“I Don’t See Color.”
Many of us want to believe that the prejudices witnessed during the Civil Rights Era, namely, the images and videos of police officers beating Civil Rights activists, police dogs mauling men and women in city streets, sit-in protestors having ice cream dumped over their heads, freedom riders being shot at by vigilantes, and of klansmen parading through town, have since disappeared from our national purview and with them the prejudices they carried.
In this state of mind, we believe that the racism of yesteryear, the racist policies attached to that era, and the Jim Crow laws of the Deep South or the silent segregated liberal Northern states has since vanished. This line of reasoning is accepted because we aren’t witnesses to successful or failed assassination attempts against Civil Rights activists anymore. We haven’t witnessed high profile cases like the lynching of Emmitt Till (1955) or the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) in two generations, therefore the racism that allowed for those reprehensible crimes to take place must have since disappeared from the American plain of memory and conscience.
And I must not be remiss by failing to acknowledge the many Civil Rights advances that have happened within the United States from 1865 to date.
In 1865, the United States added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, thus abolishing slavery in all its states.
In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution granting persons born or naturalized in the United States the right to American citizenship. This benefited Black Americans who hitherto had been considered property, not persons, therefore undeserving of citizenship.
In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, and it forbade any state from depriving citizens of the right to vote because of their race, color, or previous state as ‘slaves or indentured servants.’ Namely, Black Americans were now allowed to vote.
Attached to 1870 and 1871, the United States federal government passed three distinctive laws or edicts to combat the rise and prevalence of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan had instigated terror against newly freed and now voting privileged Black Americans, killing, maiming, and torturing them away from voting centers. The federal government sought to penalize and hold legally accountable any Klansmen or group that sought to deprive Black Americans of their Constitutional right to vote.
In 1875, a Civil Rights Act was passed that prohibited the exclusion of Black Americans from jury duty and also allowed them the right and privileges to convene in public places and share land and water with their white counterparts.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court decided in the Brown v. Board of Education case to integrate previously racially segregated public schools. White and Black Americans were now not only allowed to attend the same schools but to prohibit the integration and matriculation of students based on their race or color was unconstitutional.
In 1957, another Civil Rights Act prohibited state officials from discriminating against people of color who wanted to cast their vote. Although the federal government had granted Black Americans the right to vote 90 or so years ago, state and local officials sought to abuse their power by intimidating or outright prohibiting Black Americans from voting at certain polling sites. The act pushed back against illegal state legislation and its legally compromised officials.
In 1960, another Civil Rights Act was passed to bring criminal charges against any state or federal official who prohibited or attempted to prohibit colored Americans from voting.
In 1964, one of the more popular Civil Rights Act was ratified to “prohibit the discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and schools.” This act also promoted and presented the Equal Employment Opportunities in public and private sectors since Black and colored Americans had previously been refused career opportunities based not on merit nor education but solely on the color of their skin or their identifiable race. This act also enforced voting rights for all American citizens, once again.
In 1965, the equally popular Civil Rights Act was passed to further protect black and colored Americans’ right to vote and also pushed for federal observers to be present at voting sites to ensure that Black and colored Americans were not being discriminated against. They pushed to make sure voting-eligible citizens were registered to vote and made it to the booths and community centers to vote without harassment. They banned poll taxes which halted poor Americans, which Black Americans were a predominant part of, from making it to the voting booth to vote since they did not have the cash required to pay the tax to vote. And this also provided criminal penalties for whoever violated this federal edict.
In 1968, the same year Dr. Martin Luther KingJr., was assassinated, the 1968 Civil Rights Act (Fair Housing Act) was ratified to prohibit state and federal housing officials from discriminating against Native Americans and colored Americans from land or property purchases.
And from 1968 to 2022, the American government has continued to improve Fair Housing Acts and Voting Rights Acts in hopes of bringing the country to a place where people are not discriminated against based on race, sex, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. To prohibit anyone from such liberties previously and historically afforded to white land-owning American men is now considered a violation of one’s constitutional rights in American.
We have seen wondrous advances but in light of the benevolent steps toward equity and equality, we may be blindsided by the varied prejudices that allowed for these injustices happen and later carry on for as long as they did. It is very easy for us to believe that just because something, namely, discrimination has been outlawed on a federal and state level, that it has ceased to exist in other places like policing, housing markets, lending firms, community centers, board of education staff, hiring management, church or religious environments, and private firms or private schools.
From 1954 to 1971, the United States of America witnessed the funding and establishment of more than 197 partially or completely segregated schools and academies in the American Deep South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia). Unsurprisingly, these states had also been part of the Confederate States of America which seceded from the United States of America to fight for the Deep South’s right to own black people as slaves. After their cumulative and disastrous loss to the Union Army in the American Civil War, these and other Southern states sought to further harass black Americans by initiating Jim Crow laws and policies to further disadvantage black Americans. When these laws and policies lost hold, especially within the education department through the Brown v. Broad of Education case, Southern whites sought to create their racially monochromatic safe havens in private segregated schools and communities.
Most of these private schools are still open and active today. Many have since been integrated but most have not, not entirely at least.
What is heartbreaking is that these schools, most of which are Christian academies, were named after slavery defending generals or Confederate army heroes and sympathizers. John C. Calhoun Academy (est. 1966, SC), Robert E. Lee Academy (est. 1965, SC), John T. Morgan Academy (est. 1965, AL), Stonewall Jackson Academy (est. 1965, SC), and John S. Mosby Academy (est. 1959, VI) to name a few.
These schools were formed and established with the explicit intent of being segregated institutions. And no wonder they were called as such, segregationist schools.
As the American federal government ratified laws that prohibited the discrimination of Black and colored Americans in the public and private sectors and institutions, many American institutions, private schools, and businesses found loopholes to continue perpetuating racist policies to disadvantage or refuse patrons of color.
The schools named after Confederate generals, lawyers, and sympathizers hold the same names to this day, as aspects of pride and honor, celebrating their heroes, albeit depicting them as such is morally and historically questionable, but Lost Cause fanatics know of no other interpretation of the Confederacy’s embarrassing loss or they refuse to accept the correct one.
Although various amendments were made to the Constitution and Civil Rights Acts were ratified in the American civil conscience, many towns, cities, and states have found other means by which to protect their prejudices and discriminatory practices for decades ever since.
And this brings us to the problem of our day. People who fall victim to the seemingly innocuous but cancerous statement, I don’t see color fail to realize that they are protecting a racist system by denying its very existence.
This sentiment is shared by people who refused to grapple with the current realities of a racialized society or the horrible racist past of our nation(s). Dealing with the past is too grim an endeavor for them to undertake and to connect that not too distant past where grandparents may or may not have been involved in discriminatory practices is like swimming in bloody water for many.
We don’t want to confront the possibility that in our family line, the very people we love and look up to as heroes, veterans, lawyers, doctors, and statesmen, were at the same time, racist, prejudiced, and discriminatory individuals who today we view as evil men and women. Faceless men and women, to be exact.
We don’t want to add a face nor a name to these racists of yesteryear because doing so will then qualify them as being human and of having families and racist people don’t have families. They’re to allowed to, you see. They live, hate, and die alone somewhere in the black and white Deep South of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s impossible that those hate-filled segregationists ever had children and if they did, there is absolutely no way their socio-racial-political sentiments could have passed down to the next generation.
Therefore they created this national myth, and by ‘they’ I mean white Americans, both the liberal and conservative ones, that we live in a post-racial or color-blind society.
This concept benefits no one other than people who continue to perpetuate racist sentiments. One can be racist but now has the luxury of changing the motivation for their hatred, namely, turning a racist act into an act of insensitivity, unneighborliness, drunken spell, sleeping pill-induced slip of the tongue, or uncharacteristic vitriol attributed to high or low blood sugar.
In a color-blind society where race still plays a part in its foundation, it is inconceivable that anyone can still be racist. They’re anything but racist.
In his revelatory book, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva tackles this all-too dangerous concept of willful racial blindness experienced in post-Civil Rights 1960s America.
“Compared to Jim Crow racism, the ideology of color blindness seems like ‘racism lite.’ Instead of relying on name-calling (niggers, spics, chinks), color-blind racism otherizes softly (‘these people are human, too’); instead of proclaiming that God placed minorities in the world in a servile position, it suggests they are behind because they do not work hard enough; instead of viewing interracial marriage as wrong on a straight racial basis, it regards it as ‘problematic’ because of concerns over the children, location, or the extra burden it places on couples.”
And he concludes on the detriment racial blindness can cost a racialized society.
“If race disappears as a category of official division, as it has in most of the world, this will facilitate the emergence of a plural racial order where the groups exist in practice but are not officially recognized — and anyone trying to address racial division is likely to be chided for racializing the population.”
Color-blind racism or racist-less racism is present in the equally revelatory comments made by then-Republican campaign consultant, Lee Atwater, who helped push the conservative party’s Southern Strategy movement that set the pace and style by which Republicans would dog whistle to their racist constituents, discriminate against Black Americans, and win elections for the next five decades.
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’-that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…. ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”
Racism without racists creates a dangerous environment where someone can disparage someone, badmouth them, refuse them work and opportunity, deny them a loan or the opportunity to apply for residency in a particular community, deny them service in a certain part of town, all based on race without explicitly saying the intent was racial.
As Atwater stated, being explicitly racist, using derogatory or pejorative terms against minorities, has gone out of vogue since the 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, a section of racist peoples in the United States of America (Canada and Europe included, but primarily within the United States of America), had to adapt and code-switch so that they could hold on to their discriminatory practices without losing social capital with the new and now more progressive world.
Calling someone a nigger is likened to committing public suicide in the age of social media, but refusing to hire someone named Tyrone, Jerome, DeVante, Devariste, or Kunta Kinte simply because those names are believed to be connected to African American men, is the new normative.
Calling a dissatisfied and rightfully upset Black woman an ‘angry sassy mamy’ or ‘an unhinged negro’ is unquestionably horrendous but to call her a lazy welfare queen dog whistles to the covert racists of our society that there is a mutual understanding on the agreement and intent about the verbiage. It is derogatory and it has been racialized by new racists who benefit from the neologism that shields the public from their wanton intentions when using these words.
There is a select portion of our society, predominantly so here in the West, more so within North America, that only views racism or racist acts as prejudice (pre-judgment) and discrimination (actions based on pre-judgment) happening on an interpersonal level.
Racism to them is only racism if it happens from one person to another.
Racism for most white Americans is only racism if men dawn white robes and burn crosses; it’s only racism if women sew up effigies of Black men hanging from trees; it’s only racism if Black women are told to sit in the back of the bus; it’s only racism if someone outright uses the word nigger, because to some whites, nigga, niggah, and negro is a socially acceptable term to toss around amongst white friends since some Black Americans use it in their respective circles.
White Americans have a difficult time realizing that racism surpasses the interpersonal prejudice because racism is endemic to the society it exists within. What I mean is that if there were only ten racist people in all of American history then it would make sense to believe that racist acts could only have been committed by those ten individuals. But what many white Americans cannot accept or have not come to understand is that millions of white Americans for almost four hundred years built a society (a nation) on a racial hierarchy that benefited white Americans and because white Americans are still the majority of the country to this day, the same systems that were in place at the inception of the nation to protect and advantage one group, namely, whites, whilst harming and disadvantaging another, namely, colored peoples, are still very much a fabric of this society.
Racism was co-opted and disseminated through religious circles as well and because I am a Christian, I will now quote minister David W. Swanson on the reason why white Americans and white Christians have a very difficult time seeing the structural and systemic tentacles of racism.
Here is an excerpt from minister Swanson’s book, Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity.
“Individualism, relationalism, and antistructuralism have built renowned and racially homogenous ministries, but these have been cold comfort to those members of the body of Christ who exist outside the boundaries of racial whiteness. If white Christians are to reckon with racial discipleship, we must also look critically at the deeply held assumptions that have thus far hindered our attempts to address racial segregation and injustice. While it’s been over a hundred years since Ida B. Wells and Dwight L. Moody overlapped in Chicago, the dynamic they illustrate continues today. In the current cultural moment, black Christians are fighting for more equitable criminal justice policies, immigrant churches are advocating for policies that don’t separate asylum-seeking parents from their children, and Native American believers are lamenting as ancient tribal lands are being polluted by oil pipelines. At the same time, there are prominent white Christians publicly debating whether justice, from a biblical vantage point, can ever be social. Some of these leaders wonder whether justice can even be considered Christian when not limited to an individual. As disheartening as this divide is between white Christianity and many Christians of color, white Christianity’s tools help us to see why we haven’t been able to move past it.”
Minister Swanson opened my eyes to the Cerberus of color-blind racism that I hadn’t thought of before.
He states that individualism, relationalism, and antistructuralism prevent white Christians (and Americans) from coming to terms with the harmful effects of racism connected but not limited to interpersonal prejudice.
The individualistic aspect of American liberal thought allows Americans to believe that everything that happens to someone is disconnected from everything else around them, to an extent. You rise and fall by your merit. You are impoverished, not due to interconnected faults of national and local policies, geological disasters, and local oligarchs, but because you haven’t tried hard enough to get that best possible job you need to break out of poverty.
Author and descendent of a Ku Klux Klan member, Edward Ball, further explains the dangerous extrapolation of American individualism in his phenomenal biographical work, Life of a Klansman.
“The cult of the individual that dominates modern minds, the ideology of the ‘I,’ prevents most of us from seeing ourselves as products of the chronicle and choices of our predecessors.”
The idea that we are disconnected from the past and each other, allows us to get away with what someone else does with the same dangerous believes we hold dear to our hearts.
If your neighbor chases and then guns down a black man down your community and then ensues on calling him a nigger as the Black man lays there dying, we want to believe that our neighbors sentiment is disconnected by from the broader history of our peoples and that such behavior is unbecoming of our community standards. This, of course, is another technique that favors color-blind racists because they will hide behind the veil of individualistic innocence. Not understanding or willfully ignorant of the past and co-current effects of racism and violence have had and still have on the American conscience.
Swanson also mentions that relationalism and antistructuralism found in the defensive psyche of white Christians (and Americans) prohibits them from recognizing the structural reach of racism.
He mentions that these techniques are used to deflect the possibility that racism is anything but interpersonal prejudice because when relationalism is applied, the defendant or racism-denier, will say that when someone denies someone work based on race, there must be an underlying issue that forced that hiring team to deny that colored man the position. Albeit studies have been produced time and again that resumes that display a name that may sound or is perceived as belonging to an African American man or woman are ignored and resumes that have European-sounding names are favored instead. The relationalist will state that perhaps, just perhaps, there was something else. They will forever want to know if there was something more going on between the perpetrator and the victim, to give a name to the prejudice or assault or harassment, since it wasn’t racism or a racist act in their mind.
The antistructuralist will forever deny connections between peoples and systems because they are stuck within an individualistic prism that prevents them from connecting centuries of prejudice with the noose hanging from the church spire down the street from his home.
It is almost as if the very things most people of color were refused, namely, individual rights, relational freedom, and structural power, are the very things white Christians (and Americans) use as techniques to refuse to admit that racism is more than just interpersonal prejudice.
In light of this, many people, white Americans and white North Americans (white Europeans included) live in a post-Civil Rights altered reality where racism has simply vanished with the ouster segregationist signage and the disappearance of Klansmen. This supposed vanishing of racism began and continued through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. To say that the racists of yesterday failed or were unsuccessful in passing their hate down the line is a win for white Christians (and Americans).
To believe this fallacy would mean that the various neo-nazi, nationalist, anti-government, anti-immigrant, doomsday militias, and accelerationist white supremacist groups that still exist and continue to pose a credible threat to American democracy are not run and maintained by racist individuals.
According to color-blind disciples, these groups who recruit from police departments and military veteran pools, are just young men and women going through a phase. The swastikas tattooed onto their necks is just a bet gone wrong, a triviality of youth. And the armed training courses they routinely run in black sites, the dark web forums that exist where they discuss the kidnapping of government officials, and the bombing of federal buildings are all but inconsequential, unconnected segments of a matrix-less body of sad and upset patriotic Americans experiencing what is considered a natural side effect of growing up in America, namely, national blues.
White Christians (and Americans) who suffer from individualism, relationalism, and antistructuralism are unfortunately the one group of people most susceptible to defend violent or would-be violent racist groups and factions who intend on causing interpersonal harm, possibly death, to minorities.
They would never call Native Americans derogatory terms but they do call them lazy alcoholics.
They would never call African Americans niggers but they sure call their youth super predators and welfare queens.
They would never call Jews kikes but they feel comfortable calling them greedy bankers or goblins.
They would never publicly tell immigrants that they’re unwelcome in America, that they’re dirty, and that their difference in color and language is what makes them unwanted in white communities. But they vote in a man to the highest office of the land who calls them rapists and murderers, and then proceeds to build a wall dividing the country from brown immigrants to the South but allows the white immigrant population to the North (Canadians) to flow in and out of the country, overstaying their visas, in the hundreds of thousands without a single complaint.
They would never called refugees and immigrants racial slurs but they continually dehumanize them by calling them illegal immigrants, illegal aliens, and disease carrying, crime promoting, gang member or cartel sicario migrants.
In a color-blind world, racism festers and grows but it is masqueraded as something else. Always as something else.
I liken the dangers of color-blind racism to a world where we refuse to acknowledge and accept that toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and misogyny exist.
Because if we can do away with these terms then we can accept the reality that feminicide isn’t the targeted hatred and murder of women but it then becomes the unfortunate disproportionate murder of a particular yet indescribable portion of our population.
If genocide ceases to exist or rather, if we refuse to acknowledge it as such, then the Holocaust and the Final Solution of Nazi Germany to exterminate every single Jew in Europe was but a sizable yet eventually forgettable mass killing that happened a long time ago.
When we refuse to acknowledge the root of sin, or an issue, or a crime, or what further complicates an already problematic situation, we can become complicit in its perpetuation.
Greed and power are what exacerbates impoverished groups, but you add war to greed and power you create destabilized groups and introduce the possibility for slavery. But you add racism, which precedes race, to this concept and you have not just the initial harms of greed, war, power, and slavery, but you further demonize an already hellish system under which it can live and survive for decades, if not centuries discriminating against a particular group of people on the basis of race, gender, sex, orientation, religion, etc.
In a color-blind racialized society, those kids who didn’t want to play with my daughter because, as they said, “We don’t want to play with you because you’re too dark” Get away with being racist because to their parents, I am sure, those kids cannot be racist. The words they utter and the behavior they enact seem racist, but it is inconceivable, that children reflect in public what they learn in private.
In a society that fails to acknowledge the reality and prevalence of racism and how color is real and how race, albeit is a social construct (a very consequential social construct) has shaped our society, we will never, ever admit that a racist act or a racist system is in fact, racist.
The dangers are many and the consequences are suffered on both sides of this conversation as disadvantaged minorities grow resentful toward the white hegemony who perpetrate and perpetuate the harm; and the ones who grow silent in the face of it. And also, white Christians (and Americans) suffer what is considered perpetrator-induced PTSD. This is experienced by individuals who work within unfavorable industries, usually ethically questionable ones, where they exterminate animals, operate slaughterhouses, and serve as executioners, but are considered socially acceptable functions within society. These individuals suffer from perpetrator-induced PTSD.
White people suffer from racism even when they are not the ones who are directly disadvantaged from prejudice and discrimination.
They take upon themselves a burden no one was ever supposed to carry, namely, the burden of pseudo-racial superiority complex, and they also alienate themselves from their very diverse body of citizenry.
For us to make changes, changes for the better, we must stop believing that one, racism has disappeared; two, that racism is prejudice on an interpersonal level only; three, admit that there is color and that race is very much a part of our society; and lastly, four, we must confront our racist family member and racist friends.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of race. The issue here is racism where we then discriminate against someone because of the category they fall within.
Many white Christians (and Americans) want to do away with racism by doing away with the category altogether. But this will not work because we still live in a racialized society.
It’s like trying to roll a rock uphill well knowing you are not dressed in the proper boots and the rock is the size of the Empire State building.
Jason Stanley, author of How Propaganda Works, describes the harmful effects of changing the behavior toward a structure instead of changing the structure itself. This inability to confront a rotten foundation and the rotten soil under it will result in a structure that is prey to an imminent and catastrophic collapse.
“The racial dispositions of white Americans are very well documented. They appear in fact to be a permanent feature of the American psyche. The belief that blacks are excessively prone to criminality and inherently lazy is a central feature of white American ideology dating back at least two hundred years. … What is true is that certain kinds of previously acceptable, very explicit forms of racism began to elicit strongly negative reactions from white Americans. It remained the case that claims that are legitimately regarded as racist remained an acceptable part of American public political discourse. … As the Lee Atwater quotation we have heard attested that certain kinds of previously acceptable racist claims became unacceptable in the late 1960s. The new less racist norms of public political discourse forced political propagandists to see a way of reaching the racial biases of Americans without explicitly and obviously violating the new structure of explicit norms surrounding race. … After the Civil Rights movement, the vast majority of Americans consciously adhered to a norm that made very explicit racist expressions impermissible. However, Americans retained the racial biases that are so central to the national identity of the country.”
In all, it is imperative that white Christians and white Americans confront the harmful narrative of color-blindness in a racialized society.
For the time being, it is right to accept that race will be a part of our society for the next generation or two. Experts claim demographics will change drastically in the next twenty-five years sending caucasian citizens to minority status in North America for the first time in centuries. I expect that this shift will not create a reciprocal effect of racial disparity and inequality, but this time, at the hands of colored Americans. Were that to be the case, I believe the issue of racial hatred lies not in the hands of a white hegemony but more so in the heart of humanity itself.
As of today, since we have yet to see racism, in its structural, systematic, and systemic force, used and abused by colored people to exploit white people, I am left to presume that white culture, Whiteness (capital W), and white supremacy as we have come to accept it, albeit by force or coercion, for the last five hundred or so years, is to blame for the rise and existence of structural racism within American society.
If we are ever to reach a time where racism is not part of society we will then have to confront racism in the heart, mind, intellect, history, language, faith, geography, policies, policing, and politics of those who espouse it with impunity now. We must confront this socio-political evil today.
For racism to face consequences, we must first acknowledge that one, it exists (and it does) and two, we must condemn it in all of its forms, together.
Teach your children to acknowledge color, and also acknowledge the fact that race plays a very big role in our society. Not in the sense that one’s race makes one better or worse, but that this diversity is a beautiful aspect of our society.
Teach them to see color and to love it.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. — Proverbs 31:8 NLT
“In this critical moment where we have fallen so far apart, The Sum of Us is a book we all need, a must-read for everyone who wants to understand how we got here but, more important, where we can go from here — and how we get there, together.” -Alicia Garza, author of The Purpose of Power and cofounder of Black Lives Matter
“Hauntingly beautiful.” -The New York Times
Featured Image is mine.
Originally published at http://olivettheory.com on January 8, 2022.