12 May 2021

Saying you're 'colour blind' doesn't help address racism

| Zoya Patel
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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.

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

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.

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

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

HiddenDragon7:09 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.

Capital Retro5:15 pm 13 May 21

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

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 Retro5:13 pm 13 May 21

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


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.

“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.

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.

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 Retro9:01 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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