Colorblind Racism: Why Anti-Racists Insist We Look At Skin Color

by Christopher Paslay

The concept of colorblindness has been hijacked and redefined by anti-racists, so much so that its meaning has literally been inverted and turned on its head — going from a positive that society should strive to attain to a negative that it should guard against.

A major part of anti-racism is challenging a white person’s belief in colorblindness, and how this belief serves to both obscure and perpetuate white privilege and institutional racism. Traditionally, colorblindness is a positive — a way of viewing the world not through the superficial lens of race and skin color, but through a deeper perspective, one centered on universal human values like love, compassion, tolerance, honesty, and friendship. Often times, the concept of colorblindness is associated with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, where he famously stated that he dreamt of a time when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

But today, the concept of colorblindness has been hijacked and redefined by anti-racists, so much so that its meaning has literally been inverted and turned on its head — going from a positive that society should strive to attain to a negative that it should guard against. Within the field of whiteness studies, the concept is now known as “colorblind racism,” and anti-racist educators now call for people not to be colorblind, but to be “colorbold.” According to DiAngelo, colorblind racism is “pretending that we don’t notice race or that race has no meaning. This pretense denies racism and thus holds it in place.”  DiAngelo’s definition ties in directly with the essential question of her book on white racial literacy What Does It Mean To Be White?, which asks, “What does it mean to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race?” 

But there’s a fundamental problem with both the essential question of DiAngelo’s book and with her definition of colorblind racism. According to “An Empirical Assessment of Whiteness Theory: Hidden from How Many?”, which used data from the American Mosaic Project to test the hypotheses developed in the paper, race does matter to white people, as 74 percent of white Americans surveyed — almost three-fourths — said that their racial identity was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” 

And according to a 2016 Pew Research study on America’s views on race and inequality, 31 percent of whites admitted that being white made it easier for them to succeed, while 53 percent of whites said more must be done to bring about racial equality in America. 

It’s not that the majority of whites think race doesn’t matter, it’s that they think it shouldn’t matter; there’s a major difference between these two concepts. Nearly all Americans are aware of race, especially in light of the news media’s obsession with race and racism on television, in newspapers, and on the internet. Granted, some whites may not always be aware of the advantages race gives them in their daily life, or the ways in which race may disadvantage people of color in certain situations. But the notion that whites believe race doesn’t matter is misrepresented and overblown.

True colorblindness isn’t “pretending we don’t notice race or that race has no meaning” as DiAngelo claims. Traditional colorblindness is the filtering out of the superficial characteristics of eye shape, hair texture, and skin tone, and of connecting and interacting with others via the universal human values of love, kindness, honesty, tolerance, respect, and compassion. If all people learned to do as much, not just casually but with the very core of their beings, the world would be a different place. Racism, prejudice, discrimination, and all manner of social injustice would begin to subside. 

A major goal of anti-racist educators within the field of whiteness studies is to level the playing field and end systemic racial disparities. The purpose behind creating the term “colorblind racism” is clearly to make whites as equally aware of race and racism as nonwhites are, which will in effect “bear witness” to injustice, and help bring an end to it. But what happens then? Once everybody’s sufficiently aware of the ugly consequences of race, then what? 

Logic would suggest the next step would entail teaching people not to judge people by the color of their skin, and to connect and interact with them as fellow humans instead of treating them as “others.” In other words, it would be time to circle back and employ colorblindness. As T.S. Eliot said, We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

At its core, whiteness studies is really a battle to define and control whiteness itself.  By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination. Thus “whiteness” becomes “racism,” which ultimately transforms the property of whiteness into the commodity of racism, and enables the politically oriented whiteness studies movement to usurp whiteness to use and redistribute as it sees fit.

Which is exactly why the field of whiteness studies doesn’t take the direct path and preach traditional colorblindness, and that’s because indoctrinating society to be hyper-aware of race is helping keep race at the forefront — right where anti-racists need it to be. Race and skin color are indeed invaluable when it comes to identity politics, so teaching Americans to be “blind” to it makes no sense politically, and would negatively impact race as a commodity and source of power.

Anti-Racism: The One-Sided Conversation

by Christopher Paslay

Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism.  “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.

In February of 2009, Eric Holder called America “a nation of cowards” for not talking about race.  Ten years later, through the efforts of antiracist educators like Robin DiAngelo, this conversation has finally come to fruition—although the “dialogue” on race is more of a monologue, where scholar-activists like DiAngelo lecture whites about their privilege in an inherently racist society, and where whites shake their heads and say yes. Yes, I live in a world of white supremacy. Yes, my unconscious is loaded with implicit racial biases. Yes, America was founded on the backs of slaves. Yes, yes, yes . . .

This is the only acceptable way for whites to engage in a “conversation” about race in 2020: to sincerely and enthusiastically swallow whole the teachings given them by experts on antiracism and white racial literacy. Silence and nonparticipation are not allowed. According to prominent whiteness scholar and antiracist Robin DiAngelo, “The racial status quo is not neutral; it’s racist. Therefore, anything that works to maintain the status quo rather than challenge it maintains racism.”  

In other words, white silence maintains racial comfort and equilibrium, which keeps white supremacy in place by failing to disrupt the racial hierarchy. So if you’re white and don’t want to appear close-minded, you’re obligated to join the “conversation.” 

Disagreeing, of course, is strictly forbidden. Questioning, probing, challenging, or offering any alternative perspective outside of the approved antiracist school of thought is not an option; all disagreements are invalid, born out of ignorance and misinformation. If whites are persistent in their challenge, they may be told they suffer from “white fragility,” a condition where whites become defensive or standoffish because they lack the endurance to withstand having their views on race confronted.  Developed by DiAngelo, the theory is heavy on politics and light on science. 

In reality, the “conversation” on race is nothing more than a one-sided lecture by zealous whiteness scholars, aimed at indoctrinating the white listener into the cult of antiracism.  These so-called “conversations” have three rules:     

Rule#1:  Whites have zero understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America.  In other words, whites are from Venus and people of color are from Mars, and despite the fact that we are all human and have similar life experiences and emotions — such as love, hate, joy, grief, and compassion — whites could never, even in the smallest sense, empathize with people of color.  Black lives are so drastically oppressed, and white lives are so fantastically privileged, that whites couldn’t possibly understanding the life experiences of people of color.   

Rule#2:  Because Whites live in a privileged white bubble, they are racially illiterate, and have zero authority on racial matters.  Conversely, people of color are racially fluent, and hold a monopoly on racial authority (although, curiously, this still doesn’t stop liberal whites like DiAngelo from lecturing whites on their racial transgressions 24/7). 

Rule# 3:  Whites must acknowledge their privileged status in America, and accept their role in perpetuating systemic racism.  And remember: silence and disagreement aren’t an option. 

So where’s the conversation?  Where’s the exchanging of ideas on race, racism, and better communication?  The answer: There is none. 

As a public school teacher in Philadelphia, I’ve dedicated my life to teaching, coaching, and mentoring children of all races and ethnic backgrounds.  I teach them to read, write, speak, and listen.  I help them to think critically about the world around them, and instill in them the values of love, respect, compassion, and tolerance for diversity.  

Still, this is not enough.  Because I believe in the unity of classic multicultural education, which is more celebratory than accusatory — and seeks to unify people by core values rather than divided them into dualistic groups based on identity — I am the so-called “problem.”  As a white person, I’m expected to blindly swallow whole the divisive ideologies at the core of anti-racist identity politics, which preaches all whites are privileged racists, and all people of color are oppressed victims.    

Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism.  “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.

What is Anti-Racism?

by Christopher Paslay

The advancement of one group should not depend on the disruption, de-centering, or dismantling of another, either individually, culturally, or systemically.

Addressing racism as a system of unequal power between whites and people of color, anti-racism emerged as dissatisfaction grew with multicultural education, which only superficially dealt with the issue of systemic racism. As University of South Dakota sociologist Jack Niemonen wrote in his paper after doing an exhaustive analysis of 160 peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject:

Generally, anti-racist education is understood as a set of pedagogical, curricular, and organizational strategies that hope to promote racial equality by identifying, then eliminating, white privilege. . . . One of its strengths, it is claimed, is the ability to move beyond prejudice and discrimination as a problem to be corrected in individuals in order to examine critically how institutional structures support racist practices economically, politically, and culturally.

Anti-racism’s mission to eliminate white privilege is notable, in that it operates from a zero-sum mentality, and associates Whiteness with oppression and structural racism. By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination. Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, openly calls for the de-centering of whiteness in order to end white privilege and so-called white supremacy culture in America. She defines “white,” “white identity,” and “whiteness” as follows:          

White: The “top” classification of the socially constructed and hierarchally arranged racial categories. Those perceived and categorized as white are granted social, cultural, institutional, psychological and material advantages.

White Identity: To be socialized as a white person, enact whiteness by implicitly and explicitly upholding racism and white supremacy, and participate in the rewards of being perceived as white.

Whiteness: A term to capture all of the dynamics that go into being defined and/or perceived as white and that create and reinforce white people as inherently superior through society’s norms, traditions, and institutions.  Whiteness grants material and psychological advantages (white privilege) that are often invisible and taken for granted by whites.

However, addressing systemic injustice starts with personal accountability and action, as anti-racists call on American educators to self-reflect and personally adopt anti-racist ideologies in their lives and classrooms. Therefore, “Whiteness” solely as a systemic, non-individual entity with its own existence is a logical fallacy (see here), and when anti-racists speak of Whiteness, they can only be referring to the cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of those who identify as “white.”

Anti-racism shouldn’t be anti-white. The advancement of one group should not depend on the disruption, de-centering, or dismantling of another, either individually, culturally, or systemically. Bringing positive change is a two-way street between whites and people of color, and involves cooperation and synergy; approaches which divide learning communities into political identity groups, and separate teachers and students into “oppressors” and “oppressed,” are misguided and counterproductive.

Schools Should Not Teach ‘Whiteness’ Is Problematic

by Christopher Paslay

Whiteness is not a problem that needs to be solved, and educators should refrain from pushing this divisive message in schools.

In his fifth edition of Cultural Diversity and Education, research scholar and “father” of multicultural education, James A. Banks, offers an interesting approach to fair and equitable education called multicultural ideology. Published in 2006, it’s less aggressive and confrontational than current 2020 anti-racist educational approaches, which tend to be more accusatory than celebratory; in 2006, mainstream multicultural education focused on unity over dichotomy, which is no longer the case today, as zero-sum anti-racist philosophies — which seek to deconstruct so-called problematic “Whiteness” — are now heavily influencing policies and perspectives.

Multicultural ideology is a blending of assimilation and cultural pluralism, where the American national identity adapts and develops to become more diverse and pluralistic, yet doesn’t abandon the nation’s core values — the fundamental principles that make America unique and one of the most successful countries in the world. In Cultural Diversity and Education, Banks writes that multicultural ideology is reflected in educational policy that is “guided by an eclectic ideology that reflects both the cultural pluralists position and the assimilation position, but avoids their extremes.”

Multicultural educators hope to end racism by celebrating diversity, and by interacting with people through fundamental human values, both at the conscious and subconscious levels; anti-racists hope to end racism by becoming hyper-focused on race and the cerebral concepts of implicit bias and microaggressions in order to end so-called “white supremacy culture.” The former creates a society based on values from the heart, where both racism and the preoccupation with skin color are eliminated using a moment-by-moment present awareness. The latter creates a world where, in theory, racism ends through a highly cerebral “chatter mind” process which analyzes and rejects all forms of bias whether conscious or unconscious, but still leaves us with a hyper-focus on race.

The double-standards at the heart of anti-racism are many. Tragically, the fact that there are one set of rules for whites, and another set of rules for people of color, does a disservice to the very cause of anti-racism — which is to level the playing field and bring people of all races equal access to America’s resources. Believing that “Whiteness” is a fundamental problem that must be solved is not the best approach to opening the minds of whites.

It’s well documented that the provocative approaches employed by anti-racist educators have an adverse effect on white people, as evidenced by Robin DiAngelo’s theory of “White Fragility.” Unfortunately, whites who are triggered by the divisiveness of anti-racism are not offered compassion, because according to DiAngelo, “niceness is not anti-racist.” On the contrary, whites are told to “get over it,” and that their tears are disingenuous ploys for keeping white racism in place. 

The fact that these anti-racist approaches, despite eliciting such adverse reactions, continue to be put upon whites is reminiscent of a concept made popular by Dr. David R. Hawkins called Power vs. Force,” which analyzes “the hidden determinants of human behavior.”  While true power resides from within, force is applied through projection—an outside force trying to impose its will. Force can only work for so long; once it encounters true power, it immediately unravels. Interestingly, many of the emotions cited by DiAngelo as evidence of white fragility — such as anger, shame, guilt, and apathy — are listed by Hawkins as being a reaction to force. Nowhere in white fragility theory can one find positive responses related to true power, such as courage, love, joy, or enlightenment; everything tied to white fragility is zero-sum and is based on dichotomy rather than unity.

But for some reason, unity — as well as universalism, colorblindness, and other concepts which prioritize racial harmony over dichotomy — are resisted by people like DiAngelo. Such things are delegitimized and even stigmatized, and often rebranded by anti-racists as perpetuating racism. This is necessary in part to shock sheltered whites out of their bubbles and bring systemic racism to light. But the simple fact is that America needs more racial unity, and less confrontation. Provoking whites with the notion that they all suffer from implicit bias and are perpetuating racism by default, is limited in its effectiveness. The goal of disturbing a white person’s racial comfort in order to disrupt a racial hierarchy is using force instead of true power. While whites may be pressured into compliance, is this compliance genuine and long lasting? Is insisting that the advancement of people of color depends on the disruption, de-centering, or deconstruction of problematic “Whiteness” ultimately empowering people of color to live independently from the crutch of identity politics?

Educators should adhere to the mainstream definition of “Whiteness.” The zero-sum fallacy of “Whiteness” is inappropriate in American educational settings, as it does little to empower people of color, and is based in resistance and disruption, rather than cooperation and collaboration.

What is Whiteness?

by Christopher Paslay

Anti-racists view Whiteness as an independent entity separate from any one individual, a “ghost in the machine” of society that perpetuates white privilege and oppression on its own, and thus can be attacked and deconstructed without accusations of discrimination against any one person or group —despite the fact the cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of those who identify as “white” are being targeted.

  • Whiteness (mainstream definition): The cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of those who identify as “white.”
  • Whiteness (anti-racist definition): term to capture all of the dynamics that go into being defined and/or perceived as white and that create and reinforce white people as inherently superior through society’s norms, traditions, and institutions. Whiteness grants material and psychological advantages (white privilege) that are often invisible and taken for granted by whites.

Although most Americans adhere to the mainstream definition of “Whiteness,” anti-racists reject this definition, as it makes their attempts to deconstruct “Whiteness” anti-white, which they insist is not the case. As a result, anti-racists have used Critical Race Theory (CRT) to redefine the term completely. This involves treating an abstraction — Whiteness — as if it had a material existence. However, a closer analysis reveals this new definition falls prey to the fallacy of reification. Anti-racists view Whiteness as an independent entity separate from any one individual, a “ghost in the machine” of society that perpetuates white privilege and oppression on its own, and thus can be attacked and deconstructed without accusations of discrimination against any one person or group —despite the fact the cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of those who identify as “white” are being targeted.

Educators should adhere to the mainstream definition of “Whiteness.” The zero-sum fallacy of “Whiteness” is inappropriate in American educational settings, as it does little to empower people of color, and is based in resistance and disruption, rather than cooperation and collaboration.

The Movement to Redefine Whiteness

Trying to define the term Whiteness is like trying to define a term like love; they are both abstract concepts that do not have absolute definitions. As such, these terms can be frustratingly subjective, as different people — coming from a wide range of experiences and perspectives — may offer different interpretations. The recent push by anti-racists to take a subjective term like Whiteness and not only give it a definitive definition but also fashion it into a concrete entity with substance and form is curious, as doing so falls prey to something called the fallacy of reification, otherwise known as concretism, hypostatization and fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

As writer, economist, and whiteness studies critic Jonathan Church so aptly writes:

Whiteness Studies is devoted to the study of Whiteness as a centripetal ideology (ideology and discourse function similarly here) that supports and upholds white supremacy (i.e. institutional racism). It thus treats the de-centering of Whiteness as a key objective in the critical evaluation of social norms and institutions. But this means that Whiteness Studies — and thus the theory of white fragility — asserts that whiteness is reified in society. Reification involves treating an abstraction — Whiteness—as if it had a material existence. 

Whiteness, of course, does not have a material existence. It is not a concrete thing, and does not take up space. Still, anti-racists insist Whiteness is a problematic social construct that must be remedied, which means it exists as an independent entity with identifiable characteristics that can be adequately “deconstructed.” Supposedly, these characteristics consist of power, privilege, dominance, and oppression. Some scholar-activists, such as Robin DiAngelo, even equate Whiteness with racism itself.

Unfortunately, whiteness studies have become a battle to define and control Whiteness itself, given that the discipline views Whiteness as property and a position of status. By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination (see DiAngelo’s good/bad binary of racism). This ultimately transforms the property of Whiteness into the commodity of racism, and enables the politically oriented whiteness studies movement to usurp so-called Whiteness to use and redistribute as it sees fit.

In essence, the battle to define Whiteness is about taking power from privileged “oppressors” (those perceived as “white”) and giving it to the marginalized “oppressed” (people of color). Only whiteness scholars can’t preach this directly, because using race to control educational resources violates Federal anti-discrimination EEO laws, as was the case when New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza held a crusade against “toxic” whiteness in the district and was sued as a result (see herehere, and here). Whiteness isn’t about individuals, anti-racists insist, it’s about racist systems and institutions, about institutionally racist policy.

Still, because many American institutions are run by white people, this is ultimately a criticism of individuals. And when it turns out that many of these individuals are compassionate and caring people, whiteness scholars circumvent this reality by insisting whites unknowingly perpetuate white privilege and white supremacy, because Whiteness makes them blind to such injustices. In other words, whiteness scholars are saying the cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of whites make them unwitting racists — a situation that can only be corrected through proper White Racial Identity Development (WRID), which in essence is the political indoctrination of whites into the world of race-based identity politics and anti-racist activism; if you’re white and don’t want to be labeled a “racist,” you must fully adopt as dogma an anti-racist ideology. 

While some whites do exhibit discriminatory behaviors and attitudes, the majority of white people in 2020 America are not racist or discriminatory (Welcoming Whiteness uses a traditional good/bad definition of racism), and as studies show, do not suffer from the kinds of implicit biases whiteness scholars claim. But this doesn’t matter to whiteness scholars and social justice advocates who intend to turn the property of Whiteness into the commodity of racism. All whites must be held accountable and be on board with the deconstruction of their own cultures, behaviors, and attitudes, which will supposedly empower people of color; ultimately, however, this zero-sum approach does not empower people of color, as the control now lies with those who forward identity politics and benefit from the commodity of racism (AKA:  politiciansactivist groups, and  whiteness scholars themselves).

Nevertheless, this is at the heart of the anti-racist definition of “Whiteness,” which serves as a convenient “ghost in the machine” of society, because it can hold individual white people accountable for all manner of social ills and oppression, usurp their resources and exploit them politically, while claiming to address inequality at the “institutional” or “systemic” levels only.

Educators should adhere to the mainstream definition of “Whiteness.” The zero-sum fallacy of “Whiteness” is inappropriate in American educational settings, as it does little to empower people of color, and violates Federal anti-discrimination EEO laws.