Being colour-blind will not end racism. It sounds like a good idea but in practice it does not work out that way.
We know that because most White Americans who are now alive were brought up in a colour-blind way and yet studies show that most of them are still racist – even if their racism is no longer the cross-burning, n-word-using sort of Jim Crow days, but a less open, more subtle kind.
Martin Luther King, Jr said:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
But he also said:
When we view the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share. There are twice as many unemployed. The rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites…
Fortysomething years later little has changed: the black unemployment rate is 1.96 times the white one (2011) while black babies die at 2.36 times the rate of white babies (2005).
So what went wrong?
The trouble with being colour-blind is that it blinds you. Most white people are so blind to racism that they think it is dead or no longer a big deal. Which leaves racism unexamined, unfought and unopposed. And stuck somewhere in the forever of 1974.
American society was built in a racist way. Being colour-blind does little to change that. It does not, for example, help poor, black children get a better education. Or help more black babies to live. Or keep most Lakota Indians from dying before age 60.
If you are colour-blind you have no way to see and fight the racist lies that America is built on. It is like having a broken radar.
Noticing race is not the same thing as being racist. Dr King is a good example of that. Racism is the belief that one race is naturally better than another. Seeing people’s race does not by itself lead to that conclusion. What does is the idea that being different is somehow bad, that there is something wrong with it. Dr King did not talk about “seeing” colour but rather judging people by it instead of their character.
Not noticing race, on the other hand, means not seeing racism. Because you do not see all the ways race plays out in American society.
If you are a person of colour that means you do not understand how racism affects you, it means you see the racist lies of white people as the truth. And that can lead to doubt, confusion, wasted years, bad marriages, drink, drugs, even self-destruction. It is called internalized racism.
Racism is a disease. Shutting your eyes to it, not noticing its operation, will not make it go away or lessen its effects.
Yes, if in a hundred years racism truly does die then people will be colour-blind because colour will no longer matter. But to be colour-blind now means colour will continue to matter.