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Are We Color Blind or Simply Blind?

[The following is a transcript of our podcast on October 24, 2021]

These past few weeks, I’ve noticed an argument brewing across social media. The argument is about the virtue of color blindness. I’m not talking about the physiological condition where some people lack the ability to distinguish color; I’m talking about the type of color blindness that certain people claim as a virtue when it comes to skin color. Their argument is that we should all be color blind; that is, all decisions we make and every encounter with other people should be based on the merits of the person we’re dealing with and not on the color of his or her skin. Nor should it depend on ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual disposition. Further, a person’s standing in the community should depend on the merits of his or her behavior and capabilities, and nothing else. Society should be, in other words, a true color blind meritocracy.

Personally, I love this concept, but I fear it is an illusion. A unicorn. It’s impractical. Yet this illusion does serve a purpose; an insidious purpose that serves the motivations of the radical right.

Allow me to explain.

In theory, the concepts of color blindness and meritocracy seem like a good idea. In practice, however, it completely ignores the fact that not everyone is treated equally in our society. While we as individuals may choose to be color blind in our own dealings, the rest of society clearly is not, so choosing to be color blind, in the extreme, is a choice to close your eyes to the injustices of racism. In other words, you can’t see the injustices of racism if you can’t see race.

How can you effectively close your eyes to these injustices? The answer is simple; actively disavow the history of racism in this country. That’s not so easy to do. History is all around us. It’s in the books. It’s the subject of countless documentaries. It’s in the stories we talk about when meeting with friends and family. It’s sprinkled all around the country in museums small and large. It’s written on countless plaques demarking events that took place at multiple sites in every state. It’s even built into the constitution in the form of calling a slave three-fifths of a man.

So it’s difficult to deny our racist history, unless a mechanism can be found by which the stain of racism can be expunged effectively and completely all across the nation.

Well, the radical right found a good place to start that process. It goes by the name of “Critical Race Theory.” What started out as a law school course at Harvard in the 1970s has turned into the latest bogeyman pushed by the radical right and window-dressed as a mechanism that will destroy our nation by polluting the minds of our children. Critical Race Theory is being used - or should I say abused - to whitewash history and make everything the same color. This repurposing of Critical Race Theory seeks to re-educate our children in such a way as to ignore the effects of racism on our nation.

The radical right has effectively weaponized Critical Race Theory. They say that under the teachings of Critical Race Theory, Whites will be made to feel guilty, and Blacks will be made to feel victimized. None of it is true, of course, but that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme. They have reframed the debate into an act to protect our children. And what can be more precious to any parent than children?

To move this fallacy forward, the radical right recruited parents - using fear and false information - and encouraged them to insert themselves into school board meetings. They tell parents that their children are being taught to hate America. They tell parents that the White children are being forced to apologize to the Black children for the sins of their ancestors. And of course, a lot of parents buy into it. After all, the arguments seem convincing, especially when no opposing views are presented on Fox, OAN or Newsmax. Our society should be color blind, they say. People should rise in society based on their merits and not on the color of their skin. Children shouldn’t be limited to feeling a certain sense of destiny based on their skin color. Whites shouldn’t feel shame or guilt over the way their ancestors treated Blacks. And Blacks shouldn’t feel victimized because of the suffering of their ancestors.

And it’s having the precise effect that the radical right wants. Parents are radicalized to the point of intimidating school board members. Sometimes they commit acts of violence. Sometimes they make death threats. And they feel righteous in doing so, because the reasons seem so good and virtuous. And so, here we are, parents setting a bad example for their children as they yell at teachers for things that the teachers have never done.

But can we really escape the truth in the long run? Can we really escape the teachings of history? Can we continue to ignore the true teachings of Critical Race Theory? How long can this go on?

The answer, it seems, long enough to get to the next election. Long enough to solidify the grip on power that a minority of Whites - the radicalized right - so desperately want. This minority of Whites know the dire truth that their numbers are fleeting, and along with it, their power. Their only shot at maintaining power for any length of time is to radicalize their base, seize power and hang on to it as long as possible. This cannot happen in a democracy, so democracy is a necessary victim. The events of the January 6 insurrection are an indication of just how far this radicalized base is willing to go. The answer is, they’re willing to go all the way. They’re willing to tear up the constitution to establish and maintain their power. It goes way beyond the debate over color blindness and the virtues of meritocracy; we’ve already seen a willingness to tear up the first amendment by calling the press the enemy of the people. We’re already seeing movements in state legislatures across the nation to severely restrict people’s right to protest and vote. We’re already seeing the consolidation of power and authority in state governments that increasingly override the rights of local communities to govern themselves.

And to distract us from this shameless consolidation of authoritarian power, the radical right mobilizes an increasing number of people using things like Critical Race Theory to instill a sense of fear that our children are being brainwashed. And they speak of the virtues of color blindness and meritocracy, as if these concepts lie at the heart of their motivation.

But the ugly truth is that these concepts of color blindness and meritocracy are but a smokescreen designed to obscure the anti-democracy motivations held by a shrinking minority. These people are trying to rig the game and sell us a dream of true virtue and patriotism. The game is this: While we chase the unicorns of color blindness and meritocracy, we trample democracy under our feet and hold open the gate for a radicalized minority to rush in and solidify authoritarian power.

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