Wednesday, August 29, 2012

seeing color, the 2012 version

Critical Race Theorists hate the metaphor of colorblindness. It took me a while to understand their objection because, during the civil rights era, opponents of racism worked for a colorblind future. When Malcolm X said, "I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor red," and Martin Luther King said, "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," no one thought we would no longer be able to see the color of someone's skin. We thought the pseudo-scientific notion of race would disappear.

But when "people of color" was adopted by academics to include all people who are not considered white, "color" gained positive values and "colorblind" acquired negative ones. That blindsided people who had used the colorblind metaphor for decades—the history of race is filled with polite terms replacing each other. Use an older term, and you sound racist to people who don't know it was a term of respect.

These days, I only use "colorblind" when talking about casting—Idris Elba was a great Heimdall.

But while I've surrendered the metaphor, I still want the world Martin and Malcolm worked for.

ETA: Because Critical Race Theory is based on the idea that "whiteness" is the problem, for anti-racists, "colorblindness" cannot be the solution. Their metaphor requires them to fight whiteness, not deny it.