Colourblindness, privilege and the age of polite, middle class racism.
‘Racism’ is commonly associated with clear cut acts of aggression and obvious racial slurs. For instance, those infamous videos of racial abuse on Australian public transport that seem to appear every few months, unmasking the prejudice that lurks below the surface of polite society. Whenever one of those videos surfaces, they are widely are shared with taglines and condemnatory comments expressing shock and outrage. These easily identifiable examples of ‘RACISM’ blind a lot of people to the reality that racism has many manifestations. Racism is a system of privilege we are born into, and has many insidious facets. People of colour face a constant barrage of microaggressions every day which fall below the radar of our clear cut definitions of ‘RACISM.’ It’s easy to ignore because unless you’ve experienced it, it seems invisible. This ties into one of the best definitions of privilege I’ve found: ‘Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.’ For instance, every time someone compliments me on my English, or speaks to me slowly, or asks me where I’m from (NO, really, where are you from?!), it’s a microaggression, a form of polite middle class racism, a tiny indignity that accumulates over time until it feels unbearable.
One of the most common microaggressions I’ve faced is that of colour blindness. I’m sick of hearing ‘I don’t see race’ and ‘we’re all members of the human race’. I even had one person tell me they literally couldn’t see race and the difference between a black and a white person. I wanted to suggest they got their eyes checked, because that’s pretty bizarre.
Colourblindness parades around in the guise of being a progressive, liberal, post racial viewpoint, but all it does is seek to dismiss the problem of race. It seeks to deny the problems of racial inequality by dismissing the unique experiences and identity of people of colour. It’s a way to feel comfortable and bury our heads in the sand about the reality of modern day racism. It’s based on the notion that racism just isn’t a problem anymore and we live in this meritocracy where we’re judged based on the content of our character. It’s also a form of whitewashing because this idea of normalcy is rooted in the notion that white is the ‘norm’ and anything that deviates from this is the ‘other’. You’re not going to get a cookie for being supposedly free of racial prejudice- yes, race is a social construct, but the consequences of race and racism are very real. Telling me you don’t see me as an Indian is not only a lie, but it’s also important to understand that people of colour don’t have the luxury of being colour blind. The way people of colour are perceived is intrinsically linked to race.
This issue of race denial is summed up perfectly in this scene from HBO’s ‘Girls’ where in an exchange between Lena Dunham’s character and her boyfriend played by Donald Glover, Lena Dunham’s political correctness is the butt of the joke.
The point is, that to be an ally to people of colour is to acknowledge that race is something that exists and has consequences. To listen. Acknowledging the experience of people of colour exists is vital in order to have constructive conversations about racism and to actually make any progress in terms of dispelling prejudice and fighting systemic oppression.