Stuff White People Say

October 11, 2008

“Color Doesn’t Matter…”

Filed under: Uncategorized — nquest2xl @ 4:33 pm

Color

Doesn’t

Matter

___________________________

___________________________

The other day on one of my favorite Sirius talk radio shows, a White pro-Obama caller commented on how Obama’s “color doesn’t matter.”  You know, the “I don’t see color” kind of color-doesn’t-matter (CDM).  The host, Mark Thompson (of “Make It Plain”), had to just let it go for the sake of diverging into a topic that deserved its own show.  Of course, he asked the caller to explain what he meant and why CDM but the point Thompson was trying to make was loss on him.

The CDM idea was, apparently, something the caller hadn’t really thought about.  Obviously he felt CDM was/is a good concept and in his life’s practice it may well be.  But what does it really say?

I explained the problem with this concept once on Stuff White People Do in a thread that looked at a popular expression where the CDM concept comes into play.  The thread reflected on the times when someone White says of African-American(s), “I don’t think of them as Black.”

Now maybe you can see the problem.

As I noted on SWPD at the time, the CDM idea, by definition, says that there is something wrong with being Black or any “color” except for White, it seems.  Just like the picture on the cover of the children’s book above, Whites are at the center; viewed as the norm.  That’s pretty clear to see.  And when there are other CDM expressions like, “I’m a Man Who Happens To Be Black,” it’s clear how the idea of being “Black” is viewed as a negative, so much so that other aspects of a person’s being are used to subjugate it – to make it seem like being “Black” is an accident or something that’s wrong to emphasize and, worse, wrong to recognize.

Such is the history.

Indeed, the very historical moment that seems to have inspired White Americans (and others) to adopt the CDM attitude was one where Whites and Blacks, alike, had to deal with the history of seeing “blackness” as a bad thing.  So it’s easy to see how saying “color doesn’t matter” or “color shouldn’t matter” is a rational response to that history.  The only problem is:  the color-doesn’t-matter attitude actually perpetuates the idea that being something other than White, and especially being Black, is a bad thing.  But let’s think about that historical moment.

Perhaps no other idea has propelled the CDM concept and cemented it into the national consciousness as Dr. King’s famous (and most abused) lines from his “I Have A Dream” speech:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation

where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Nothing else screams out “I don’t think of them as Black” as loud as that.  That is, when a person takes a literalist-reductionist view of things.  The literalist says, “I can’t judge you based on the color of your skin.”  That logically leads to CDM.  The reductionist says, “that’s what MLK all wanted us to do,” but that, quite frankly, does a disservice to MLK.   The literalist-reductionist strips the idea from the historical moment and climate is was made in and ignores volumes of other things MLK said.  It also ignores other developments during that historical moment.

On SWPD, I explained how, historically, “White Americans had associated Black with all sorts of bad things.”  So it made rational sense for Whites to say, “I don’t see you as Black” — i.e. “I don’t see you as bad.”  But that reveals a serious problem and explains why the colorblindness the nation embarked on as a response to the civil rights era is seen as a form of racism itself.  Just look at the two expressions: Black and “bad” remain synonymous, mere substitutes for one another which suggests how colorblindness doesn’t fully constitutes a fundamental change from America’s more troubling racial past.

Now, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention how “Black=bad” was/is a concept that the Black community had to deal with and still has to deal with.  However, at that same historical moment, at the same time when Dr. King espoused what has been treated as “colorblindness”, Dr. King and the Black community at large engaged in a campaign to break the nefarious link between Black and “bad” by exalting the idea that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL:

Unfortunately, expressions like, “I don’t see you as Black” and “I’m a man who happens to be Black”, miss that very important point of decoupling Black with “bad.”  If color really didn’t matter then there would be no reason not to see an African-American as “Black” and, likewise, no reason to marginalize someone’s Blackness by trying to highlight something people are more inclined to view more positively (e.g. a person’s “humanness”) even when those people includes your own self.

UPDATED:  To add text of Dr. King’s remarks from the video (above):

.

.

I’ve come here tonight and plead with you.

Be proud of yourself and believe that you’re somebody.

I said to a group last night,

“Nobody else can do this for us.”

No document can do this for us.

No Lincolnian proclamation can do this for us; no Ken[nedy]sonian or Johnsonian civil rights bill can do this for us.

If the negro is to be free

he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign, with a pen an ink of self-asserted manhood, his own Emancipation Proclamation.

Don’t let anybody take your manhood.

Be proud of our heritage.

As somebody said earlier tonight,

“we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”

Somebody told a lie one day.

They couched it in language…

They made everything black ugly and evil;

look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading

and low and sinister. Look at the word “white”;

it’s always something pure, high and clean.

But I want to get the language right tonight.

I want to get the language so right

that everybody [here] will cry out,

“Yes! I’m black and proud of it.

I’m black and beautiful.”

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5 Comments »

  1. I think it’s also denying the right of ones own reality, when ‘color doesn’t matter’ in a racist world. I have the impression that they say with that “let’s remain white”.

    Do you have the text of the poem? And do you have a script for the video, my sound doesn’t work

    Comment by jwbe — October 12, 2008 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

  2. Awesome post. This pretty much destroys white people’s idea that MLK advocated racial color blindness.

    I think white people probably didn’t understand how MLK thought that both “black is beautiful” and “do not judge others by the color of their skin” were true at the same time, and the “black is beautiful” part dropped off from the collective white memory, while the “not be judged by the color of their skin” was warped into ignoring skin color. It’s like white people couldn’t let go of the idea that black is bad, so “judging” was warped into “seeing”. The possibility that someone could be both see blackness and not judge it as bad apparently escaped them.

    Comment by Restructure! — October 20, 2008 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  3. Stuff black people say: “we are quite okay with accepting the truth that “black” is coupled with “bad” and refuse to rise above it and deny its truth but instead we’ll draw attention to it by saying that those liberal, forward-thinking white people who want to openly move to a non-racist society are actually ‘privileged’ and they refuse to accept THAT… therefore we shall render their views unimportant in our minds”.

    Yeh, that pisses me off a great deal.

    In society, we have to come to the point where we don’t look back any longer, where we don’t seek to redress the balance, where equality is on its way in, and where there’s no longer an excuse for racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. This anti-colour-blindness movement makes me want to start my own “can’t we just bloody move on now” movement.

    Hate crime is illegal. I know you Americans have institutional racism, in your police forces and your justice systems, but it’s still illegal and wrong as opposed to being a societal issue. Just like institutionalised paedophilia, homicide, etc. You have to be careful nowadays whether it’s due to history, or whether it’s due to views like those espoused here that actually draw attention to the coupling of ‘black’ and ‘bad’.

    Comment by MrSmith — March 30, 2009 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

  4. MrSmith, thanks for the comic relief.

    I have to hand it to you, your routine where you act like you don’t have the clue what institutional racism — because you hilariously pretended like it’s not a “societal issue” and with slap-stick wit talked about institutional racism in the justice system as something that’s “illegal” ROFL… Well, that has to be award worthy comedic excellence.

    BRAVO!!!

    Comment by Nquest — March 31, 2009 @ 3:11 am | Reply

  5. CORRECTION:

    “I have to hand it to you, your routine where you act like you don’t have the clue what institutional racism *IS*…”

    Comment by Nquest — March 31, 2009 @ 3:12 am | Reply


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