Sociologist Michael Omi challenges colorblindness

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September 22, 2012 by kzhen

On September 14, Dr. Michael Omi brought up a number of thought-provoking points in his presentation Colorblindness: The Contradictions of Racial Classifications. The practice of colorblindness is to pretty much treat everyone the same way regardless of their skin color. It seems like a good idea, but as Dr. Omi pointed out in his presentation, to be colorblind is to deny the race that informs one’s perceptions; shapes one’s attitudes; and influences one’s individual, collective and institutional practices. In a society that has been and still is racist, to be colorblind means to ignore the marginalization that people of color face and pretend that it does not exist for the purpose of putting everyone on the same playing field (even though they are using different equipment).

Dr. Omi tells us about California’s Proposition 54, a proposal to remove all racial classifications from public programming. (However, police were still allowed to use race as a description in their work, which makes me think that this also warrants them to continue to racially-profile people of color.) The purpose of this doing away with racial categories according to proponent Ward Connerly is that it is essential to the realization of a color-blind society. He argued that state-based racial categorization historically was used to oppress and exclude groups of color. However, in a society that still practices racism within its systematic and institutional structures, without racially-classified data, we wouldn’t be able to observe patterns of racial inequality.

The examination of this proposal also leads us to look at if race is a meaningful and useful genetic concept. The emerging field of pharmacogenomics looks at medicine that is tailored to a certain race because a disease is more prevalent for that community. For example, hypertension among black people. The problem with this medicine and this emerging field, is that if we think only in terms of genetics when looking at why a disease may be more prevelant, then we are ignoring the environmental factors that aid a person in being unhealthy. Examples include where one lives and exposure to toxicity in the air, water, food; access to healthcare and wellness during lifetime; and the general stress that comes with experiencing marginalization. I think one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Omi’s speech was made from Troy Duster. Regarding a disproportionate amount of black people experiencing hypertension, he said “If you follow me around Nordstrom, put me jail nine times more often, refuse to give me a bank loan, I may get hypertensive.”

In my opinion, colorblindness does not work because we still live in a racist society. We cannot simply ignore the lived experiences of others based on their skin colors, because people are treated unfairly based on their skin color. This is also why it doesn’t matter if race is a genetic issue where people can trace what part of the world they come from because when people look at each other, they are not thinking about the different ethnicities of one’s ancestry. They are thinking in terms of racial/ethnic categories. Also, we cannot ignore the inherent stereotypes that have been imbedded into our minds from the media. We are monitored to think about racial hierarchies.

Overall, I thought that Dr. Omi brought up a lot of interesting points about colorbliness and whether it is contradictory. However, I think that I would have liked it more if he would have brought some more information that was not already discussed in his article Slippin’ into Darkness.

More on how race is prevalent today.


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