Change, Purpose

The Myth of Colorblindness

We tell ourselves the story that we have triumphed over the (official) racism of the land. We say, “It was awful then.” Then we twist ourselves into logical contortions to explain or ignore mass incarceration of Black men, the economic marginalization of communities of color, and a whole continuum of institutional racism.

In the post-civil rights era, newer forms of racism present formidable obstacles because they recruit and rely on our belief system about racial equality and egalitarianism. They hold that we exist in a meritocracy, and any consideration of race in policy or access is itself indicted as racism.  The new forms are more insidious than the public expressions of white supremacy so easily identified and vilified as racist.  Our shared narrative is a public expression of racial equality. 

Meanwhile, we move ever further from welcoming any approach that seeks to rectify structural conditions of inequality.

We import the idea of meritocracy and lay it on top of these conditions. One example: we continue to base the funding of our schools on local property values. When students from those schools have chillingly different outcomes and opportunities, we attempt to understand it by placing it in a behaviorist frame, which obscures the structural imbalance.

We claim that because the law changed, society is fundamentally changed.  This is a fallacy.  The racial caste system is evident across the social and economic landscape.  The gaps exist in housing, health, incarceration, the accumulation of wealth, job training and discrimination.

We retreat from addressing the legacy of harm as we try to embrace of picture of inclusion or diversity.  We are confused and ineffective.  We have to be honest about the legacy.  If we have uneven playing fields and then function as if we are a meritocracy, we are doomed to continue reproducing the conditions that lead to those inequalities.


– From a talk by Tricia Rose, Professor of Africana Studies and the Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University.

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