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DEI in 5: Bite-Sized Discussions on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - Ep4: "I don't see color"

Updated: Feb 23, 2023



Today, we're tackling the harmful statement, "I don't see color" as it relates to race.

Now, unless you're talking about a visual impairment like being color blind, saying "I don't see color" is not only harmful, but it's also ableist language. And just because we're not talking about it doesn't mean people aren't using it. So, let's dive into why this statement is so problematic.


We often reference the famous quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech, where he spoke about his dream of a nation where his children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. And while many have interpreted this quote to mean that we should disregard race and treat everyone the same, Dr. King's children have said numerous times that their father wasn't implying that we should ignore race at all.


The reality is that our society has long placed social hierarchy on race, and nearly all of us have unconsciously internalized racial hierarchy to some degree. To say "I don't see color" means you're choosing to ignore a person's unique identity, their experiences, and how oppression has impacted them and generations before them.


But it's more than that. By saying "I don't see color," you're actively choosing to ignore racism and avoid any "tough" conversations related to race. And that's just not acceptable. We can't ignore the impact of race on our society just because it's uncomfortable to talk about.

In fact, having the option to ignore or disregard racism is an exercise of power and privilege. And by definition, racism requires both power and privilege. It takes a certain level of privilege to have the option to not think about or acknowledge how your race influences how you interact with the world and how the world interacts with you.


If you belong to a historically marginalized group and try to live with a "I don't see color" mentality, you'll almost always find that the world will find a way to remind you that society as a whole perceives you as less than.


And if you don't believe me, just look at the data. Financial institutions, housing, healthcare, education, you name it – there's systemic racism baked into all of these areas of life.

When I hear "I don't see color" from individuals, I often find that there's a significant lack of understanding of real-world inequality and how equity and equality differ. It's not about treating everyone the same – it's about taking into consideration the unique needs of each person.


For example, let's say you have two students applying to the same college – they're equally intelligent and hardworking. They've both received a scholarship for the same amount of money, but one is black and comes from a family that has been significantly impacted by systemic inequity, while the other is white and comes from a middle-class family. The black student is $500 short of being able to attend the school, while the white student can pay the remaining $500 without issue.


This is the reality of our world. One-size-fits-all approaches don't work when there are systemic inequalities at play.


Ignoring the role that racial hierarchy continues to play in our society only leads to less progress, and we may even find ourselves regressing. It's time to have those tough conversations and confront the uncomfortable realities of our world.


So, what do you think about the "I don't see color" mentality? Drop a comment below or on YouTube to let me know what you think.


Resources for today's discussion:

  • The importance of recognizing racial identity in education: https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-saying-i-dont-see-color-denies-the-racial-identity-of-students/2020/02

  • TED on "I don't see color:" https://ideas.ted.com/why-saying-i-dont-see-race-at-all-just-makes-racism-worse/

  • Dana Brown Lee's insight: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danabrownlee/2022/06/19/dear-white-people-when-you-say-you-dont-see-color-this-is-what-we-really-hear/?sh=37cea14a26d6

  • The discourse sparked by Dr. King's Speech: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mlks-content-of-character-quote-inspires-debate/

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