorate racism, whites must take the exact opposite stance of colorblindness; whites must understand their role as a potential ally.

So, you may be asking, how do you appropriately communicate your well-intentioned "colorblindness" and become an anti-racist ally?

Stand up when you hear something inappropriate, or when you see someone being treated unjustly. Have an open ear to the injustices around you and welcome these stories with curiosity, but also compassion and understanding. Check your own privilege. Examine your own biases. Talk to your children about race. Find common ground with other using the language of multiculturalism.

Sure, the overt bigotry of Orval Faubus and George Wallace is a thing of the past and most Americans see "racist" as a grave accusation of moral failure, a distasteful pejorative that should not be flung around easily. But know that racial bias still exists, individuals still act on it and it still works to worsen inequality, whereas colorblindness tells us that everything is OK.