Color-blindness: a gift or a curse?
A few months ago, my white colleague and I (also white) attempted to play Thandeka’s “Race Game”. The object of the game is to racialize white people in conversation, much the way people of color are racialized in everyday speech. For instance, we might say "My white friend and I went to the grocery store together." It was surprising, and a bit upsetting, to realize how hard it was to remember to add the descriptor. This illustrates how whiteness is our “normal”, our assumed state, and describing the color of a person's white skin is almost unnatural for a white person at the beginning. But, we've also found that the more we practice labeling white people as white, the more natural it becomes.
A few months ago, we worked with an organization that offered a range of experiences for both youth and adults. After each experience, the organization collected data from participants. Race, ethnicity, and gender were not included in that data.
We were left wondering whether certain types of responses were higher among participants of color, participants with specific ethnic heritages, or participants with specific gender identities. For example, were participants of color more or less satisfied with the program than their white peers? Or, were parts of the programming alienating to young queer students? By gathering and analyzing demographic data, the program could have moved towards more inclusive practices. However, taking a color-blind approach in which all people were assumed to engage with the experiences similarly (like a white, cisgender, heterosexual male), this program missed an opportunity to grow. Making programming more inclusive doesn’t have to mean a drastic change in a company’s mission, often times all it requires is a change of perspective.
For more on The Race Game, check out:
Thandeka. (1999). Learning to be White: Money, race, and God in America. Continuum International Publishing Group.