There are a number of subjects, dozens actually, that come up during the course of our Bridge Builders weeks at Sunshine, that inevitably deserve extended thought and discussion. One of those subjects is the issue of "colorblindness".
For anyone interested in seriously addressing racism or racial reconciliation, colorblindness is one of those subjects that is incredibly important to consider. It is a topic that is understood entirely differently within the black and white communities.
For Whites, Colorblindness is viewed as a virtue.
For many of us in the white community the term colorblindness was defined and experienced in our growing up as a concept that stood in contrast to racism. It was the movement of a generation (our parents) away from their parents (our grandparents) in which racist jokes and terminology was done away with. The assumption was that without explicit racist terminology, racism was done away with and colorblindness was its (virtuous) replacement.
For Blacks, Colorblindness is viewed as racism.
For most within the black (and other non-anglo) community the term colorblindness is a term that whites use to excuse racism. To suggest that ones race is not seen in the US when one is Black (or other minority) is preposterous (unless you are literally blind, and even then awareness is VERY apparent to most). Further, to suggest that one is not treated differently because of one's race is also absurd. Finally, to not allow the value of one's identity and culture to be an open discussion or expression is to devalue what is different and to lay claim to the idea that that which is dominant is normative and therefore "best". So colorblindness is not only not a virtue, but is a nice way of holding onto white privilege, racism, vice. (Did anyone seriously look at the picture of Jesus above and NOT notice race? or did you not realize it was Jesus because of your attribution of what Jesus' race "really" is? and if you are "taken aback" by a black Jesus are you equally offended by a white Jesus?)
"Double Vision" is the only way to continue the discussion. In Miroslov Volf's book, The End of Memory, the author describes what he says is "double vision"; imaginatively entering the the experience of another before claiming to understand. While I believe this is crucial for those committed to learning in general, it is also key for anyone committed to reconciliation. On the topic of colorblindness it is key for blacks to do this to create space for patience for their white brothers and sisters, giving us time in the dialogue to learn. For whites, this double vision is important because in it they will find out that black folks are right.
In my personal experience, the importance of my African-American friends giving me space to understand this has been indescribably important. I have been blessed by these friends in that they have allowed me this benefit of the doubt: I was genuinely attempting to move away from racism of earlier family members and oblivious to white privilege (this is another entire topic and something that my black friends have helped me to see). Many, if not most, blacks (in my experience) believe that any white person claiming to be unaware of the racism of colorblindness and the reality of white privilege is disingenuous at best, and -- more likely-- simply lying. Those who have chosen to enter in to conversation are often worn out by this process of allowing whites this space and even trying to help us. Ed Gilbreath's book Reconciliation Blues will help with insight on this topic.
The reality is that this posting shouldn't waste time trying to make the argument to blacks to give us space. The primary argument that I need to present is this: Blacks are right, colorblindness is tantamount to ignoring discrimination, racism, prejudice and white privilege.
So to understand the topic, whites need an entire education. They need an entire experiential set of lessons that are far removed from daily life. Race is strictly an optional topic for whites. Racial privilege is not understood.
Racism is understood in white community as something that is what one person does to another person. Since they haven't seen their parents enslave someone, or use the N word, or crack jokes, they assume racism doesn't exist.
In the white evangelical community this is exacerbated by our understanding of sin in the same way: we understand sin primarily as something one person does to another (or against God). We basically ignore the biblical concept that groups of people sin against other groups. Our individualistic notion of sin makes it all the harder to understand racism as experienced regularly by our non-white brothers and sisters.
The black (and other "minority") experience is totally unfamiliar to most whites. We either don't know anyone who personally deals with this regularly, or those we know don't talk about it (often because we don't believe it and are therefore unwilling to really listen).
As W.E.B. Dubois and others have noted, blacks have almost no need to be educated about the white experience. But whites know almost nothing of the black experience. So when coming to the topic of colorblindness I can only ask my black brothers and sisters for patience. I have to ask my white brothers and sisters to become students.
For all of us interested in reconciliation be have to apply the wisdom of James in being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger".