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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Slowly easing back into this...

I feel like I've said here before that I find the "colorblind" approach to diversity harmful in that it attempts to ignore or erase difference, rather than actually accepting or -- grilled cheesus forbid -- valuing it. This study, which I ran across a while back (someone linked to it, but I don't remember who), suggests that "not seeing color" it makes it less likely for people to recognize and respond to racism.

In other news, we're reading Baldwin's The Fire Next Time in class right now and a student asked, legitimately, I think, how he should read the book if he's not Black, White, or American. This sparked an interesting discussion among the students about racism, power, and the stories we (human beings of all sorts) tell to elevate ourselves (often at the expense of others). All of which Baldwin would have been thrilled about, I think.

We hadn't started Baldwin in class yet when I read that piece above, but it put me in mind of one of Baldwin's central claims in that book: that people (individually and in groups of various sizes -- families, nations, religions, etc) cultivate blindness to the humanity of others to protect themselves from their own fears and insecurities. Baldwin's rather hopeful solution is that we must learn to love, which he describes as a ripping away of the masks behind which we hide (no touchy-feely "acceptance" or begrudging "tolerance" here). To love, we must learn to truly see ourselves and others.

I think there's something very compelling about this, and I think maybe it gets to the heart of why the colorblind rhetoric troubles me so much. I don't think you can actually love someone - and I might substitute here "respect them as fully human" - if the only way you can understand your shared humanity is by not seeing something that is a fundamental part of who they are. And I think that it is entirely possible (by which I mean absolutely necessary) for human beings to learn the difference between saying that some of the contingent factors of our personhood (race, gender, etc) determine us completely (as is the root claim of much racism, in my opinion) and acknowledging that they do, in fact, form some part of our being.

1 comment:

  1. I agree about the troubling nature of the colorblind rhetoric, but I wonder how much of this depends on culture rather than phenotype? That is to say - it's unclear to me that my son, who's in a pretty ethnically diverse preschool, understands phenotype differences beyond his mild resentment that many of his friends don't require sunblock at recess (and he does, being about as pale and blond as it gets).

    On the other hand, he certainly understands and appreciates the different foods they bring in their lunchboxes ("why can't I have samosas?"), their different holidays and music that they share with the class, and the culturally distinct clothes that their families wear. And despite my own inability to make samosas or empanadas well, I think that's awesome. But I've been thinking about how or when to bring up race with him, because he is in some real sense colorblind right now, and I don't know how to do it without instilling prejudice.