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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

Racial Denialism

Someone once said this to me:


“I don’t think of you as Black.”


I honestly think they were trying to say something positive. But it felt like an insult.


What I heard was:


“I don’t think of you as like them.”


Which implies that Black people are not as good.


Or maybe, “I think of you as normal.”


Because it is abnormal to be Black?


Or, “I think of you as white.”


Hmmm.


Comments like these fit into the color-blind category. “I don’t see color.” “I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, or purple.” “Why do we have to categorize people? Just treat everyone the same.” 


Even though the problems with this approach have been pointed out countless times, it still seems to be a popular philosophy. Some folks justify their belief by quoting MLK. His famous speech about systemic racial discrimination in employment and civic life included a touching passage about children playing—which ended up being the most quoted part.


Yes, Dr. King had a dream that one day people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It was a vision of a future when we have fully liberated society. When racial categories would be less important because they didn’t play a major role in our opportunities. 


Half a century later, we haven’t reached that promised land. And, even in the dream, Dr. King didn’t say we wouldn’t notice color. 


That would be impossible. We see differences naturally, and we assign meaning to those differences based on what we observe other people doing and saying. 


Denying bias does not equal overcoming bias.

Advocates of “colorblind” approaches believe that overcoming these biases is as simple as denying them. But research shows that pretending to be color-blind makes our individual biases worse. 


Besides, I like being a Black woman. I’m not ashamed. I want people to see my wholeness: my politics, my gender, my Jamaican background. I’m okay with you taking in all of who I am when you interact with me.


What I don’t like is being treated unfairly. The best way to prevent that is addressing inequitable systems. 


I don’t want someone to hold me back on the basis of my race. But I do want people to see it.  

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