What Do You Do at a Traffic Light?: A Response to “The Conundrum of Color-Blindness” and Self-Proclaimed Racially Colorblind Individuals

After reading Spencer’s blog post, “The Conundrum of Color-Blindness,” and after Beth mentioned the idea of “colorblindness” a couple of classes ago, I was intrigued to go into the topic further. This is especially true when I considered the words of Roach in relation to how Spencer ends his post.

At the end of “The Conundrum of Color-Blindness,” Spencer writes, “if there are only a few people practicing [colorblindness] 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.”

Spencer is completely right in that it is practically impossible for at least the United States to be racially colorblind, even from the very beginning. It’s difficult to argue whether or not we could have ever existed in a “colorblind” world because racism is practically embedded in our culture. Europeans who colonized the now North American territory discriminated against individuals from the very beginning by kicking Native Americans out of their homes and enslaving Africans. Since it was so long ago, it’s difficult to think about what would have happened if no one was discriminated against because of their different appearance. In other words, this specific idea is an entirely different question that is too complex to get into for this blog post, but it is important to consider. Yet overall, it’s because of this discriminatory charged past of the United States that makes racism embedded in our culture; it’s what our country was founded and built on.

To practice racial colorblindness today is what Roach would call “a history of forgetting but…a history of empowering the living through the performance of memory” (34). If someone were to claim they are “colorblind” in today’s world, Roach’s double performance would occur because although they would try to treat everyone around them as equal, they would be forgetting all the hate, violence and bigotry that affected and still affects so many minorities today. This is problematic because if one forgets this specific past, it may repeat again, probably in a different form. We learn from mistakes; it’s human. One cannot learn from the past if they don’t remember it. Additionally, one can appear ignorant and careless if they simply ignore the past stained by slavery, for example.

A possible solution in place of this act of remembering and forgetting can be found in Spencer’s final words on his post when he says that it is “everyone’s personal responsibility to remember and respect the historical and current issues that people of color have faced for decades.” Respecting the past and current societal context that people of color live in is far more important than claiming they are treated equal to everyone else when they clearly have not been by the government and society they live in. This is the difference between inaction and empathy.

This point can be seen in an interview Trevor Noah had with Tomi Lahren on “The Daily Show.” (Side note: sorry for the second reference to “The Daily Show” in my blog posts, but when Beth brought up individuals claiming to be “colorblind” it brought me back to this interview.) In this 2016 interview, Noah approached Lahren for her comments against Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem and the inconsistent violence in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. (Seen below around 5:40)

Lahren’s response to his questioning was, “Because I criticized a black person or the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t mean I’m anti-black. It doesn’t mean I don’t like black people or that I’m racist…I don’t see color.”

In response, Noah comedically said, “You don’t see color? So what do you do at a traffic light?” After some laughs from the audience, he said, “there’s nothing wrong with seeing color; it’s how you treat color that’s important.”

Noah’s words echo the directive that’s more important than being racially “colorblind,” which is also apparent at the end of Spencer’s post. For Lahren to say she doesn’t see color is a way for her to avoid the taboo topic of racism. People of color are blatantly discriminated against because they are minority individuals, so to say that you cannot see color is to claim that their background has nothing to do with how poorly they are or have been treated. By extension, this claim disregards any form of respecting what has happened to minority individuals in the past and therefore elicits a feeling that the past and its struggle does not matter.

Yes, the present and how minority individuals are treated going forward is important, but we cannot ignore the past, especially something as prominent as slavery. To be “colorblind” is to bury the problem and erase the entire struggle, and also progress, that minority individuals have made over the past couple of centuries. Perhaps the key, like Spencer said, is to collaborate and have a conversation about racism that exists and has existed rather than sticking your head in the sand, trying to start anew when that is realistically impossible.

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