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A Lesson on Our Colorblind Society

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Many people have it all wrong.

The ascent of Barack Obama as president has been one of the many shining examples championed by many in our country who say that we now live in a colorblind society. Many voices advocate that we previously lived in a society that saw color and only color. So, due to the progresses we've made as a society, no longer do we (as a society) focus on skin color and prejudicial biases in decision making and personal preferences. I disagree with that premise.

I would argue that the dynamics of how we have and continue to view things in society is the opposite. Prior to gains achieved during the civil rights movement, we lived in a colorblind society; according to the dictionary, the term colorblind means to be "affected with partial or total inability to distinguish one or more chromatic colors" -- one who is colorblind sees no color. With respect to race, the idea is one who is colorblind does not see race or use race when making decisions, being influenced or influencing others. The reality is that one who is colorblind sees only three things which are very much distinguishable: two extremes (light and darkness) and a middle ground. I contend that during slavery and Jim Crow, our nation looked from the lens of colorblindness, according my above explanation. Thanks to the many civil rights gains of the 1960's, we can now, as a society, view from a lens that is a lot less restrictive. We now have the opportunity to view in color and to do so is widely accepted. So then why do many of us educators choose to teach from a lens of colorblindness and only change lenses a few months out of the year?

Currently, the Supreme Court of the United States is preparing to hear a case on this very idea -- colorblindness as it relates to admissions into institutions of higher education. I am no psychic, but based on the ratio of conservative judges versus liberal ones, I can hypothesize that the court will rule against affirmative action in this case, citing that considering color as a basis for admission would set us back as a society and that one's merits are enough criteria when deciding who is "worthy of a golden ticket" into college. Many people would agree with that argument. What people on this side of the affirmative action debate should consider is that on the face of things, people are no longer yelling out n***** and having it be tolerated. However, the institutions of our society do base their acceptances into those institutions according to one's merits and achievements; merits and achievement are a product of not only hard work, but also investment. One can have a great idea for a company. That individual can work really hard but if no one invests in their idea, the height and depth of that individual's success will be minimal. So too is this true for the student who is educated in the urban area. While we know many urban districts receives a ton of money to spur improvement, smart folks understand that investment is more than just dollars, and if a student is not properly invested in, the likelihood of being "hooded" into institutions of higher learning, for instance, is very unlikely. Yet, many believe in a colorless model for choosing individuals for just about everything, and we teach our kids just like that -- many of us educators lack diversity in our instruction.

Throughout the school year, we teach math and science, history and English in a monochromatic way -- we teach under the auspices of the gods and goddesses of European history and thought. From September 15 to October 15, we'll add a little Latin flavor to the curriculum for Hispanic Heritage Month. At the end of the school year, we'll infuse some Asian flavor into the curriculum during the month of May for Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. For the shortest month of the year, we'll talk about Black people in the curriculum a bit more than usual because of Black History Month. You all know the drill; schools put together assemblies where teachers volunteer students to do readings on famous people and their accomplishments or teachers put together skits to reenact a famous event in the history of a racial/ethnic group. We invite parents, families and communities to watch and we enjoy the show. After all is over, we pack up the materials for that month and return to our regularly scheduled curriculum, which is indeed colorblind.

Rather than relegating people of different ethnicities to a month in the calendar, educators ought to ensure that their curriculum is not colorblind. Seeing color in the curriculum is not a lesson or two on a Black, Latino or Asian leader or event impacting one of those three populations. Seeing color within the curriculum means recognizing the cultural contributions of all racial and ethnic groups, including racial minorities, and expressing how such cultural contributions have impacted the various institutions of our society and our way of life as Americans. Moreover monthly celebrations of culture should serve as reminders and not simple starting points nor as rest stops along the way while on a journey through life. Celebrations and the recognition of culture, such as it is during Black History Month, should be infused throughout the year; in lessons, in activities, and in textbooks. Under the current way we celebrate culture in this country, the colorblind ideal is indeed perpetuated to our students. Whether or not they understand that our colorblind society will help them with their college and/or employment applications is up for debate. Indeed, what students do understand is that education is more than colorblind, but colorless -- with the exception of two to three months out the year.