This article from the Atlanta BlackStar, titled “7 Things Your Colorblind Racist Friend Might Say to You and How to Respond”, has been making its rounds across the internet for months now. I’ve seen it just flat-out copied and re-published so many times I lost count back in July (although usually with credit at least). There’s a reason for that, however, so today I’m going to break the 7 things down and give my take on them, wherever it actually differs. Might sound a little boring to you upfront, but have a little faith, because this is good stuff…. so get yer popcorn ready.
7 Things Your Colorblind Racist Friend Might Say to You and How to Respond
#1 — “People are just people.” “I don’t see color.” “We’re all just human.” “Character, not color, is what counts with me.”
Response: “Colorblindness” negates the cultural values, norms, expectations and life experiences of people of color. Even if an individual white person can ignore a person’s skin color, society does not.
Claiming to be “colorblind” can also be a defense when someone is afraid to discuss racism, especially if the assumption is that all conversation about race or color is racist. Color consciousness does not equal racism.
The Double Truth: For the first part of the response, even though I’m a huge advocate for cutting out the over-complication of racism that plagues us right now, I think this instead over-simplifies. The concept of “colorblindness” can simply mean that a person is not prejudicial when it comes to skin color. It doesn’t strip a person’s cultural values, life experiences, etc., but instead makes sharing those experiences that much easier. At no point does it mean that you ignore the current reality in our world, or that you throw the “p” word out there (post-racial) and throw on the blinders. It’s not saying that “because I am colorblind, society is as well.” The ideal that we all need to work toward is a world where skin color is no longer relevant to a person’s worth as a human. Yes, we’ve got a long way to go, but trying to knock out a positive notion like colorblindness and turn it into colorblind racism won’t help folks.
That said, the second part of this rings all too true, and I’ll venture a guess that it’s the true reasoning behind this entire discussion. If someone throws out “I’m colorblind” because he/she fears any racism discussions, then yeah, big problem, and not helping.
#2 – “Blacks cry ‘racism’ for everything, even though they are more or just as racist as white people.”
Response: Let’s first define racism with this formula: Racism = racial prejudice + systemic institutional power.
To say people of color can be racist, denies the power imbalance inherent in racism. Although some Black people dislike whites and act on that prejudice to insult or hurt them, that’s not the same as systematically oppressing them and negatively affecting every aspect of their lives.
People of color, as a social group, do not possess the societal, institutional power to oppress white people as a group. An individual Black person who is abusing a white person, while clearly wrong, is acting out a personal racial prejudice, not racism.
The Double Truth: Look, I 100% understand the point here, because institutional racism and the scars (and just flat out craters) it’s left on our society’s landscape are the number one issue facing us today. But we massively undermine all efforts to fix the problem when people start backtracking to this BS notion of what racism really is.
Racism = racial prejudice + systemic institutional power
No, no it doesn’t.
Instiutional Racism = racial prejudice + systemic institutional power
The definition of racism is much cleaner than that, and it’s extremely important in the fight against racism to keep it clean: “a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. If we’re going to knock out the giant behemoth humanity created in institutional racism, we need to obliterate the building block, and you’re looking right at it – “a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. We absolutely cannot afford to take our eyes off that building block, because each and everyone holds the ability to attack that building block on a daily basis. To go straight after institutional racism is a totally different endeavor, however.
The racism vs. racial prejudice hypothesis is an over-complication that we don’t need, and can’t afford to propagate. I appreciated omission of any reverse racism discussion here as well, as it’s another term we need to let go.
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#3 – “It’s not race, it’s economics.” “Classism is the new racism.”
Response: “Being Black and middle class is fundamentally different to being white and middle class.” This is what Dr. Nicola Rollock, a researcher at The Institute of Education at the University at Birmingham in the U.K., said after researching the issue.
For the report, “The Educational Strategies of the Black Middle Classes,” Rollock and her team looked at African-Caribbean families in particular, and confirmed that there is a Black “middle class” who work very hard to do the best for their children. But researchers also discovered that social status and relative wealth do not protect Black people from racism.
Racism is a reality in the lives of Black middle-class families and it extends to the upper class too, as Oprah Winfrey would agree based on her widely reported racial-profiling incident at a Zurich boutique last year.
The Double Truth: Sure classism looms large right now, but if you throw racism out the window as if classism has replaced it, well… you might as well go west, because you’re the King of Wishful Thinking. Truth!
#4 – “Blacks are not willing to work hard.” “Blacks feel entitled and want everything handed to them.” “Blacks hold themselves back, not racism.” “We have advertised everywhere, there just aren’t any qualified Blacks for this job.”
Response: When blame-the-victim tactics are used, it provides an escape from discussing the real problem: racism. Therefore, the agents of racism, white people and their institutions, can avoid acknowledging a system of oppression exists.
As long as the focus remains on Black folks, white people can minimize or dismiss our experiences and never have to deal with their responsibility or collusion in racism and white privilege.
The Double Truth: Why. The WHY always holds the key, and in this case, where there are certainly blacks representing the concepts quoted here (and there is no shortage of whites embodying these exact same things), looking at the infrastructure that set up a disproportionate number of blacks in poverty is paramount. Acknowledge that the infrastructure does exist, ask WHY it exists, and then work to dismantle it. Routinely dismissing comments like these, however, won’t help. Understanding how a person came to such a conclusion, and then altering their perspective – that’s where the magic lies.
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#5 – “Blacks are unfairly favored, whites are not.”
Response: This form of denial is based on the false notion that the playing field is now level. When some white folks are expected to suddenly share their privilege, access and advantage, they often perceive it as discrimination. White people’s attacks on programs like affirmative action and Black History Month are usually rooted in this false perception.
The Double Truth: It’s a ludicrous thought here in the 21st century that we’re still dealing with this as the human race, but it’s unfortunately true. I completely concur.
#6 – “America is the land of opportunity, built by rugged individuals, where anyone with grit can succeed if they just pull up hard enough on their bootstraps. So Blacks need to pull themselves up from the bottom like everyone else.”
Response: U.S. social propaganda has convinced many people that an individual’s hard work is the main determinant of success in the country. This ideology totally denies the impact of either oppression or privilege on any person’s chance for success, and pretends that every individual, regardless of color, gender, disability, etc., has the same access to the rights, benefits and responsibilities of society.
It also implies that Blacks have only their individual character flaws or cultural inadequacies to blame, and not racism.
The Double Truth: Hard work still is “the main determinant of success in the country”, but there are several other determinants, and hard work alone won’t do it. Each one of us must overcome obstacles in order to reach our true success level, but when added obstacles like racism are thrown into the mix, then anyone facing those obstacles must work that much harder. Not only that, but if the starting playing field isn’t level, then you’re looking at yet another giant obstacle, with that one placed right at the very beginning. This absolutely cannot be ignored. Agreed.
#7 – “Blacks live in the past. We dealt with racism in the 1960s with all the marches, sit-ins and speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. Laws have been changed. Segregation and lynching have ended. We have some details to work out, but real racism is pretty much a thing of the past. They need to get over it and move on.”
Response: The absence of legalized, enforced segregation does not mean the end of racism. This denial of contemporary racism, based on an inaccurate assessment of both history and current society, romanticizes the past and diminishes today’s reality.
If there is no race problem, there would be no school-to-prison pipeline in Mississippi that leads to the arrest and sentencing of Black students for infractions as insignificant as wearing the wrong color socks.
New York City’s Stop and Frisk policy that led to 400,000 police encounters with innocent Black and Latino New Yorkers, would not have happened.
If there is no race problem, why is a Black person 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates?
The Double Truth: Although I think the stop-and-frisk policy could use a little more elaboration, ball don’t lie. Agreed.
To wrap this up, please understand that I’m not ripping on author Andre Moore here, not in the slightest. I don’t write this type of article as a critique of what any writer is saying, that’s never the purpose. In fact the purpose is always the same, to do the right thing… to help fight and end racism. And when my life experience shows me a road that I feel some other people, who seek the same goal, just aren’t seeing, then I speak up. That’s how it works, that’s how productive debates are started, and that’s how we all work to make a difference.
As a matter of fact, I’ll be forwarding this to Andre, so please don’t take anything I said in here as reflecting negatively on the work and the mission of Andre and the other people at Atlanta Blackstar. We’re on the same team, and that’s an equally important part of the fight here – to recognize that so we fight racism and not each other. And that… is the double truth.