Colorblindness, Zuckerberg & Diversity and Inclusion

Our society is uncomfortable with difficult dialogues about race, stereotypes, and the salience of racial inequality and inequity. Beginning in our homes and migrating to our social spaces, faith-based institutions, city halls, schools and businesses, however, we need to talk about race and social justice. We need to engage in bold and sustainable dialogue that produces changes in our laws, curriculums, and corporate cultures.

Our education and business leaders should play significant and visible roles in efforts to confront and eliminate racial stereotyping, exclusion, and the stagnation, joblessness, hopelessness, and violence they engender. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for leading the way. Failing to follow his lead will put our all of our students at a disadvantage, inhibit the preparedness of our workforce, restrict innovative and high paying jobs to the dominant society, worsen de facto segregation, exacerbate joblessness among people of color and the poor, intensify socio-economic despair, enflame race relations, and destroy the very fabric of our society and the American dream. CEO’s like Zuckerberg know this to be true and they act, unsolicited and unequivocally.

This is crucial because the old head-in-the-sand approach and “colorblind” rhetoric that many leaders still use, belies reality and aggravates the inequality and inequity associated with being a person of color in American schools, applicant pools, and offices. We all have biases and prejudices, and racial stereotypes are as embedded in our culture as hot dogs and Coca-Cola. More often than not, they prowl the recesses of our minds and affect our behavior and choices; where we live, shop and dine, who we associate with, who we would like our children to marry, how and what we teach, and who we hire and promote. These “implicit biases” or our “blindspots,” as defined by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, have a powerful effect on our diversity, equity, and inclusion or lack thereof.

Many adherents of the colorblind mythology invoke the lack of racist “smoking guns” and the “progress” we have made, as evidence that race doesn’t play a role in one’s treatment and opportunities. The improvements they speak of, however, are mitigated by an increase in hate crimes, economic deprivation, and the benign neglect of those who mulishly cling to their colorblindness, while disparity swells, racial tensions fester.

To claim colorblindness and/or deny the existence of racial bias enables one to eschew any responsibility for confronting it and eradicating it. However, most people who disavow the presence of racism are not routinely the targets of it, and it suggests that they are incapable of doing anything beyond feigning colorblindness to foster healing and parity. At best, a claim to colorblindness allows many to avoid dealing with the problem, and at worst, it functions as a genteel form of racism itself. It is my hope that more influencers, especially our education and business leaders, will help lay the word colorblind to rest in lieu of courageous conversation and direction, buttressed by specific action items. If only there were more Zuckerbergs.

This article is adapted and revised from Matthew C. Whitaker, “In Trayvon Martin’s wake, ‘colorblind’ is an insult,” Arizona Republic, July 27, 2013.

Dr. Matthew Whitaker

Dr. Matthew C. Whitaker is the Founder and CEO of the Diamond Strategies, LLC, a diversity, equity, and cultural competency firm that inspires, achieves, and celebrates inclusion. He is also an award-winning educator, author, community engagement specialist and motivational speaker. He founded the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, winner of the 2014 Arizona Diversity Leadership Alliance Inclusive Workplace Award, at Arizona State University, and his work can be followed on Twitter at @Dr_Whitaker and @dstrategiesllc.

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