Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Colorblindness Is Not The Answer

Photo Credit: Leah Tihia™
From Monica Williams, Ph.D. in an article from Psychology Today:
"Many Americans view colorblindness as helpful to people of color by asserting that race does not matter (Tarca, 2005). But in America, most under-represented minorities will explain that race does matter, as it affects opportunities, perceptions, income, and so much more. When race-related problems arise, colorblindness tends to individualize conflicts and shortcomings, rather than examining the larger picture with cultural differences, stereotypes, and values placed into context. 
Instead of resulting from an enlightened (albeit well-meaning) position, colorblindness comes from a lack of awareness of racial privilege conferred by Whiteness (Tarca, 2005). White people can guiltlessly subscribe to colorblindness because they are usually unaware of how race affects people of color and American society as a whole. 
How might colorblindness cause harm? Here's an example close to home for those of you who are psychologically-minded. In the not-so-distant past, in psychotherapy a client's racial and ethnic remarks were viewed as a defensive shift away from important issues, and the therapist tended to interpret this as resistance (Comas-Diaz & Jacobsen, 1991). However, such an approach hinders the exploration of conflicts related to race, ethnicity, and culture. The therapist doesn't see the whole picture, and the client is left frustrated. 
A colorblind approach effectively does the same thing. Blind means not being able to see things. I don't want to be blind. I want to see things clearly, even if they make me uncomfortable. As a therapist I need to be able to hear and "see" everything my client is communicating on many different levels. I can't afford to be blind to anything. Would you want to see a surgeon who operated blindfolded? Of course not. Likewise, a therapist should not be blinded either, especially to something as critical as a person's culture or racial identity. By encouraging the exploration of racial and cultural concepts, the therapist can provide a more authentic opportunity to understand and resolve the client's problems (Comas-Diaz & Jacobsen, 1991). 
Nonetheless, I have encountered many fellow therapists who ascribe to a colorblind philosophy. They ignore race or pretend its personal, social, and historical effects don't exist. This approach ignores the incredibly salient experience of being stigmatized by society and represents an empathetic failure on the part of the therapist. Colorblindness does not foster equality or respect; it merely relieves the therapist of his or her obligation to address important racial differences and difficulties."
To read the complete article please click here.


Unknown said...

Good post. I remember when my friends in college would subscribe to colorblindness..and I think I tried to do it too but the more you learn about someone of color and experience their culture (my roommate and all of her friends were from India) I started to see seeing her color played a major role in understanding her.

This also reminds me of the young lady in Texas who is upset about not getting into the University of Tx and blames affirmative action. Now the supreme court might overturn allowing colleges to look at race as a factor in admissions. Man its absolutely insane what this girl is doing. You know how many people dont get into UT and go to A&M or Tech instead and apply the next year and get in. Does she not see that the percentage of people of color at any Tx school is already extremely low. And the icing on the cake is that the top 10% of any high school graduating class in the state of Tx gets automatic admission into any school in the state. Anyway, this article ties so well into this issue. Im thinking the college demographic will greatly change if the supreme court votes to take race out of the picture.American history has taught me that it only takes 1 to change the course of history forever. Okay enough ranting. Just some thoughts.

scottmcrocker said...

Thanks for your insights, Tyshan. Though it's not all of who we are, our ethnic identity is an important part of who we are. If you ignore that aspect of who I am, then you're ignoring me as a person.