Monday, June 20, 2016

The unspoken cost of a colorblind society

I support a colorblind society - a society where race is an utter non-issue in everyone's minds. Once upon a time, I think most people wanted this, at least in America. Some brief flicker of time where almost everyone was idealistic and on the great Martin Luther King Jr bandwagon of judging 'not by the color of one's skin, but the content of their character'.

It turned out to be not just unattainable, but undesirable for many. That fall from the ideal - if I even have it right - hasn't really been remarked on. I suspect the costs, as well as the results, of a colorblind society turned out to be greater than anyone really anticipated.

On the one hand, I think the assumption behind a colorblind society - and part of the desire for it - was that, once race was a non-factor, everyone would have equal outcomes, because race was ultimately and exclusively about melanin content and nothing else. Once it started to become clear that melanin content wasn't the only racial difference - that, in fact, there were apparently average genetic differences that cashed out to performance differences in the aggregate, and which could be reasonably grouped around ancestry - the idea of a colorblind society was quietly shelved for many. Or maybe it just revealed that the desire for a colorblind society was never sincere to begin with; it was always a front for advancement of one's preferred race, or at least preferred culture, and the moment it no longer promised to lead to that - in fact, the moment a colorblind society seemed destined to negatively impact certain races and cultures, on average - was the moment it was jettisoned, and no one's looked back since.

On the other hand, a society where race is meaningless - and an attitude where race is meaningless - is paradoxically hard to tout, precisely because the people who best encapsulate the desired attitude are the people least likely to promote it at all, at least in word as opposed to deed. The ones who are most likely to promote it tend to be people who aren't sincerely behind it, hence the David French sorts who on the one hand talk about their glorious visions of a colorblind society, and who then follow it up with gleefully touting their white-on-black adoptions and how much of a diversity rainbow the act has turned their previously white neighborhoods and churches into. Colorblind people don't notice 'rainbows', and they certainly don't celebrate them. Rainbows, if they happen at all, simply happen and are unremarkable. Colorblind people don't have a rainbow fetish, or a monochrome allergy. It's all the same shit to them.

What makes it all hilarious is that the advent of the internet represented an in-principle breakthrough for colorblind and 'genderblind' desires. Finally, a place where we all could identify by anonymous tags and hide our real identities. We could always be lying, always be fibbing. Race and gender would be irrelevant, once and for all. Surprise: everyone - especially the traditionally disadvantaged victim groups - despised that. At this point, making your race and gender crystal clear is of paramount importance, because blindness means a lack of special treatment. Good God, you'll be judged by the content of your character then, and for certain people - on average - that's a recipe for failure.


Stan said...

These are thoughts I've never seen expressed before. They lead me to the vision of the bell curves which necessarily describe the abilities of all people within a class (and we must have classes, mustn't we?). The objective of normalizing all people involves two things: bringing the lower end of the curve up to the norm, but also bringing the higher end down to the norm, leaving only a spike at the norm.

But that's just the first step. The next step is to move the norm in the only direction it can move, which is down, to accommodate the least. Or maybe this is the actual first step: redefining the norm.

Either way it is destruction of the capable to bestow esteem on the incapable.


Crude said...

Redefining the norm is already the norm (ha) when it comes to a lot of behaviors. Or at least, redefining success. Hence, once upon a time, 'ebonics'. Having trouble teaching black children grammar and spelling? Well, the english language is racist anyway.

That, I think, is the principle way idealists have of handling these problems: they redefine what success means. It's not that they bring the lower up or the higher down: they just redefine what's counted as lower and higher. You end up with a programmer who's incompetent, but he brings diversity to the team, which is just what's needed when you're trying to figure out how to protect your database from SQJ injection hacks.