On Colour Blindness and Calling Out Racism

On Colour Blindness and Calling Out Racism

Let me make my position clear from the onset: racism is running rampant in Europe, and an increasing number of voters appear to think the problem will be solved by radical right-wingers. The above statement is born out of almost two decades spent accepting and thereafter fighting a phenomenon known to many as colour blindness,

On Coulourblindness

Let me make my position clear from the onset: racism is running rampant in Europe, and an increasing number of voters appear to think the problem will be solved by radical right-wingers.

The above statement is born out of almost two decades spent accepting and thereafter fighting a phenomenon known to many as colour blindness, and the recent results of the EU elections, in which far-right political parties enjoyed an influx of new seats.

First, on colour blindness; as you may have guessed, I am not speaking of a vision deficiency springing from an abnormality in the retinal cones. The type of colour blindness at hand is a racial ideology that suggests the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity.

As a person of colour growing up in a largely white-dominated society, I was highly in favour of the colour blind ideology for the majority of my life. It appeared to perfectly underscore the sentiments of Martin Luther King, judging individuals based on their character rather than colour. It was not until much later that I realised that two cornerstone assumptions had proved to be erroneous: first, that all individuals are equal, and second, that not talking about race makes racism go away.

Phrased differently, colour blindness is akin to walking in a wide circle around an object of conflict. It creates a “that-which-must-not-be-named” in any discussion on cultural differences. Racism is like Voldemort, and we are the Ministry of Magic, refusing to acknowledge it in the hopes that it will stay an issue of the past. However, contrary to our hopes, racism did not perish when slavery was abolished in 1861 nor when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. It did not vanish when the colonies were left to fend for themselves nor did it go away when we condemned fascism to be an evil ideology, and Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to be unfit for leadership.

Racism flourishes in Europe today, but not in any of the obvious ways that the actions above sought to abolish. It exists in our unwillingness to acknowledge and accept cultural differences, socio-economic contexts and racial privilege. It exists in racist jokes and microaggresions built on crude racial stereotypes, and the phrase, “oh, I did not mean that in a racist way”. Take my word for it: if there is a need for you to utter that kind of disclaimer, you probably did say something racist. More than once (or twice, or fifty times) have I called someone out for being racist, and heard the objection that “racism is a strong word and we should be careful not to use it in the wrong context”. Such objections are often followed by a dictionary definition of racism, which usually defines racism along the lines of one race being superior to another. “I never said that,” they argue.

Does racism really need to come in the form of one race being raised above another for it to be true racism? I respectfully decline. The phrase, “you are different from all the other (insert racial group)” is racist, because you are basing your characterisation of that racial group on stereotypes. Perpetuating negative characteristics for large social groups based on race is racist, and in European immigration policy, those characteristics tend to be criminal behaviour, unemployment tendencies and intolerance for any kind of freedom. Ignoring colour, cultural heritage and (lack of) privilege in a society, which generally favours white, able, heterosexual cis-gender males is racist (and sexist, cissexist and ableist) because it supports the systemic discrimination against everyone else, including people of colour. Colour blindness discounts and erases the racial discrimination and oppression that people of color continually experience.

In my experience, the colour blind ideology has taken Europe by storm. We have refused to acknowledge systemic racism, thereby rendering any attempt to eradicate it impossible. Moreover, we have allowed systemic racism to continue, thereby contributing to systemic factors that result in higher unemployment and crime among racial minorities, from which radical right-wing policies are born. We have confined the behaviours for which the term “racist” can be deployed to the absolute minimum, to the extent that we hardly recognise racism for what it is when used in the context of immigration policy. However, just because we do not recognise it for racism does not mean that it is not.

What the recent EU election results show is that Europeans are increasingly supporting the racist mantras of far-right political parties, which purport to limit – and in the extreme cases, close off entirely – immigration in the name of protecting national values and ideals. The language used in the campaigns of these parties characterised racial groups based on lingering racial stereotypes without consideration of culture or the socio-economic context. I repeat: this is racist. Racism never did disappear; like poverty and climate change, we just became better at turning a blind eye to it.

To repeat my opening statement: Racism is running rampant in Europe. However, right-wingers with racist tendencies are not going to fix it. It is about time that we stop being colour blind and face it directly, in all of its technicolour glory.

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