SCHOENECK: Color blindness does not end racism

By Jaz Schoeneck on January 31st, 2014

Race is an important topic in the current social-political climate in the United States, and anyone trying to argue against that lives in fiction. There is still a strong culture of racial prejudice and oppression working in this country. Even though we no longer see “whites only” restrooms or the open racism that was once so prevalent, there is still a prejudicial undercurrent coursing through our society. It rears its head in wealth distribution, in the housing market and in the education system. Looking at the distribution of race across a city, even our very own Lincoln, makes it clear that there are lines dividing both wealth classes and races. That being said, it would be unlikely to come across someone who would identify themselves as a racist. I’d wager most people, especially white people, would argue they’re in fact completely against racism. Who wouldn’t? Being a racist carries a heavy stigma in the modern U.S. When asked for justification of their non-racist attitudes, people have many common arguments: “I have plenty of black friends,” “I voted for Obama” and perhaps the most compelling “I don’t look at race; I’m color blind.”

This idea of racial color blindness is not a new concept, but it has become a much more prevalent mindset in the 2000s.

In 2007, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” This is a basic definition of racial color blindness. The idea is that if you don’t acknowledge a person’s race but simply judge them on their character, then race becomes a moot point and racism is no longer a factor. This seems logical. Shouldn’t we be more concerned about a person’s actions and attitudes than with the color of their skin? The short answer is yes. But the problem with short answers is that they don’t really explain much.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of “Racism Without Racists,” writes that in comparison to the Jim Crow era, color blindness is “racism lite.” He contends that instead of overt racial prejudice, color blindness hides its racist nature behind a veneer of open-mindedness. It acts as a “get out of racism free” card that shifts blame from those who oppress to those who are being oppressed. Instead of saying “you have to live in this area because you’re black” the rhetoric becomes “well, it’s not our fault that you can’t get a better job, a better house or a better education. Maybe you shouldn’t be so lazy.”

I’m not saying that it’s the responsibility of the dominant power (i.e. white people) to fix this problem, to save the minorities. That sounds a bit too much like “the white man’s burden” concept, which is just as terrible in its own right. It’s the responsibility of everyone to work together on this one. Eliminate the racist rhetoric and open up a dialogue. It’s not an issue of blame. We can’t spend time blaming each other for problems because all that does is create more problems and more blame. There isn’t really a single solution for the problem of racism. Everyone has prejudices. To say that racism is a “whites only” problem would be just as ignorant as claiming that racism is no longer a problem. There are racists of every creed, color, sexual orientation and gender. It’s a huge, multi-faceted problem that is spread from many sources.

Pop culture is pervaded with racist ideology. It’s often cleverly hidden or spun to make it seem like a joke, but it’s there. Sarah Palin, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of all days, posted on her Facebook, “Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card.” I’m sure it was a well-meaning post, but it certainly strikes a strange chord. It isn’t an overtly racist post, but it’s clear that she is placing the blame upon President Obama. Stephen Colbert, the enigmatic host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” often claims he is color blind. It’s possible and indeed likely that Mr. Colbert is satirizing the idea of color blindness for the sake of his over-the-top conservative persona, but millions of people view this show. He is a TV and pop-culture icon. Many people likely see this as condoning the color blind mindset. In both situations the message that ignoring race stops you from being racist is made abundantly clear and is being shown as acceptable.

Even here, on campus, racism is an inescapable force. Sometimes it’s more open, such as the hateful graffiti that has popped up recently. Other times it’s subtle. The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska senator last semester who made racially insensitive comments wasn’t trying to be offensive or hateful. He felt he was allowed to say what he pleased because of freedom of speech. Freedom-of-speech argument aside, the ASUN senator believed race wasn’t a factor when it came to saying certain words. By ignoring race, the senator lacked forethought and ended up looking foolish. Race is still a relevant force on campus and ignoring it will only lead to future problems.

We, as a country and as a world, cannot ignore race. How could we? Look in the mirror and you’ll see why. Race isn’t skin deep. To ignore race would be to ignore heritage. It would remove any sort of cultural identity from our world. How does that make us better as a people? I’m proud of my German and Irish heritage. Every person should be proud of their culture because that’s part of what makes us all so unique. If this country is a melting pot, then we, the people, are the ingredients. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather enjoy a stew of many flavors than one without any at all.

Jaz Schoeneck is a Junior English and Film Studies Major. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter@jaz_schoeneck.

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