Should the United States be Colorblind?
Many Americans believe that the way to finally get past the injustices of the past is to treat everyone exactly the same in schools, jobs, politics, and every other institution. This argument resonates strongly with fundamental American values and appeals to many as simple common sense: If we want to have a society in which only character matters—not race or skin color—we need to start treating people as individuals, not as representatives of groups.
From this “colorblind” point of view, programs such as affirmative action perpetuate rather than solve the problems of racial inequality in America. Several states have enacted, or considered, policies that would require all state agencies (including Universities) to ignore race and ethnicity in their decision-making processes (including college admissions and hiring for jobs). For example, in 2006, by an overwhelming margin, the voters of Michigan passed Proposition 2, which prevents state colleges and universities from taking account of race or ethnicity in admissions decisions. Proposition 2 was challenged by a number of parties and its constitutionality will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.
How could anyone reasonably oppose a policy of equal treatment? What arguments can be raised against official colorblindness? Some people, a distinct minority of public opinion, believe that to ignore race is to perpetuate the inequalities of the past. Colorblindness perpetuates white privilege and dominance and does not lead to a more equal and open society. The only way to end racial inequality is to build programs and policies that take explicit notice of race and confer an affirmative advantage on blacks and on other colonized, marginalized groups. Without a strong program to force employers to balance their workforces and to require college admission programs to seek out qualified minority candidates, the racial status quo will be perpetuated indefinitely. In this opposed view, “colorblindness” is seen as a disguised form of prejudice, and a version of modern racism (see Chapter 3).
POINTS OF VIEW
The argument for colorblindness is presented by Ward Connerly, an African American and a prominent leader of anti-affirmative action programs in California and Michigan. The interview was published in The American Enterprise in 2003. The opposing view is presented by Sociologist Meghan Burke, a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and the author of Racial Ambivalence in Diverse Communities: Whiteness and the Power of Color-Blind Ideologies (2012, Lexington Books)
Debate Questions to Consider
- What assumptions does Connerly make about the overall fairness of American society? Are there any similarities between his position and human capital theory (see Chapter 2)? Judging from the evidence presented in this chapter, how credible is his statement that young black Americans face essentially the same problems as all young Americans? Is he thinking about all African Americans? Middle-class African Americans? Male as well as femals? How close is the United States to Connerly’s “Racial Privacy Initiative”?
- What, according to Burke, are the consequences of official colorblindness? Would the progress toward racial equality that has been made be reversed? How is colorblindness a disguised form of white domination?
- Which author(s) directly addresses “past-in-present” discrimination? How?
- This chapter documents the continued existence of racial discrimination, yet people of color are often criticized for recognizing some people’s behavior as racist– what many call “playing the race card.” Why aren’t minorities’ claims of racism taken seriously? What role does the colorblind ideology play in this?*
- Which of these two positions is most appealing to you? If you agree with Connerly, how would you combat modern institutional discrimination? If you agree with Burke, how would you respond to the charge that programs such as affirmative action are a form of “reverse discrimination”?