Not seeing colour is not racist

Sara | Jan 10, 2023
The woke insist that 'I don't see colour' or 'I am colourblind' are actually expressions of racism in that you ignore a fundamental feature of a person. We don't agree. We believe they are positive terms that merely reflect that a person's colour is not the basis upon which a person is judged.

The point of language, to the best of my understanding, is to create shared intentions between the communicators involved. When I speak or write, what I genuinely want is for you to understand the idea I have in my head the same way I understand it. I want to get my idea into your head, and I want the shape and texture of that idea—its meaning—to be the same as what I have.’ – Dr. James Lindsay, author, cultural critic and mathematician.

Lindsay goes on to say that words that are frequently used in respect of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) arguably are for the greater good and to be striven for such as : diversityinclusionequityantiracism, and justice. Others we would oppose like racism, sexism, misogyny, hate and white supremacy. According to Lindsay, however,  none of these ten terms mean what we know them to mean when they’re used in the context of CSJ – even critical and social justice aren’t used to mean what most of us think they mean. 

One of these words or terms is ‘colour blindness’ or ‘I don’t see colour’. The term traditionally means that race is not a factor in the way in which we respond to people or regard people. It’s not intended as insulting or racist. It means to show tolerance and a regard of people as equals. Colour blindness has not been seen as indicative of being racist or unduly hurting people. Until recently, that is.

Heather McGhee inWhy saying “I don’t see race at all” just makes racism worse reflected the CSJ movement’s view that ‘color blindness is a form of racial denial that took one of the aspirations of the civil rights movement — that individuals would one day “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” — and stripped it from any consideration of power, hierarchy or structure’. 

According to the movement, “I don’t see colour” is to say one is blind to the racism people face. This definition by the movement has amended the common understanding of the words.

Typically, a 2015 article in The Atlantic said: ‘Many sociologists, though, are extremely critical of color blindness as an ideology. They argue that as the mechanisms that reproduce racial inequality have become more covert and obscure than they were during the era of open, legal segregation, the language of explicit racism has given way to a discourse of color blindness. But they fear that the refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination’.

In the course of some research, colleague Caiden Lang came across a few school disciplinary codes and procedures which refer to the term “I don’t see colour” as being listed as a specific example of unfair discrimination on the grounds of race. 

The Free Speech Union of South Africa wrote letters to a few schools in mid-October 2022 pointing out that proscribing the use of the term did not comply with the limitations placed on free speech by the Constitution or by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000.

Further, the prohibition on the term denies the opportunity for robust debate at school. We requested each school to consider removing the exemplar for the above reasons. 

One response was that the pupils wanted the inclusion of the term because it was hurtful to them. The cynic in me suggests that most pupils will never have heard the term used or if they had, their instinct wouldn’t have been to be hurt by it. They would probably consider the utterer an idiot. I would suggest that any sense of hurt from the term can only have come from being taught by the CSJ movement that the term is  offensive and hurtful.

Most if not all of CSJ language is imported wholesale from American academia and progressives.

Another school agreed with our points and said the example would be removed, but to date has not removed it. A third school did not reply.

In an article written in anticipation of two American Supreme Court decisions about striking down race-based affirmative action in college admissions, Coleman Hughes notes that these cases have ‘reignited the long-running national debate over color-blindness‘. 

Twenty-seven-year-old Hughes is a black writer, podcaster and opinion columnist who specialises in issues related to race, public policy and applied ethics. Hughes has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Quillette, The City Journal and The Spectator. He was a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. He has appeared on TV shows, and with amongst others Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Glenn Loury and Jordan Peterson. He has a BA in philosophy from Columbia University and is a professional jazz musician. The Washington Post in 2018 called Hughes ‘an undergraduate at Columbia University but already a thinker to be reckoned with’. In September 2020, Stéphanie Chayet, writing in the French newspaper Le Monde, identified Hughes as one of four “anti-conformists of anti-racism” along with Glenn Loury, Thomas Chatterton Williams and John McWhorter.

Hughes says that “color-blindness” is neither racist nor backward. ‘Properly understood, it is the belief that we should strive to treat people without regard to race in our personal lives and in our public policy’. 

Only after the Civil Rights Movement achieved its greatest victories was colour-blindness abandoned by progressives.

Hughes says these activist-scholars have written a false history of colour-blindness in order to delegitimise it. 

‘To paint color-blindness as a reactionary or racist idea—rather than a key goal of the Civil Rights Movement—requires ignoring the historical record’.  

Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Anti-Racist, argues that ‘the most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for a White ethno-state but the regular American’s drive for a “race-neutral” one’.

Robin DiAngelo, in White Fragility, describes the color-blind strategy as: ‘pretend that we don’t see race, and racism will end’. 

Hughes correctly calls this argument ‘no more than a cheap language trick’. He says we do see race; we can’t not. He acknowledges that race can influence how we’re treated and how we treat others. ‘But to interpret “color-blind” so literally is to misunderstand it—perhaps intentionally’.

Hughes compares the expression “colour-blind” to “warm-hearted”: it uses a physical metaphor to encapsulate an abstract idea. It endorses striving to treat people without regard to race, publicly or privately. 

Hughes argues that ‘not only is class a better proxy for true disadvantage, but class-based policies also avoid the core problem with race-based ones: to discriminate in favor of some races, you must discriminate against others’. 

For Hughes, ‘color-blindness is the best principle with which to govern a multiracial democracy. It is the best way to lower the temperature of racial conflict in the long run. It is the best way to fight the kind of racism that really matters. And it is the best way to orient your own attitude toward this nefarious concept we call race’. Hughes’ full article can be read here.

Lindsay suggests that one reason for the woke use of words we know, understand and use is deliberately deceptive: initiated audiences will be left to understand that the concepts that the CSJ movement are ‘as we have always known them’.

‘Language is, in some sense, then, a set of conventions for what various words (and sounds and inflections and so on) mean, and the people who speak the same language can generally assume that from one person to the next, there is some agreement upon those meanings. 

‘This ambiguity creates space for people who would manipulate us with language through deliberate or deceptive misuses of words that generate the wrong intention in the hearer that creates an advantage for the speaker.’

[Photo: John Giustina/GETTY IMAGES]

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