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September 2nd, 2010


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02:20 am - Thoughts on Racism and being "Color-Blind"
The results of this study are not terribly surprising:
In a study that examined the associations between responses to racial theme party images on social networking sites and a color-blind racial ideology, Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at Illinois, discovered that white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially themed parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes (for example, photos of students dressed in blackface make-up attending a “gangsta party” to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day).

“People who reported higher racial color-blind attitudes were more likely to be white, and more likely to condone or not be bothered by racial-theme party images,” Tynes said. “In fact, some even encouraged the photos by adding comments of their own such as ‘Where’s the Colt 45?’ or ‘Party like a rock star.’ ”
I've both known many people and have (thankfully) a while ago now "color-blind" attitudes, and the short form is that they are a drastically bad idea, because they are a lie. This excellent webcomic shows with such attitudes are problematic as well as anything that I've ever seen The obvious problem is simply that while active bigotry of the sort where someone consciously discriminates against someone based on their race (or whatever) is considerably less common than it used to be, but it still exists and denying this is problematic. The less obvious problem is that unconscious racism is far more widespread, and includes serious problems like when choosing to hire someone from a group of applicants with roughly equal qualifications, the person always ends up hiring the white (or gender normative, or whatever) people, simply because they are the "obvious" choice – not due to any conscious bigotry, but because the person has a fair amount of unconscious and unconsidered racism, exactly the sort of racism that "color-blindness" not merely denies, but often coexists in the same head with. At least in the US, deliberate and conscious bigotry is now largely the preserve of tea-baggers and other extreme reactionaries, but unconscious racist attitudes are disturbingly widespread. I've had to work on them, and I'm better I'm far from alone with that.
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From:seika
Date:September 2nd, 2010 12:23 pm (UTC)
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Hm... I think that when I was young (until I went to college) I was really colour-blind, in the sense that I generally didn't notice if somebody (whether they were friends with me or in the media or whatever) was of a different race. However, I can't imagine myself having approved of theme parties back then or even actually comprehending them. I don't think I would have left comments like that because I wasn't aware of what stereotypes actually existed. It was like racial prejudices, like much of the rest of my pop-cultural framework, were something I just didn't know much about. If I'd read comments like that, or seen an invitation to a theme party like that, I would have reacted with "Huh? I don't... get it." I assimilated a lot of pop culture pretty late compared to everyone else, and stereotypes seem to have been among it.

I'm not arguing with your overall point here; unconscious prejudices might still have been at work in me, and so on. Rather, I'm pointing out that there might be more than one type of colour-blindness. Just because my own experience with it seems very alien to what that study shows.
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From:slothman
Date:September 2nd, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
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The whole notion of a racially themed party requires that people have been paying attention to race in the first place, which suggests that the tests for “color-blind racial attitudes” aren’t terribly accurate.
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From:seika
Date:September 2nd, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
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Yeah... and if you're aware of and riffing on racial stereotypes, you must have been paying some attention, even if it's subconscious and accidental, picked up through pervasive media influence or whatever. In my case, I just never paid sufficient attention to popular media when I was a kid to know the tropes. But there may still have been more generalised prejudices at work that I picked up on from the adults in my life and watching how they treated various people. IDK. I think it's possible that I wasn't entirely innocent of racism, just that I didn't know the more overt associations, or perhaps didn't know where the associations were coming from.

That aside, I think that perhaps what's being referred to as "colour-blindness" in this study actually means something more like "people who claim they 'don't care' about race, who think that it's enough to state that they like people of X race just as well as they like 'anyone else' [i.e. white people]"-- and that actually failing to notice race is a different matter, with a different set of potential pitfalls.
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From:heron61
Date:September 2nd, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC)
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I think part of the issue is that very few people are actually color blind. Also, I've run into a number of not obviously bigoted people who have claimed to be color blind and simply didn't get why something was offensive (the most common example I've personally seen was people being clueless that Jar Jar Blinks from Star Wars was really offensive). At least some of these people find humor like this funny, and have various justifications on the order of something "being really funny" and finding that more important than any racial content.

Also, I suspect that these days claiming to be color-blind is a common tactic for people who aren't up for admitting that have lots of racist attitudes, but don't wish to embrace open statements of bigotry.
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From:seika
Date:September 2nd, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
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and have various justifications on the order of something "being really funny" and finding that more important than any racial content.

:/ Funny is good, but not as important as not hurting people, and often you just don't know who or how many are going to be hurt by it. It's like people who insist that they're not doing anything wrong by using "gay" as an insult-- they don't realise that regardless of how accepting they are personally of actual homosexuality, they don't know who is going to hear and be affected by their slang.
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From:heron61
Date:September 2nd, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
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It's like people who insist that they're not doing anything wrong by using "gay" as an insult-- they don't realise that regardless of how accepting they are personally of actual homosexuality, they don't know who is going to hear and be affected by their slang.

Well said, I suspect that many of these are the same people who deal with racist humor the same way. One of the bits of this that annoys me most is what can best be described as "hipster racism", where people use racist terms to be ironic, which might be OK if racism was a thing of the past, but it isn't and so such people are merely showing themselves to be ignorant.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:September 3rd, 2010 01:41 am (UTC)
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"hipster racism", where people use racist terms to be ironic, which might be OK if racism was a thing of the past, but it isn't and so such people are merely showing themselves to be ignorant.

Yuck. Hanlon's Razor is at work again, I see. Human stupidity knows no bounds, especially among the terminally hip.
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From:aekiy
Date:September 3rd, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
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I agree with the notion that there are multiple forms of color-blindness. There is literal color-blindness, where people haven't been socialized to make distinctions between people based on superficial features, and then there is ignoring the issues that arise from people belittling, caricaturing, and diminishing the social status of people based on superficial features (and far worse in many cases).

My upbringing was a strange one, but one thing I like about it is that I was never socialized to classify people as things such as race. It is the most obvious thing in the world to me to accept what social scientists say all the time, that there is no such literal thing as race; that it's socially constructed and has no clear delineation or reasoned means of categorization.

On the other hand, since I am interested in social sciences, I find it necessary to recognize how people are treated differently based on such social constructs. In evaluating my innate perceptions against the notion that color-blindness itself is racist, I've come to believe that actual individual color-blindness, in terms of personal interactions, is a desirable thing, where socio-political color-blindness is a form of social-structural racism and should be worked against so that more people can gain perspective on the issue and potentially work to do something about it.
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From:heron61
Date:September 3rd, 2010 04:54 am (UTC)
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I agree, but I don't think that this sort of color-blindness is a particularly good thing either. It seems like it could easily lead to an inability to notice how different the lives of white people and people of color are in the US and in other first world, mostly white nations. When you consider how constant exposure to racism affects overall health, it seems to me that being color blind in a world that is very definitely not is ignoring and denying people's experiences. I'm not a fan of it.
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From:aekiy
Date:September 3rd, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC)
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Right. I mean, literal color-blindness like what I've experienced isn't necessarily a good thing in a society where racism is still pervasive, but I can't call it a harmful thing in itself, only indirectly in the sense of being unaware of harm that's caused. But then, I did learn of racism after my family left the cult — without labeling people myself, I could see that they were treated differently in bizarre, irrational, and distasteful ways. Having learned more about issues of race, I do keep mindful of race issues from a social perspective, but by and large this doesn't so much impact my interactions with people based on how they're classified or treated, only certain discussions relevant to the topic and how I think of certain people (in terms of being able to identify prejudice), forms of media, and so on.

Edited at 2010-09-03 04:40 pm (UTC)
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From:siderea
Date:September 3rd, 2010 06:29 am (UTC)
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My upbringing was a strange one, but one thing I like about it is that I was never socialized to classify people as things such as race.

You didn't watch TV before the age of 18?
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From:aekiy
Date:September 3rd, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
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I was raised in an biblical-Armageddon cult and wasn't allowed access to most things until after my family left when I was 14 years old.
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From:siderea
Date:September 3rd, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)
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Huh! Fair enough. That said, from age 14 to now, you've been being bombarded with messages about race through everything from billboards to who does what at your grocery store. None of our attitudes about race are entirely or even mostly a matter of upbringing. Have you taken an IAT?
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From:arxacies
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)

I used to be involved in anti-racism

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and even considered myself anti-racist. However, as I did more time in the community, I realized that(for me at least) that it had far too many overtones of "original sin"(you are racist, you will always be racist, and nothing you will ever do will ever allow you to become entirely not racist) and that it was fairly fatalistic/nihlistic(again, from the POV of a white male. I can't speak for anyone else).

Nowadays I don't consider myself anti-racist, "beyond race", or "color blind". I consider myself someone who, for reasons that have been medically diagnosed(major depressive disorder), cannot become involved in that analysis(it's kindof like a diabetic going to an all you can eat candy buffet, honestly). Also, if I believed in original sin, I would have stayed Christian.

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From:innocent_man
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)

Re: I used to be involved in anti-racism

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Never thought of comparing the kind of assumed racism I see often to original sin, but that's an interesting notion.
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From:arxacies
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)

Re: I used to be involved in anti-racism

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I'm not the first person to make that connection the link below has an example of someone who made that connection before me. Do a search on "original sin" to see the particular details.

http://www.meadville.edu/journal/1999_thandeka_1_1.pdf
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From:heron61
Date:September 2nd, 2010 08:12 pm (UTC)

Re: I used to be involved in anti-racism

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While it's definitely true that some (and perhaps many) people go overboard with this sort of thing (especially since guilt is such a popular US middle class alternative to actually taking action), the cause remains worthwhile as long as the US has the massive level of both casual and institutionalized racism that it does.
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From:merovingian
Date:September 2nd, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)

Re: I used to be involved in anti-racism

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Really well put. Thanks for this, and for the post as a whole.
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From:merovingian
Date:September 2nd, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC)

Original Sin and Racism

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There's an idea about original sin that appeals to me, that wasn't the way I was raised to think about sin, but which really puts it in a different and more constructive light.

Here's the idea I've seen about Original Sin: that we as humans are born with problems that we suffer together, that we are imperfect, that this and that this imperfection is an affliction that we can and must work together to improve, but only if we can see it in ourselves as well as those around us.

I identify as agnostic these days, but the idea that we are born into suffering and can work together to improve it is appealing to me. It definitely has application to the topic of racism.
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From:seika
Date:September 2nd, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)

Re: Original Sin and Racism

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I think that's a pretty good way to look at racism, too. We all fail, but that's no reason to go all angry and judgmental on ourselves or each other-- it's just something we all should try and work on.
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From:heron61
Date:September 2nd, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Original Sin and Racism

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Absolutely. Someone calling me on saying or writing something racist sucks, but it doesn't mean that I'm some sort of vile bigot, merely that I made a mistake that I need to learn from.
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From:seika
Date:September 2nd, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)

Re: Original Sin and Racism

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I think a lot of people just... don't distinguish between "you're A Racist" and "you did a racist thing". To admit that they've done something racist would make them feel like a bad person. Yet they neither want to have to conceive of themselves as that awful, nor does their mistake really merit a judgment of such epic proportions as "you're A Racist" sounds like in their minds. So they feel (rightly) that it's justified for them to not think so awfully of themselves, but they rationalise it (wrongly) by assuming that since they're not so bad, what they did must not have been racist.
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From:heron61
Date:September 2nd, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Original Sin and Racism

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Yes, and I think this is a crucial point. What I see is people being justifiably accused of racism reacting as if they were told they were a horrible bigot and getting very angry and defensive, at which point the signal to noise ratio of the exchange plummets, and their behavior never changes.
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From:seika
Date:September 2nd, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Original Sin and Racism

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This.
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From:rjgrady
Date:September 8th, 2010 01:37 am (UTC)

Re: Original Sin and Racism

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I'm not even sure it's possible to function rationally without being somewhat racist. Race is a powerful and salient social construct and refusing to deal with it entirely is kind of taking a vacation from reality. In an ideal world, race is a historical artifact, but there is no road to the world that does not walk on the stones of history.
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From:rjgrady
Date:September 8th, 2010 01:34 am (UTC)
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The ironic thing is that I can tolerate, and in some contexts condone, interfacing with racial stereotypes directly. The "color-blind" whateveh kind of attitude is actually a major component of what makes hipster racism not okay. In-group humor works because it interfaces with the stereotypes and the reality directly; hipster humor doesn't because it never penetrates the stereotypes and certainly doesn't deal with the reality.

I laugh now, but I got sputteringly mad at someone once, who I think had every opportunity to know better, who used "point-jewing" to describe things they don't like about GURPS, then accused me of being ridiculous for being offended because "no one really thinks about Jewish people that way any more anyway, at least, no one that matters."


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