‘Color blindness’ is idealistic, not realistic

Our society likes to publicize and champion the idea of being colorblind. Ideally, people should fail to see race and skin color and should view everyone exactly the same. The shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin sparks an interesting question: If everyone was “colorblind,” would Martin still be alive today?

It’s been over a month since George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., followed Martin because the teen, an African-American wearing a hoodie, supposedly looked suspicious.

Zimmerman is suspected of shooting and killing Martin in what some claim was an act of self-defense, and others claim an act of racial profiling. Martin was unarmed, but Zimmerman says Martin attacked him.

The shooting has sparked a national debate on a variety of issues – the definition of self-defense, racial profiling in the U.S. and the right to wear hooded sweatshirts.

Many have used the opportunity to highlight that racism is still prevalent today, and further champion the idea of being colorblind.

Certainly, I admonish racial profiling and believe all races are equal and hope to see the day when racism ceases to exist. But how can we truly be colorblind? Is this idea simply too far-out?

When you look at my photo embedded in this column, how would you describe me? Short brown hair, blue eyes, bangs, so on and so forth. Our society uses physical descriptions to describe people. As long as we don’t discriminate based on those descriptions, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

According to Newsweek, in 2006, Birgitte Vittrup conducted a study at the Children's Research Lab at the University of Texas to see how children view skin color and to see how racial attitudes change if families discuss racial differences. Vittrup asked parents in one group to speak with their children about racial attitudes for five nights.

“At this point, something interesting happened. Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, ‘We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color,’” Newsweek reported.

Many of the parents would use vague wording such as “everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us.” They wanted to avoid the topic of race and hoped their children would grow up colorblind.

The study showed, though, that a lack of conversation on race had the exact opposite effect.

“Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, ‘almost none.’ Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, ‘some,’ or ‘a lot,’” Newsweek reported.

By failing to discuss race and by championing the idea of being colorblind, we are further creating a divisive society. The idea of being colorblind is certainly ideal and heartening, but it is not realistic. Our eyes see race and our children’s eyes see race. It is the role of healthy dialogue to guarantee no person ever believes race equates to anything more or less – it is not a sign of superiority, inferiority, first class or second class.

Society is right about one thing. The death of Trayvon Martin is saddening and whether or not his death was due to racial profiling, racism needs to be addressed. When the world ends talk of being colorblind and truly begins talking about and embracing race, we will know true equality.


Reach the columnist at eeeaton@asu.edu.

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