Color-blind or color-conscious?

A friend on mine passed this article onto me awhile back, and it’s been sitting in the back of my mind since then — this part especially:

We’re very comfortable now talking to our kids about gender stereotypes: we tell our kids that women can be doctors and lawyers. Heck, Barbie can be a computer engineer! What Bronson and Merryman point out is that we should say the same thing about race: doctors can be any skin color.


So often in my classes we use race as a kind of marker, or blueprint for how gender should be discussed. I’m not sure I’ve had a class were we didn’t compare the issues of gender to the issues of race. Has gender really surpassed race as something that is mainstreamed? Does it signal the end of feminism (making my chosen field completely irrelevant…)? Or is it just easier for white parents to talk about gender equality than it is to talk about racial equality?

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve made it so difficult to have an honest, open discussion about either race or gender through our desire to not offend anyone. I’m in no way advocating a less-PC world, or one where we can all just say what we’re thinking all the time — respect for people’s differences is too important. I am wondering if we’ve made it so hard to make a space where these questions can be answered truthfully that it’s easier/better to just be ‘color blind’ or ‘gender blind’ which as the article points out, doesn’t help anything.
On the other hand, its dangerous to go too far in the other direction too. I recently attended a forum when one of the speakers spoke about how there was a need for development programs to be gender-neutral because men were being forgotten. Her point was that we should have a more community focused approach that aimed to help both men and women, but it’s a statement that comes from the backlash against feminism in global development — all the programs focusing on women have left men out in the cold or turned men’s lives on their heads. We are not ready yet for development programs to be gender-neutral — they are still not gender-equal.

Its almost as if we push so hard for things to look equal that we force it to be so before its ready. We are so anxious for the fantasy of a color-blind society to be real that we make it so, at the cost of teaching real understanding. Rather than teaching that race or gender doesn’t matter to achievement, we teach that there’s no such thing as race differences. There’s a fine line out there somewhere. Thoughts on where that is?
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2 Responses to Color-blind or color-conscious?

  1. Kathryn says:

    Great points, Lisa. We've been talking in my school leadership class a lot lately about how as school leaders we can effectively facilitate discussions about race, gender, and sexuality. We've worked on this for six weeks and our main conclusion is: this is really really hard! Especially in a work setting, its hard to figure out where the balance is between having honest conversations about difference and bias that move people's understanding forward and making discrimination unacceptable. This becomes even more important when you think about how strongly student's in a school are affected by adult's attitudes.

  2. Keith says:

    Lisa/Kathryn,Your posts are so dense that I find it hard to know where to start. I attempted a reply to Kathryn's latest post, but got lost in my own crazy branches of reasoning. I'll try to do better here, and respond to what stuck out to me:I find it troubling that often the approach taken to equality is not actually an "equaling" at all, but rather a backlash, as Lisa put it. A group who has experienced prejudice or the misappropriation of rights finally gains the power to take back what is theirs, but there is a sense that the minority group needs to "catch up," or be made restitution to.I struggle with this because it tends to create more animosity and discrimination, and in a very real sense it merely perpetuates the attitude of seeing someone only in the context of one attribute. If I hire a woman because I have been told due to an affirmative action program that I MUST hire more women, then I am narrowing her entire person down to one adjective: female. Or at least giving that adjective the most weight.You can see this in racism, too. There is no doubt that minorities have experienced and continue to experience much racism from the white majority. However, as we are moving away (I hope) from that paradigm, there is a backlash. Currently it is much more socially acceptable for a minority person to call a white person a "cracker" or make other such insults towards the white population. The reverse is completely untolerated.These things are understandable. I do not doubt that they are the rational responses of logical and faithful people to lives and generations of terrible and frustrating prejudice. If I had been stolen from all my life, I'm sure that I would feel justified taking more than my fair share. If I had been beaten, I can't say that I would be above beating my tormentors even worse. There but for the grace of God go I, but … I aspire to greater things, and I think we all can aspire to equality, rather than back-and-forth cycles of prejudice. I don't come with solutions, I just like to pontificate. 🙂

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