Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Color Blind/Color Conscious

By Thomas Kochman - 02.07.2010

Chief Justice Robert\’s infamous line, \”The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,\” in the 2007 Supreme Court Case Parents involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, suggests that race based remedies to correct unequal social situations (such as school or housing segregation) are the same as race based policies and practices that create and perpetuate unfair and unequal social situations (such as school or housing segregation).

Apart from turning affirmative action policies and programs on its heels, the Supreme Court majority and Robert\’s strictly process oriented view of discrimination –without regard to motives, circumstances and outcomes — is from a social and practical standpoint, useless. The question that people who care about this issue grapple with regularly is precisely over when it is appropriate to take race into account and when not. And that means considering all kinds of social qualifiers–ultimately perhaps, whether it makes someone else\’s life easier or more difficult.

For example, a faculty friend of mine who lived in a predominantly white community occasionally had students stay with them. One black student who stayed with them wanted to begin each morning with a run through the neighborhood. To accommodate him, and as a precautionary move, my friend went to several houses in the neighborhood that were along the route the student took to tell them that a black student was staying with them, and described what he looked like, knowing that if he didn’t let them know that up front, the student might otherwise be put at risk.

Some whites who take our training sometimes wonder whether it is better to be color blind in that situation believing that introducing the subject makes race an issue that might not otherwise be there.

Blacks in our training group see that view as naïve. Race for blacks invariably stands out in white social contexts and for most black men, has, and can, put them at risk.

The task then is deciding not whether to make race an issue but recognize that it is and learn how to act responsibly so as to make it less impactful.

One of the questions that a Black man asked me in our last training session was whether we would ever get to the point as a society of seeing people just as individuals and not as members of a group.

I said, “No!” but then added, “But what we can do is understand better what it means to be a member of that group, culturally as well as socially.”

To wish life could be better for different groups of people is fine. To pretend that it is already is or can happen without the rest of us doing something constructive about it is social make-believe.

One Response so far

I beilieve the best to stop discrimanating is just to stop. i beileve people should be judged on work ethic and not there racial makeup.

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