Saying you’re ‘colour blind’ doesn’t help address racism

Zoya Patel 12 May 2021 48
National Multicultural Festival

The National Multicultural Festival highlights the diversity and uniqueness of the Canberra community. Photo: National Multicultural Festival.

I was recently at an event with friends when I pointed out another attendee who was a person of colour.

“It’s so great to see other culturally diverse people here,” I remarked. “I’m used to being the only non-white person when we come to things like this.”

For context, I had been attending similar events in this particular community for a while and was used to being surrounded by white people. That’s not an unfamiliar experience for many migrant Australians, and I’ve always felt welcomed and included in the community, but it is always nice to see someone else from a minority group when you also belong to it.

I remarked on it because to me, seeing another person of colour in the room was a sign of progress, evidence that the community was growing and reaching new people.

My friend looked at me, somewhat affronted, and said, “I wasn’t thinking about her race at all! I wouldn’t even have noticed it!”

I was perplexed.


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My friend seemed quite defensive, as though by mentioning race and the fact that most of the people in the room were white, I was accusing her and all the white people there of deliberately excluding people of colour.

“Personally, I don’t want people to have to ignore my race to accept me,” I said mildly. “I think it’s good to acknowledge and recognise diversity when we see it, and to think about why we don’t see it more often, and how we can change that.”

We were silent after that for a while, and I kept turning the conversation over in my mind.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across the ‘colour blind’ approach to inclusivity.

My friend was ostensibly claiming that she didn’t see race because she wanted to show that she is far from racist – race has no bearing on how she interacts with or reacts to people. But this approach actually reinforces the idea that racial difference is a negative – if your approach to equality is to ignore difference or accept people despite their differences, you’re validating the idea that their cultural diversity detracts from their worth if it is taken into consideration.

I would argue that, actually, I want people to see my differences and for that to have a positive bearing on my worth and value as an individual. I don’t want to deny my skin colour and my cultural background to fit in and be included.

When my friend said she didn’t notice the other event attendee’s race, she was trying to say that race doesn’t matter to her, and therefore calling it out was actually creating a problem where there is none. But what she failed to recognise is that, as a white woman, she has the privilege and opportunity to ignore race because her race doesn’t define significant aspects of her life.


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I can’t ignore my race because it impacts whether I am treated respectfully in public, at work, in the health system and in the community. Structural racism impacts my ability to get a job, to get culturally responsive services, to be given opportunities or to be seen as Australian at all. Being colour blind isn’t an option for people of colour, and it also does nothing to genuinely progress racial equality either.

That doesn’t mean I think everyone should point out cultural diversity whenever they see it, or home in on an individual’s cultural background. But when you notice a lack of diversity in a room or realise that a person of colour stands out in a particular context because they are the only one present, instead of applauding yourself for not thinking about race, take a moment to really think about it. Question the systems and structures that may make a certain part of our community inaccessible to people of colour, and reflect on how you can help dismantle them.

‘Colour blindness’ is just ignoring a problem instead of attempting to solve it.


What's Your Opinion?


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48 Responses to Saying you’re ‘colour blind’ doesn’t help address racism
franky22 franky22 7:03 pm 14 May 21

Zoya has worked out that if you put a racial angle in the story you get more views.

dukethunder dukethunder 6:10 pm 14 May 21

Starting to see crt seeping out of our unis and being imported from US/UK. Immutable characteristics define you as oppressed or as the oppressor. Its at best unhelpful in addressing racism. Looking at the US, one might say it’s detrimental.

Acton Acton 7:44 am 14 May 21

So you always judge people by the colour of their skin, not by the content of their character.

mitch82 mitch82 7:36 pm 13 May 21

???? what a privileged life you lead to author this drivel.

Gem Gemm Gem Gemm 7:20 pm 13 May 21

I am so utterly dumbfounded that people are upset over this?

Like water is wet. It's absolutely a micro aggression and subtle racism and as another person commented, whitewashing.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:09 pm 13 May 21

“… I had been attending similar events in this particular community for a while and was used to being surrounded by white people.”

The MAGA caps might have been a clue……

Canberra is much more sliced white bread than it sometimes fancies itself to be, but this still sounds weird.

Kooms Sam Kooms Sam 6:37 pm 13 May 21

Hayley Marie Rianna Tatarelli hahah r u thinking what I'm thinking B1?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:15 pm 13 May 21

On-line colour blind test here: https://colormax.org/color-blind-test/

Alicia Conley Alicia Conley 4:32 pm 13 May 21

I thought colour blind, meant you had trouble identifying colours correctly, e.g green red, brown etc..

    Jennifer Zagar Jennifer Zagar 5:47 pm 13 May 21

    Alicia Conley its intended as metaphorical Alicia 😁💕

steve2020 steve2020 3:44 pm 13 May 21

I agree with the notion that black and white is an American import. It’s narrow minded and has become divisive with identity politics in the modern era for political purposes. It’s based on the historical factors pertaining to mainly the Americas.

I find it odd when people say there needs to be a person of colour to have diversity when even in European, African, Asian, American and indigenous etc. heritage cultures individually, there are many cultures. Where someone may see a picture of a group of “white” people, there can be various ethnic and indigenous heritages from all across Europe and the world. I prefer the more open mindedness and clarity of seeing the world beyond just black and white alone.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:13 pm 13 May 21

    This is how some African blacks deal with those amongst them that are not black:

    https://www.latimes.com/world/africa/la-fg-malawi-albinos-hunted-2017-story.html

    steve2020 steve2020 6:49 pm 13 May 21

    It’s very unfortunate if the reports are accurate and true. Africa is very ethnically diverse, especially in the middle portion of Africa, which is why I dislike using the term “black” to describe African heritage people. It comes down to education and appreciation of different cultures and education about albino conditions to prevent violence or abuse. Education and progress in Africa is hampered by conflicts which makes it very difficult in assisting progress in Africa, including for Australian companies operating in African countries that train and hire local staffs there. This is including in northern Mozambique, close to Malawi mentioned in the article, in places that are rural, remote and underdeveloped where significant resource mining projects, such as gas mining projects have been or are at risk of being hindered.

Peter Higgins Peter Higgins 3:27 pm 13 May 21

Of all the things to import from the States, this MUST NOT be one of them. Peddle your race-baiting communism somewhere else and let the rest of us live our lives in peace and harmony.

    Erik Christenson Erik Christenson 3:59 pm 13 May 21

    Peter Higgins sad days.

    Peter Higgins Peter Higgins 4:04 pm 13 May 21

    Erik Christenson let’s hope Aussies are more sensible and don’t let this ideology get a toe-hold down here

    Dan Chaldi Dan Chaldi 2:56 pm 14 May 21

    Erik Christenson easy to say when you're a white male.

MERC600 MERC600 1:18 pm 13 May 21

“It’s so great to see other culturally diverse people here,” I remarked. “I’m used to being the only non-white person when we come to things like this.”

You could end up in serious do-do with this outlook.

A increasing number of people who may appear to be white are indeed not. Numbers are increasing of people with a ‘non-white’ background who are wishing to be known by that background, although they may look as a ‘non culturally diverse’ person.

James Hutson James Hutson 11:42 am 13 May 21

So some people (who happen to white) seem to be angry that some one (who is not white) wants to discuss racism 🤔

    Josh Ongley Josh Ongley 7:03 pm 14 May 21

    James Hutson yeah because it’s not important to us In Australia we are a multi cultural society 😂😂😂

    James Hutson James Hutson 7:39 pm 14 May 21

    Josh Ongley so you’re supporting or dissing me? Hard to tell

jwinston jwinston 11:00 am 13 May 21

Zoya – your contributions to the RA are often controversial and cause anger (especially to this reader).

But I am now starting to feel sorry for you because circle of friends must be diminishing. They, like many here on this thread, must find you exhausting due to spouting garbage at every social gathering you attend.

Richard Orchard Richard Orchard 10:00 am 13 May 21

So only white people can be racist right? It’s the white people who have to read this article, and repent I’m assuming? Ah yes I scanned this diatribe of garbage and it mentions “people of colour...” so yes, there is a word for this garbage you’re espousing here- racism. This garbage narrative is how one race got blamed for everything by the Nazis, and then ended up in gas chambers. Pushed by propaganda merchants like the writer of this article, it seems like the appropriate thing to do, the Woke thing, the “modern, with it” thing. To disagree is heresy, to be punished by using an -ist or -phobe insult.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 11:58 am 13 May 21

    Noone has ever said that only "white" people can be racist. In Australia, "white" people are the dominant group. Some people say that racism is the purview of the dominant group, so in that context they'd be saying that in Australia, only "white" people can be racist. Prejudices by other groups would be called something else. I'm not sure I agree with that, but regardless, in Australia "white" people are the dominant group and therefore their racism is different from other racism.

    Jim Roy Jim Roy 6:09 pm 13 May 21

    Richard Orchard no mate - but mostly white people are racist and have decades and decades of wealth and betterment derived from racist based policies, laws, biases and actions.

    Maybe you’ve noticed?

Aaron Still Aaron Still 8:36 am 13 May 21

Whilst everyone is entitled to their opinion on this ... maybe we should be listening and trying to understand the point of view being made. At the end of the day, unless you are in her situation, you can’t fully appreciate her point of view, you can only apply it to how you understand things 🤷🏼‍♂️

Alby Mack Alby Mack 8:13 am 13 May 21

So basically it is saying that if you are white and see the person as a person, not a skin colour, you are racist. But if you see the person by their skin colour, you are racist. Just more division being peddled.

Stephen Lawton Stephen Lawton 8:03 am 13 May 21

Saying you're colour blind is actually saying you're white washing everything you see.

To treat everyone the same in the basis of colour is to ignore the structural inequalities that people of colour experience daily

    Martin Bradley Martin Bradley 9:08 am 13 May 21

    In what ways do you treat someone differently that you meet based on their race?

    Naomi Dale Naomi Dale 11:23 am 13 May 21

    Martin Bradley 🤔respect and understanding for their cultural background and its traditions or ways of life (?)

    Martin Bradley Martin Bradley 12:14 pm 13 May 21

    Naomi Dale just speak respectfully like you would anyone? Unless you're talking negatively about that culture behind that person's back and differently to their face?. If you meet someone in a social setting, what words are different? Any examples? People love to talk in vague concepts that sound good, but it's good to translate them into reality to see what we're actually talking about

    Naomi Dale Naomi Dale 12:15 pm 13 May 21

    Martin Bradley well for example a lot of my students come from cultures where they are uncomfortable shaking hands.... so I don't offer mine in those meetings

    Martin Bradley Martin Bradley 12:30 pm 13 May 21

    Naomi Dale yeah i don't think there would be many people who wouldn't respect any human's wishes if they didn't want to shake hands. Other than Scomo that awkward time haha. But I don't really see that as treating someone differently or talking to people differently. You'd still speak to them the same way, I'm sure. Treat everyone the same, which is respectfully. That doesn't sound like the same thing Stephen was referring to

Michael Wittman Michael Wittman 7:50 am 13 May 21

What a load of garbage 🗑

    Stephen Lawton Stephen Lawton 8:04 am 13 May 21

    Michael Wittman it cites its evidence or it gets the hose

chewy14 chewy14 7:43 am 13 May 21

No,
Your friend was right. Despite your protestations, those who want to define others by something so meaningless as their “race” are the ones who perpetuate and exacerbate actual racism. Identity politics is a scourge that only creates divisions within a society.

When we focus on people as individuals, we value them for who they are and what they may bring to the table. It doesn’t detract from them in the slightest.

For example, did you ever think how offensive it is to say that the it was good to see that the event was more “culturally diverse” because people who weren’t white attended?

White people are all the same amirite?!?!?

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:01 am 14 May 21

    Some of the worst cases of racism are perpetrated by non-whites on other non-whites.

    The faux racism we are constantly hearing about in Australia is generally from advocates for the victim industry.

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