Cover photo by Daniel Reche
Convenient loss of colorblindness
I talked about how the ignorant side of “colorblindness,” now I want to speak against the detrimental lie that this is. Again, I am going to start with an analogy from my experience in ballet. Although I was unaware of the racism in the ballet world, it did not prevent me from participating in it.
Training to be a ballet dancer, my biggest role model was Misty Copeland. When I was 10 years old, I was told by a ballet teacher that I needed to “lay off the sweets,” but Copeland had more muscular legs than most ballet dancers, yet she beat the odds. She gave me hope that despite my own big legs, I could make it as well. However, I do not remember paying attention to the fact that she was a Black woman, a very rare sight in the ballet world.
On the other hand, I was able to recognize another girl’s skin color when I thought it would benefit me. In 2014, I went to Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet Summer Intensive in San Francisco. The artistic director, Alonzo King, is Black, and he championed one of the most racially diverse companies.
In the fourth and final week of nonstop dancing, we had a showcase for the 6 levels to each perform a piece we had worked on the whole program. At the end of the showcase, a scholarship for the second summer program would be given to one of the exceptional dancers.
As we waited apprehensively for the name of the winner to be revealed, I wondered if it could be me. The MC announced another girl’s name, and the groups erupted in cheering. I craned my neck to see who won, and I saw a Black girl crying in joy as her level engulfed her in a hug.
“She must have been chosen because she was Black.”
I did not say it out loud, and I made sure to go up to her and congratulate her, but that thought weighs heavy in my mind now.
During that showcase, I noticed that she was an amazing dancer. She stuck out by using every ounce of her body and soul to create such beautiful movements. However, the only thing I could recognize was her skin color once my opportunity was “stolen” by her.
A more nation-wide example would be the resentment of Affirmative Action, which is a collection of policies, laws, and practices that aim to favor previously discriminated racial and gender minorities in employment and hiring and admissions to universities in the United States. In other words, certain institutions proactively hire minorities to represent minorities in the population and community.
A family member told me recently that underqualified Black people are hired over qualified white people for the sake of having a marketable face of diversity. The second part does focus on tokenism, which is a problem, but the family member assumed that Black people are stealing hardworking and more-qualified white people’s jobs.
Although I cannot deny the merit fully from that statement, for Affirmative Action has its flaws, this thought is detrimental to Black people, and I believe that it causes discrimination in the office under the assumption that discrimination in the US no longer exists in the hiring process. People even have gone as far as saying that universities discriminate against white people, an example being Fisher v. University of Texas, which was proven wrong in this case.
To bring your attention back to my story, although I did not specifically say that the Black girl took the scholarship spot from a more qualified white dancer, the only reasoning I had as to why she got it was because she was Black. However, in my colorblind state, I did not recognize that she probably had to prove herself in the ballet world more than I did simply because of the color of her skin.
Colorblindness can cause white people like me to feel disadvantaged by Black people while often, the opposite is true. This is not only a problem I had with Black people; I have said some rather racist comments to my Asian classmates at my ballet school because I was envious of their petite bodies. I had only chosen to see color when it was convenient for me to do so, which is why I assert that colorblindness is a lie.
Societally seeing color
Have you ever heard yourself or someone else say this?
“I do not see color, but when I see a Black person walking down the street, I suddenly realize that I need to check my surroundings.”
The logic is visibly faulty in that sentence, but I understand the differentiation made. White people often “don’t see color” when they are friends with a Black person (or a person of any other race). In other words, they don’t see race defining their friend’s character, but when they don’t know the Black person, they react accordingly because they feel threatened.
My first time visiting France in 2017 with some family, we stayed in Paris for 9 out of 10 days. Our way of getting around Paris consisted mostly of deciding to visit a monument or two, then wandering around the city semi-aimlessly so we could get a better feel of the city.
One day, we turned a corner, and we suddenly found ourselves to be the only white people on the sidewalk. After a few seconds of uncomfortably looking around, we turned around and went back the way we came from. When we talked about it after, I recall saying, “Yeah, we seemed to be on the wrong side of town, so we went back,” but I remember thinking in my head that it was because everyone on the street was Black. I recall specifically having this odd feeling that we had a silent agreement to not mention that we were uncomfortable because there were so many Black people.
A study* conducted in 2011 had 3-5 year-old Black and white girls choose to play with dolls out of options varying in race and gender. It showed that it was more common for older white girls to choose the white girl doll as their favorite while it was less common for Black girls to choose a Black girl doll. In another study done in 2015 on 3-7 year olds of different origins and cultures, African-American and Indian children showed a lack of in-group preference as opposed to white children.
From a young age, children are already socialized into believing that white is good and Black (or otherwise) is bad. Racial bias comes from the society we live in, but how are children affected by this?
Growing up watching reality crime shows, I saw the police officers, overwhelmingly white, as the good guys while often the demographics of the criminals in these shows were Black and Latino. That can easily socialize a young girl into associating non-whiteness with criminality.
In the US 2018 Consensus, 20.8% of Black people lived below the poverty line. To put that in perspective, 10.1% of white people were living below the poverty line in the same year. The rate of poverty for Black people is more than double that of white people. In impoverished communities that lack access to services, education, and opportunities, crime is more prevalent; therefore, more of the Black population will be represented as criminals.
Many other things go into why Black people are more prone to live in poverty and why they more commonly get into crime, but I will not be able to do it justice. That might be for another day. Yet, this is not all. A study done in 2014 on late-night news outlets found that the media overrepresents Black people as suspects and white people as victims of crimes. When a population is underserved and overrepresented as criminals, people like me associate “non-whiteness” as dangerous, and it is wrong to naturally associate a certain phenotype, such as color of skin or texture of hair, to violence or aggression.
In essence, even though I have friends who are Black, I still sometimes have an internal reaction when I see a Black person whom I do not know, as illustrated earlier. Therefore, I claim that unconditional colorblindness does not exist.
* The piece is available on EBSCO Host