"The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. " – Che Guevara
If one side of a child’s family suffers from an inhered heart condition, they will talk about it considerably more than the other side of the child’s family, who’ll we say don’t suffer from it. The logic behind talking about something that affects your life seems – for some conditions, at least – fairly obvious.
And the narrative of suffering being a cause of that family’s fixation is key. If they talk about this condition, be it heart problems, or anything else, it is because it has importance to them and they wish to address the issue to resolve it. But no one in their right mind who doesn’t suffer from this condition would tell them that it isn’t important, or even that somehow their being conscious of the issue is what makes it an issue in the first place. Of course, it’s very easy for a family with the privilege of not having an inherent heart condition to say that this condition isn’t important.
But in many cases, the rudimentary logic of extensively discussing something that you know affects your life is forgotten, especially with regards to what one side of my own family discusses.
As a child, I always noticed one thing that my mother’s family would discuss infinitely more than my father’s: race and ethnicity.
Each time I visited my mum’s family, I always heard a conversation at some point about how significant race is, and I’d hear how a person in any given discourse was Black or White, and you could bring up a conversation about race or specify someone’s ethnicity without anyone in hearing proximity flinching.
My dad’s family, on the other hand, never once mentioned race. Quite unlike my mum’s family, they didn’t see it as an issue. They only ever talked about people as human beings, rather than under any race-related narrative.
Our ‘colour-blind’ hegemony tells us that only racists are conscious of race, and that perceiving race as an issue only helps to fuel racism, so if we simply ignore someone’s race, racism will finally be buried in the graveyard of time. Assuming that this idea is true, which side of my family is to blame for racism? If you yourself subscribe to colour blindness, you’ll unavoidably put the blame on my mum’s side. Because hey, it doesn’t matter about skin tone, right? Any given human being who talks about race is a racist, right?
But here’s an extra bit of information: dad’s family is White; my mum’s family is Black – and hopefully you’re not colour blind to the extent that you’ll accuse me of inciting a lynching spree by telling you that.
So let’s assess a few things here. In the age of of imperialism, European scientific racists held race – their biologically defined abstract invention – to be of indispensable historical and cultural importance. One such person was Robert Knox, who in 1850 proclaimed:
“That race is everything, is simply a fact, the most remarkable, the most comprehensive, which philosophy has ever announced. Race is everything: literature, science, art – in a word, civilisation depends on it.”
Like his peers in colonial-era academia, he was a staunch racist, and racism had indeed been created by virtue of the European invention of the concept of ethnicity by Immanuel Kant.
But how did White people go from fetishising ethnicity as the defining element of humanity, to then virtually forgetting about it overnight? Quite simple – they had the privilege of doing so. Let’s use this analogy: in order to procure a position of power, a group of people, named group A, invents the concept of hierarchy based on eye-colour, with green eyes (their own) occupying the top and blue eyes at the bottom. Group A then encounters group B – an exclusively blue-eyed collective. Punishing them for their abhorrent sins of innately having blue eyes, group A proceeds to violently beat group B into a state of physical disability – a state which will be, let’s say, heritable to their children.
But succinctly after this pointless beating, group A suddenly realise that an eye-coloured based hierarchy has no empirical truth, so discard eye colour from their conscious preoccupations and go off to the pub for a pint. Those in group B, along with their descendants, would like to forget about eye colour, but sadly their lives have become defined by is very existence. They know full well there is no superiority-inferiority binary associated with eye colour, but their current state of disadvantage exists by virtue of eye colour. For them, therefore eye colour becomes a social reality, and it will always be a spectre that will haunt their consciousness so long as they remain disadvantaged.
Group B would love for group A to acknowledge the fact that they have a disadvantage by virtue of position in society…but group A just so happen to have a guilt complex. Group A now recognise the immorality of their afflictions on to group B, but they have an emotional quasi-nationalism which makes them far more concerned about their own image by virtue of this immorality than the suffering of group B. So group A blame group B for their disadvantage – group A ask group B why they can’t just forget about their eye colour and get on with life; group A sees palpable inequity but unconsciously blames group B for it, by saying that anyone who talks about the concept of eye colour provokes the inequity (most probably because group B reminds group A of their past eye colour-consciousness), thus implying group B members to be the ones provoking discrimination by virtue of them discussing eye colour – an implication no different to its counterpart in the victim blaming of rape culture.
But this modern eye colour discrimination isn’t based on eye colour-consciousness, it’s actually based off laissez-faire capitalist individualism. A member of group A one day ompetes in a race with a member of group B, who is forced to begin on the same staring line as his opponent. By virtue of the imbalance in physical ability, the group A member wins, and blames group B for his loss, because – in spite of his disability – he didn’t work hard enough. Of course, the group A member can’t acknowledge the eye colour inequality. That’s be prejudice, right?
The group B member complains that starting off at the same line as his rival caused this loss. But rather than the group A member agreeing to give his opponent a head start on the next race, he replies by saying that we must all be treated equally and ignore disability…so somehow…by magic…said-disability will magically disappear. Therefore, the group B member being conscious of his eye colour-induced disability, at the time when the disability didn’t exist at all, is obviously what created the inequality in the first place! Effectively, group A assumes a false social equivalence between themselves and group B, thus allowing them to say that ‘reverse-discrimination’ is a reality. On the premise of eye-colour unconsciousness creating equality group B is to blame, not group A.
The government then establish positive action programmes, which are conscious of disability by virtue of eye colour and promise to give group B members a head start in life over group A members in order to balance out the inequality, since group B members occupy the bottom of the privilege chain whilst group S members occupy the tip. But after reading Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, group A members then take to Twitter and complain bitterly about the reverse-dscirmination that they daily experience as a result of this government intervention. Group A members once again say that by ignoring the eye colour, the disability will vanish! Thus group A members believe that by doing absolutely shit all to highlight and tackle the palpable eye colour-induced inequality, the inequality will fix itself by magic…just like the free market!
Let’s return to race. As James Bladwin quite rightly put it, “Being White means never having to think about it.” Of course, if your race has never been disadvantaged by virtue of racism, why would race be important to you? But for those who live in a competitive, neo-liberal system whereby disadvantaged races are forced to compete with privileged races on the same metaphorical starting track, it will obviously be significant. So by saying “I don’t see colour, only human beings”, who are you blaming for racism? Whites or people of colour? It’s very easy for those with privilege to turn around and say “race doesn’t matter” – but not so easy for those at the bottom of the racial chain.
But before I ever researched the concept of colour-blindness, myself, like many other of people of colour, Morgan Freeman included, proselytised the victim-blaming attitude of the (non-White) mentality of race consciousness to be the propagator of racism. Black sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, who wrote in the era of colour-conscious apartheid-esque Jim Crow racism, recorded a White girl asking him “How does it feel to be a problem?” And people of colour in modern colour-bind hegemonies are also accused of being the problem by seeing race as an issue – but nowadays their identities as non-whites just happen not to be specified, which is an ingenious unconscious way of colour-blind White people exempting themselves from the problem of racism. Many White people are obviously too colour-blind to see that those who are conscious of race are preponderantly non-White, which again is an ingenious way of creating racial inequity without having to breach their morals by doing so consciously.
Reverting back to the point on capitalism, racial inequality isn’t brought about by the White power structure being conscious of race. Rather, it’s brought about by colour-blind capitalism, whereby an apparent fear to highlight facia differences leads White people to believe in a false social equivalence between themselves and non-White, thus putting the able athlete and injured athlete on the same starting line, and giving them the mandate to write blogs on the headache-inducing concept of “reverse-racism”. The very same principle applies to gender inequality.
But why are many White people more offended by structural racism being accentuated as racist than by the structural racism itself?
Colour blind White people taking such issue with race being pointed out simply indicates to me that unconsciously they are infinitely more concerned with their racial privilege being acknowledged than by the racism itself. The entire enterprise of colour blindness seems to be premised on unconsciously maintaining racial inequality without White people having to transgress their morals by consciously doing so, because the apparent racial nationalistic guilt complex that many White people have precludes them from accepting the responsibility for racism whilst simultaneously creating it through the unwitting means of neo-lberalism. Supposedly antiracist paraphernalia created by White liberals further solidifies our victim-blaming colour blind capitalist hegemony, thereby unwittingly preserving their racial privilege under an anti-racist guise.
Overall, I quite inversely “see colour, not human beings” because colour – whether we like it or not – the invention of race still exists as a social reality. As astounding as this logic may sound, we can only solve a problem by acknowledging that it actually fucking exists.