Lee: 'Color-blindness' is no solution


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I live in the margins of a page. It is a peculiar space to reside in, but I presume we are kept here to uphold the status quo. Those of us who live here are often ignored, even muted.

I suppose white America holds the pen. They, in turn, have the power to write and construct the dominant narrative. This historic power structure has yet to be confronted. The United States, even Iowa City, fails to see we have a race problem.

I am bound to question social inequalities. As both an African American and a woman, I would hope this is understood. Yet according to some people, my questioning translates into a form of “reverse-racism” against white people. I don’t know why. Simply pointing out examples of white supremacy and institutional racism should not equate to this.

Whiteness is assumed to be normal, average, and standard. Whiteness is clean and pure, beautiful and supreme. Of course, we don’t actually say this. By merely looking at popular culture, this is what we are socialized to see. It shouldn’t be a surprise non-whites in particular choose to challenge this.

“Injecting race” into a discussion does not make a person racist, anti-white, or an attention-seeker. It’s OK to question why the norm is in fact “the norm” and why certain groups are excluded from the dominant culture.

Race is a social construct, so it’s going to have social ramifications. If there are only two females in an engineering class, it makes sense the women are going to notice. It is completely and utterly absurd to ask a racial minority to not “see race” when America is mostly white. We are bound to notice color, as we are so often treated as an ethnic other.

So why are some of us so set on not seeing color? I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten the, “I don’t see you as black, I see you as Ashley” comment. Might as well say you don’t see me as a female, either.

No one wants to be painted a racist, I get that. But acknowledging color and appreciating someone’s racial and ethnic identity is important. Otherwise, you are dismissing part of who a person is.

We cannot afford to be color-blind because the problem of the color-line continues well into the 21st century. We have to be color-conscious to correct racial injustice. As anti-racist activist Tim Wise says, “To be blind to color is to be blind to the consequences of color.” Our country should not strive to be post-racial, rather, post-racist.

Americans have a habit of looking in the other direction. We wish to be on the same playing field, for double standards to end, and for our nation’s racist past to no longer haunt us. Unfortunately, the shadow of racism still looms, even as a black man is in office. Not necessarily in the terrorism performed by the Klan, but in a structurally oppressive form harming those of us in the margins. Personal bigotry does not compare.

Too often we see racism as something intentional and rooted in hatred. It is possible to offend someone, even when it is unintentional or done out of ignorance. Our race problem is not going to disappear. We must cast down our social privileges, denial, and shame, and address it. It’s time we confront our reality. We can start by sharing the pen.

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