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Colour Blindness – a New Racism

20 Nov

This past week I have had the opportunity to reflect (again) on the way we have been taught to not see skin colour – specifically, the way we have been taught to not see non-white skin colour. Somewhere along the line someone decided that this would be a good idea, and would show acceptance. It does not.

Not seeing someone’s colour means you are ignoring an important part of who they are. And, more insidious, it means you also are not really seeing the negative impact of not being White in a world that values Whiteness.

This tendency to really see people goes beyond race to all marginalized groups, but I’m choosing to focus on race because I’m brown, and because people actually say things to me and other racialized people like “I don’t see your colour” or “your colour doesn’t matter to me” or “I don’t even notice you are Black/Brown” – like it’s a good thing.

I’ve been pondering this for quite some time, and I recognize that it’s difficult to see and understand the importance of something we have no concept of personally.

If you are White, you live in a world where YOUR skin colour doesn’t matter. You don’t have to think about it, question if it’s the reason you are experiencing barriers, and more devastating, feel and see the impact of the devaluing of who you are – simply because of the colour of your skin.

So it stands to reason that you will not understand the importance of recognising skin colour in this world. Preferring, instead, to believe that saying it doesn’t matter makes our experience like yours. It does not.

I understand where the impulse comes from – my mother is White and I have heard this phrase from her a few times in my life. I know she loves me, and I know she is trying to say, in a way, that although the world may see me differently and treat me negatively because of my brown skin, she doesn’t stop there and sees me. That’s beautiful. But incomplete. Because my skin colour is an integral part of who I am. And if you’re not seeing it, you’re not seeing all of me.

As parents, colour blindness is even more devastating because we have an added responsibility to help our children navigate the world. And when our children are not White, we have to teach them to navigate a world where racism is alive and well. If you have a brown or Black child and you are not doing this, you are doing them a disservice. You are missing the opportunity to instill a vital skill for them to thrive – and in some cases, to survive.

In the context of child welfare, foster parents and adoptive parents who are White take on Black and brown kids and believe – really believe – that love is enough. Yes, love is SO important. But it is not enough in the world and context we live in today that sees, values, and treats people differently based on the amount of melanin in their skin.

Love is a really great start, but we have to really recognize experiences and lived realities – ours and other people’s – in order to be able to support each other and create change. To do that, we have to really see and acknowledge people for who they are: all of them, because it all matters.

To learn more about this in a parenting context, please listen to my interview with Judy Stigger of Adoption Learning Partners on Transracial adoption (when you get to the page, scroll down to Nov. 20, 2015).

In the context of other relationships, it’s colour blindness is dismissive and we miss so much about each other, as well as opportunities to connect, and to be allies.

And I want to add that what I’m saying here is not to be confused with a belief in how things should be. Skin colour shouldn’t be a predictor or disparity. But saying you don’t see colour in a world that so clearly does, doesn’t change this. Seeing colour and being an ally in outlook, word, and deed is what will help to make the world an equitable place for people of all skin colours. Educate yourself about racism and anti-Black racism. Be an ally. Speak up and stand up. Make a difference because you see colour and the devastating impact of being racialized in a world that values Whiteness.

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Want a challenge? Sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insight – same topic, but with a challenge to help you see more.




Blind Spot – Part 3: Stereotypes

9 Oct

Ah stereotypes…
Have you noticed that the negative ones are usually more about certain people than others? And that those “certain” people are usually not in the dominant group? Think about it. Who are the bad drivers, the late-comers, the lazy ones…the list goes on. Of course there are positive stereotypes too: which group has rhythm, is good in math, has great fashion sense…?

Stereotypes are discussed in Blind Spot, which makes sense since they come from categories which the brain is so good at creating and using. Drs. Banaji and Greenbaum tell us that “stereotyping is an unfortunate by-product of the otherwise immensely useful human ability to conceive the world in terms of categories.” And everyone does it.

Back to our lists from the first paragraph: Blind Spot asserts that stereotypes are not equally distributed. This should come as no surprise. The authors state that “if you can be described by the default attributes of your society, you will be subject to less stereotyping.” So what are those default attributes, you ask? Blind Spot has an exercise I’ll rework to be Canadian for you to try: Picture a Canadian lottery winner making a call to collect their win. Who do you see in your mind’s eye? What does that person look like? Probably they are white and male and an adult. And those are the defaults they mention in the book. Which explains why, in a multicultural country, I’m still asked where I’m from because I’m not white.

We should add heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied, Christian, and a thin body type to that list of defaults. And there are others of course. Banaji and Greenbaum go on to say that “the default attributes that we add are so taken for granted and so automatic that, without thinking about why we do this, we are usually careful to specify a different set of attributes when the default-ones don’t apply.” That’s why we say things like female doctor or male nurse – for example.

Stereotypes are reinforced by the media when they profile, when they choose certain stories over others, when they don’t report certain stories, and in how a story is told. That constant barrage of perspective gets hard wired into our brain, unconsciously. The saddest thing about stereotypes is, as stated in Blind Spot, that they are also often self-applied by members of the group in question. And in this case, a self-applied stereotype can be self-undermining and become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Take a moment to check your use of stereotypes, and consider the impact.

See more.

2014 Copyright Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

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