Color-Blindness Is Counterproductive

Many sociologists argue that ideologies claiming not to see race risk ignoring discrimination.


Jeff Robertson /  AP

How many times have you heard someone say that they “don’t see color,” “are colorblind,” or “don’t have a racist bone in their body?” Maybe you’ve even said this yourself. After all, the dominant language around racial issues today is typically one of colorblindness, as it’s often meant to convey distaste for racial practices and attitudes common in an earlier era.

Many sociologists, though, are extremely critical of colorblindness as an ideology. They argue that as the mechanisms that reproduce racial inequality have become more covert and obscure than they were during the era of open, legal segregation, the language of explicit racism has given way to a discourse of colorblindness. But they fear that the refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination.

For the first half of the 20th century, it was perfectly legal to deny blacks (and other racial minorities) access to housing, jobs, voting, and other rights based explicitly on race. Civil-rights reforms rendered these practices illegal. Laws now bar practices that previously maintained racial inequality, like redlining, segregation, or openly refusing to rent or sell real estate to black Americans. Yet discrimination still persists, operating through a combination of social, economic, and institutional practices.

Concurrently, it is no longer socially acceptable in many quarters to identify oneself as racist. Instead, many Americans purport not to see color. However, their colorblindness comes at a cost. By claiming that they do not see race, they also can avert their eyes from the ways in which well-meaning people engage in practices that reproduce neighborhood and school segregation, rely on “soft skills” in ways that disadvantage racial minorities in the job market, and hoard opportunities in ways that reserve access to better jobs for white peers.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf recently argued that the academic left errs in attacking colorblindness. He suggested that encouraging whites to be color conscious and to think of themselves in racial terms would encourage the nativism embraced by some Donald Trump supporters—that a heightened awareness of whiteness would produce a sense of persecution, and encourage some to rally in defense of white rights. He contends that there is some merit to colorblindness that has been ignored by what he describes as “the academic left,” which spends too much time focused on nitpicking colorblindness rather than drawing attention to “macroaggressions” such as “racially tinged hatred and conspiracy theories directed at the first black president” or the convenience of labeling Mexican immigrants rapists “despite the fact that first-generation immigrants commit fewer crimes than native born Americans.”

As a presumptive member of the “academic left” that Friedersdorf critiques, I read the post with particular interest. I think that Friedersdorf makes some important points worth more detailed attention from both academics and those outside the academy who are familiar with the debates and concepts he references. For instance, academic debates can often become divorced from broader audiences. It is way too easy for academics in many fields to ground their conversations, disputes, and discussions among other like-minded scholars. He’s right to note that, by and large, academics can do a much better job engaging with folks outside of our ivory towers.

However, there are some misrepresentations in Fridersdorf’s piece as well. Based on a single statement from one book chapter in an edited volume, Friedersdorf makes the sweeping generalization that “the academic left casts all proponents of colorblindness as naïve.” I’ve read books and articles by numerous sociologists who critique the colorblind ideology, and while they find problems with the ways this perspective allows individuals to ignore patterns of racial bias, I’ve never seen any studies that broadly categorize advocates of colorblindness in this way. What’s more important to sociologists are the consequences of how this ideology has implications for social inequality.

My colleague Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, for example, has written extensively about the idea of colorblindness, charting the ways that it functions as an ideology that legitimizes specific practices that maintain racial inequalities—police brutality, housing discrimination, voter disenfranchisement, and others. His book Racism Without Racists is part of a broad set of sociological research that draws attention to the ways that colorblind ideology undergirds bigger, more problematic social issues.

There are more than a few members of the “academic left” who argue that colorblindness is problematic precisely because it offers a way to avoid addressing social problems.

Yet, in addition to suggesting that the academic left casts all proponents of colorblindness as naïve, Friedersdorf also contends that they waste time picking apart this concept rather than addressing “macroagressions” like police brutality and growing expressions of virulent racist hatred.  But Bonilla-Silva, among others, describes the ways that colorblindness sustains these very macroaggressions that Friedersdorf thinks are ignored. In other words, Friedersdorf suggests the academic left wastes time dissecting the concept of colorblindness, and would be better served focusing on more pressing, systemic processes of inequality. But a careful read of sociological literature in this area finds that there are more than a few members of the “academic left” who argue that colorblindness is problematic precisely because it offers a way to avoid addressing these exact social problems. Other sociologists like Jessie Daniels and David Cort focus explicitly on researching hate speech on the internet and the lower rates of crime among immigrants relative to native born Americans, respectively—the very issues that Friedersdorf, by his own admission, charges are important and believes are overlooked by the academic left. Sociologists are actually very involved in highlighting these macroaggressions—and in underscoring the ways colorblind ideology allows them to go ignored.

Advocates of colorblindness, like Friedersdorf, tend to claim that emphasizing whites’ group identity as whites (rather than as individuals) is counterproductive. Rejecting colorblindness and encouraging whites to see themselves as members of a distinct racial group, they argue, will produce nativism. They will cling to, rather than critique, the privileges that whiteness affords, which are jeopardized by a more multiracial society. Friedersdorf calls it naïve to believe that upon focusing on their status as members of a racial group and the privilege and power that affords them, “masses of white people will identify more strongly with their racial tribe and then sacrifice the interests of that tribe.”

This is, in the abstract, a compelling point. The trouble is that the weight of the scholarly evidence directly contradicts this argument. Sociologists like Karyn McKinney, Eileen O’Brien, Joe Feagin, Hernan Vera, and Matthew Hughey, who have studied the pathways and trajectories by which whites become involved in antiracist activism, show that contrary to Friedersdorf’s beliefs, moving away from colorblindness can actually serve as a pathway towards antiracism. In many of these studies, as whites came to understand themselves as members of a racial group which enjoyed unearned privileges and benefits, this compelled them to forge a different sense of white identity built on antiracism rather than simply supporting the status quo. Moving away from the colorblind ideology that sociologists critique—the idea that it’s admirable to profess not to see color, that it’s problematic to see oneself as a member of a racial group—is, according to the research in this area, actually an important step to antiracist activism.

In most social interactions, whites get to be seen as individuals. Racial minorities become aware from a young age that people will often judge them as members of their group.

There’s a strong emphasis on individualism in American culture. Friedersdorf argues that “race is a pernicious concept that robs people of their individuality … the academic left also underestimates how divisive it can be to put anything other than individualism at the center of identity.” But ironically, this focus on individualism is itself a function of group position. Whites, by and large, enjoy the luxury of promoting the importance of the individual, because they benefit from living in a racially stratified society where whiteness is normalized. In most social interactions, whites get to be seen as individuals. Racial minorities, by contrast, become aware from a young age that people will often judge them as members of their group, and treat them in accordance with the (usually negative) stereotypes attached to that group.

Everyone wants to be treated as an individual and recognized for their personal traits and characteristics. But the colorblindness that sociologists critique doesn’t allow for this. Instead, it encourages those who endorse this perspective to ignore the ongoing processes that maintain racial stratification in schools, neighborhoods, health care, and other social institutions. Can color consciousness draw attention to these issues? The research demonstrates that it can lead to more understanding of our racially stratified society and can give rise to a willingness to work for change. So from that perspective, it doesn’t seem worth abandoning just yet.

Originally seen via The Atlantic by: ADIA HARVEY WINGFIELD – A contributing writer for The Atlantic and a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work.

The Plight of the Black Academic


Being a black professor at a predominantly white university can be just as uncomfortable as—if not more so than—being a black student at one.

Graduates arrive for commencement at the University of California, Berkeley

Noah Berger / Reuters

In his new book, The Scholar Denied, the sociologist Aldon Morris writes that contrary to the discipline’s preferred origin story, the field of sociology was actually founded by W.E.B. DuBois, the first black person to receive a Ph.D. in the United States. DuBois earned his degree from Harvard, but due to rampant racial segregation at the time, he was shut out of many employment opportunities. He ended up working at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), a historically black college with few resources, but still managed to do pioneering work in the field of sociology.

Morris describes in clear detail the ways that DuBois’s emphasis on race as a socially constructed—rather than biological—phenomenon threatened white elites of his day, who much preferred Booker T. Washington’s message that blacks should accept and embrace their subordinate status. Furthermore, many white sociologists co-opted DuBois’s innovative research designs, empirical methods, and scientific approach, while failing to credit him as their originator. Morris argues that consequently, DuBois’s centrality to the discipline of sociology and his role as one of the preeminent analysts of race relations have been obscured.

DuBois lived and wrote his most famous books during the early part of the 20th century, but how different are circumstances for black academics today?

The recent student demonstrations at University of Missouri, Yale, Amherst, Emory, and other universities have drawn much-needed attention to the challenges that minority students, particularly black ones, face at predominantly white colleges and universities. There’s a great deal of research—including the work of the sociologists Joe Feagin and Wendy Leo Moore—showing that the conditions black students are protesting are serious, widespread, and often ignored. In one account, Feagin shares a story of a black student who waits after class to ask a white professor a question about that day’s lecture, only to be told “I thought you were waiting to rob me or something.” Another student describes “one of those sad and angry nights” when, walking to the dorm, white students drove by yelling racial slurs and throwing beer cans at him.

In Wendy Leo Moore’s study of elite law schools, she offers similarly wrenching examples. For instance, there is the white professor who punishes a black female law student for discussing the offensiveness of racial slurs, but does not challenge the white male law student who comments during a class discussion that black students are intellectually inferior. As Moore describes, even the ways law schools teach students to focus on “individual intent” means that social, academic, and legal practices that discriminate against students of color can be summarily dismissed if white social actors “didn’t mean any harm.” Thus, no matter how invidious the action, no matter the consequences of the behavior, legal reasoning centers on individual whites’ intentions and discounts the lived experiences of people of color.

For faculty of color, similar processes are frequently at play. In fact, predominantly white colleges and universities may even be more reluctant to recruit and hire faculty of color than students of color. While students matriculate at an institution for a short period of time and then leave, the tenure system means that faculty of color may remain at a university for decades, even a lifetime. With this longer time frame, these professors develop more of a stake in the school, and may be more empowered to push for the reforms many colleges resist. For universities that see no real reason to change their existing practices, traditions, and organizational cultures, bringing in a critical mass of faculty of color is often a stated goal that never materializes.

Indeed, when it comes to faculty diversity, the numbers suggest a pretty bleak picture. Blacks constitute less than 10 percent of the professoriate, and these numbers thin out the higher the academic rank. And as lots of research shows, when these professors are in the numerical minority, their experiences aren’t all that different from what DuBois encountered as he attempted to navigate higher education in the early 20th century: exclusion, marginalization, and the consistent message that, as a black person, he was not suited for the academy and that his ideas were unwelcome. Indeed, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent suggestion that blacks are best suited for “less advanced, slower track school[s] where they do well” are strikingly similar to the arguments about black inferiority that DuBois confronted in the 19th century—the very assertions he was able to debunk with scientific research.

Many faculty members and administrators will dismiss this lack of diversity as a pipeline issue, claiming that they simply can’t find “qualified” candidates of color to fill faculty positions. But as was the case in DuBois’s day, many historically black colleges and universities are populated by faculty of color, many of whom are exemplary researchers and teachers who work with a fraction of the resources offered at elite, predominantly white universities. “Qualified” candidates of color are there. They simply are not proportionately represented in historically white institutions.

For faculty of color who do seek and find employment at predominantly white schools, research suggests that the issues they face are in some ways similar to those that students of color have described in the recent wave of protests. For example, in a recent study, the professors Ebony McGee and Lasana Kazembe noted that black faculty were racially stereotyped at work, including being generally expected to entertain and perform for colleagues in ways that were not expected of their white counterparts. Other black professors report that if they study issues related to race, their research is assumed to be less credible, serious, and rigorous than their white peers—even if white colleagues also study racial issues. Black faculty also do a disproportionate amount of service work—jobs that are expected of workers but not explicitly required. These can include mentoring and advising students and junior faculty, serving as a faculty advisor for campus clubs, or being on committees.

And there are gender dynamics present as well. The sociologist Roxana Harlow found that black female professors had to manage gendered racial stereotypes that they were “mean” and “cold” in the classroom, stereotypes that are commonly applied to black female professionals more generally. And this says nothing of the racialized assumptions that many students (and fellow faculty) bring with them to the university—that black Americans, and by extension, black professors, are less knowledgeable and credible than their peers of other races, regardless of the subject matter they teach. This means that in practice, black faculty routinely face students, coworkers, and administrators who assume that they are not truly qualified for or capable of faculty work—all the while concealing the understandable feelings of frustration and annoyance that result. The overall message is that, like black students, black faculty simply do not belong.

Though these issues are complex and won’t be solved easily, universities could begin doing more to support faculty and staff of color. DuBois defined the premier problem of the 20th century as the issue of the color line, and this certainly shaped his experiences in higher education. It doesn’t have to be this way today.

Originally seen via The Atlantic by: ADIA HARVEY WINGFIELD – A contributing writer for The Atlantic and a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work.

Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump Is ‘ISIS’s Best Recruiter’



Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a hard stance against rhetoric from GOP front-runner Donald Trump, painting him as a potent and powerful tool for ISIS.

“He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists,” Clinton said during Saturday’s Democratic debate, hosted by ABC News.

Clinton offered no specific evidence of the claim. ABC News has reached out to the Clinton and Trump campaigns for comment.

When asked about her emphasis on gun control in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks, Secretary Clinton took the opportunity to bash Trump – who she says is pushing the wrong narrative in the fight against ISIS.

“I worry greatly that the rhetoric coming from the Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, is sending a message to Muslims here in the United States and literally around the world that there is a clash of civilizations,” said Clinton, “that there is some kind of western plot or even war against Islam, which then I believe fans the flames of radicalization.”

Clinton also said that she does not believe that calls to arm more Americans in the wake of recent terror attacks will make Americans safer.

“Guns in and of themselves, in my opinion, will not make Americans safer. We lose 33,000 people a year already to gun violence. Arming more people to do what I think is not the appropriate response to terrorism,” she said.




Written by:  JOHN VERHOVEK via ABC News

Asking White People About America’s White Terrorism Problem

 White terrorism is a huge problem in America. Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed in terror attacks by white supremacists than by Muslim extremists.
But while we hear a lot about Islamic terrorism, and all of the racial profiling, abuse, and harassment that Muslims in the U.S. face whenever a Muslim commits a violent act, we never hear about how white people feel when a fellow white person kills a bunch of innocent people in a Planned Parenthood clinic, or at a church in Charleston, or a home in North Carolina.
So we hit the streets to find out: what happens if you ask white people about America’s white terrorism problem?





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