Over the last few months, the dialog about race has reached a fever pitch. If social media is a measure, if traditional media is a measure, and if civil unrest is a measure, race is on everyone’s mind. Despite the constant chatter about race from the dinner table to the highest level of government, race remains a particularly uncomfortable topic to discuss, especially between white people and African Americans. It is a highly emotional topic, and some choose to make it a highly political topic. To escape facing discomfort, many want to solve the race issue and make it a nonissue. One strategy is to declare, “I do not see color.”
Dr. Philip Mazzocco, an associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, refers to this type of racial colorblindness as “visionary.” The reasoning goes, if one takes color out of the equation, then there cannot and will not be racism. Furthermore, if our children are taught not to see color, racism will disappear. No, that is not the way it works. This is oversimplifying the problem of racism and racial intolerance in this country. Ignoring or overlooking racial differences does not promote racial harmony.
The Problem with Teaching Children to be Racially Color Blind
What are you really saying when you teach your child to be color blind, and what is your child hearing? When you tell your child to ignore race, you are telling them to ignore a reality. This world is made up of people who have a wide range of skin tones. It’s pretty obvious. It is well-established that kids not only see racial differences at a very early age, within the first few years of their lives they also display racial biases based on observed community norms.
Racism does not exist because people notice race. It exists because people choose to treat others differently, poorly because of race. It exists because people place different values on entire groups of people based of the color of their skin. That is the problem. That is why racism exists.
Promoting Racial Colorblindness Diminishes a Race’s Heritage
Not only does racial colorblindness not reflect reality, it is damaging and disrespectful to the experience of African Americans. Failing to acknowledge color and teaching children to not see color discourages conversation about race. It rejects the cultural heritage of African Americans. It ignores the current experience of African Americans. It relegates this country’s history of racial intolerance to a footnote. Ultimately, it teaches your children to accept the things as they are instead of being an advocate for change.
Acknowledging Racial Differences Helps Teach Anti-Racism
Instead of relegating race to “a taboo topic that polite people cannot openly discuss” as clinical psychologist Dr. Monnica T. Williams describes racial colorblindness, the more effective strategy is to have open conversations about the topic that are historically accurate and factually based. In one of my guided journals I teach children to notice, think about, and celebrate differences between the people in their life. This can be done at any age, even through adulthood. Conversations like this between adults can accomplish much more than passive aggressive social media arguments and politicized posts.
The issue of race is not a simple issue. It is a highly complex issue with deep historical roots and a stronghold on our institutions. Declaring racial colorblindness and teaching children to be color blind is not an answer. The answer is to value and respect racial differences and to seek strategies that will help our children to be anti-racists. The first step is to encourage open conversations between African Americans, white people, and other races that help to understand each other and start to end the taboo of talking about race in an open and honest way.
For more resources about teaching kids to be anti-racists, visit my group on Facebook, My Super Powers Community.
Stacey Montgomery, Founder
Stacey M Design and Stacey Montgomery Publishing