Why the “I Don’t See Color” Mindset Doesn’t Help Combat Racism

Recently, I was hanging out with a few friends and one of them said, “I don’t see color. I just see people.” I heard the phrase before in my Sociology class, so I googled it to find out more about what it means and what implications, good or bad, it carries out in discussions of race.

I found out that, while people who say it may have good intentions, “I don’t see color” actually does more harm than good. To begin with, it is inaccurate. Adults have more difficulty recognizing faces from outside their own race, due to a  phenomenon that starts out in infancy. Researchers studied how Caucasian babies in three age groups – three months, six months, and nine months – responded to images of faces from a variety of racial groups. The three month olds recognized faces from every group, while six month olds recognized Caucasian and Chinese faces and nine month olds only recognized Caucasian faces. This study proves that the statement “I don’t see color” is false. Seeing color is an instinctive, involuntary reaction.

Another issue is that the color-blindness mindset sweeps racial problems under the rug. For example, African Americans are still twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, and make 25% less money when they are employed. Randy Ross, who facilitates workshops on racism and culturally responsive teaching, says, “…a teacher who professes to be colorblind is not going to understand how unconscious biases can influence expectations, actions, and even the way a teacher addresses students of color.” Race effects employment, education, and many other areas of life. Claiming not to see color is very misguided because it does nothing constructive to help.

Also, the only people who even get any convenience from this phrase are white people, who have privilege in that they don’t have to deal with repercussions because of their skin color. People of color might experience problems like being pulled over or followed by police, harassment, having to turn in more applications for a callback, and more, on a regular basis. The colorblind attitude is harmful because as long as legal, employment, and other systems treat people differently because of their race, it can’t truly be a mutual thing in society.

The phrase is also useless because, in itself, noticing someone’s race is not even an issue. Many people take pride in their racial origins. Blogger Bruce Reyes-Chow wrote, in response to his friend using this phrase, says, “I never asked you to NOT see my Asianness…In fact quite the opposite, please see my Asianness and take the time to explore the nuances of that existence both through my eyes as well as the eyes of the deep Asian American history in the US.” Pretending not to notice race can actually be really disrespectful to an important part of a person’s identity and heritage. A more constructive way to counter racism is to listen to people of color with an openness to hearing their words and to try and understand the experiences behind those words.

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