Colorblindness versus Colorfulness: the Big Trick

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was a world in which individuals were judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. This is a demand for each person to enjoy equal treatment—at least treatment blind to race. You are to get no more or no less on account of your race. That’s fairness. That’s justice. It’s also good for society.

However, while a colorblind society maybe a colorful one, this outcome is not guaranteed. It depends on what individuals put into it. Group inequality is not necessarily explained by racism. Those who claim that it is bear a burden to show this is true. What they are telling you today is that racial disparity is racism. Ideology usually works in circularities.

There are those who will tell you that sacrificing colorblindness for colorfulness by substituting for the goal of equality the cosmetic of diversity constitutes a form of justice, what they call “social justice.” But this is not true. If, on the basis of his skin color, an individual is passed over for an opportunity he has earned, he is being punished for what those in power have judged a physical stigma or some attribute they suppose attaches to that stigma that in some way disqualifies him. This is the diametric opposite of justice, social or otherwise. If this practice is based on skin color, it is race discrimination.

Those in power are playing a trick on you. Elites promote diversity over merit to prevent equality. They have become so confident they even changed the goals from equality to equity. But it is not which races are being discriminated against that determines whether the practice of discrimination is right or wrong. At different times, the elite privilege and scapegoat different groups to prevent movements for equality from forming or achieving any substantive success.

This is an ancient strategy. In establishing hegemony, the king selected and privileged members of the various tribes in order to control the tribes through collaborators and convey in the diversity of the institutions under his control a spirit of benevolence. One could look at the powers-that-be and see fellow tribesmen there and feel that the order of things was fair. This trick depends on seeing oneself as a member of a tribe.

In societies where individuals are not alienated by tribal identity, they can see together their common class position. In the case of the monarchy, their common position is as subjects under the rule of a king. Seeing collective oppression in togetherness rather than apartness is the sort of consciousness that threatens the king. And that’s the sort of consciousness than threatens elites of any age. And so they keep us separated by tribalizing us and sowing division and resentment.

You would think that after thousands of years of this trick being pulled on us we’d have wised up. Tragically, we have not. Indeed, it’s working about as well as it ever has. Shame on us.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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