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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - “I'm not a racist, I'm colorblind”: The myth of neutrality

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Summary

Now, I don't see color. People tell me I'm white and I believe them because police officers call me “sir.”

Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report

The notion of colorblindness has been idealized popularly since the late 1960s as a frame of mind that could combat racism. Perhaps the most well-known reference to a colorblind ideal is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s famous “I have a dream” speech in which he imagined an America where his children would be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But what is entailed in colorblind beliefs and in the policies and practices that would accompany such a position? Is colorblindness good for people of color? Is it good for society overall? And what about racial colorblindness at the individual level, in terms of people's attitudes about race and ethnicity? In a multiracial, multiethnic society such as the US, what does it mean for a person to desire not to see race? Is it possible for people to be colorblind, to ignore someone's race or ethnicity in their interactions, to judge people only by the content of their character? If color matters in society, as part of one's self-concept, in social identity, in social policy, and in everyday life, what does it mean to not see it?

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