The Conundrum of Color-Blindness

When Kathryn Miles wrote about the tragedy of the Moore family in her book Superstorm, she provided several details for the context of their story: Damien and Glenda Moore and their two sons were beloved in their Staten Island neighborhood. Damien was an Irish immigrant and naturalized American citizen, and his Irish blood showed in one of his son’s red hair. On the day that Hurricane Sandy hit New York, Damien hadn’t returned from work and Glenda started to panic. Worried for her husband’s safety, Glenda packed her boys into her car and began the drive to Damien’s workplace. On the way, the car got stuck in the floods and they were forced to evacuate the vehicle. While desperately looking for safety, Glenda lost her grip on her sons and they were swept away by the rushing water.

And that’s where Miles ends her account on the Moore family.

One vital detail that Miles omits is that Glenda Moore is black, and her sons were mixed-race. It’s an odd thing to ignore after numerous mentions of her husband’s ethnicity. Another thing that was left out of Superstorm was Glenda’s desperate pleas for passage into locked homes after being trapped in the storm, all of which were ignored. Observers of the story have agreed this was an unfortunate consequence of her race. The Moore boys may still be alive today if this weren’t the case.

It’s clear that Miles’s rendition of the tragedy of the Moore family was an attempt at racial colorblindness. Colorblindness, as the name implies, is the practice of intentionally ignoring someone’s race and all of its connotations in an effort to promote equality. It’s very much an idealist concept, for if everyone adopted it at once, choosing to defer the harsh memories of racial tension, then the world would likely be a better place. It’s undeniable that, by definition, universal colorblindness would cause an instantaneous end to all racial prejudices, including hate crimes, profiling, and systematic segregation. Colorblindness was even a cornerstone concept in Martin Luther King’s visions for the Civil Rights Movement.

However, Miles’s use of colorblindness demonstrates how it can be a double-edged sword. While her telling of the tale of the Moore family was obviously supposed to serve as an anecdote for Hurricane Sandy’s deadly force, her omission of certain details shows an overlooking of the major moral takeaway from the story. The problem with racial colorblindness is that if an individual practices it in a society that doesn’t, then the individual is knowingly dismissing the plights of those that regularly experience racism. Although the racial conflicts of the Moore story weren’t directly relevant to the narrative Miles was trying to tell, it was still insensitive to not address them. As an author, Miles willingly chose not to tell the parts of the story that would potentially raise awareness of the racism that still plagues this country.

While colorblindness is, in theory, an effective method to combat racism, it only achieves its goal if everyone in a society practices it at once. If there are only a few people practicing it in a racially divided country, then those people’s refusal to acknowledge the racial divide only strengthens it. Because of this, it’s practically impossible for an entire society to adopt colorblindness without a major, unprecedented social upheaval. However, it may not be too late to become a more color-sensitive society. It is, after all, everyone’s personal responsibility to remember and respect the historical and current issues that people of color have faced for decades.

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