Color-blind racial attitudes are, in short, implicit and ambiguous forms of racial prejudice.
And where, in most cases, explicit forms of institutional racism have become socially unacceptable since the Jim Crow era in the United States, negative racial attitudes have, by and large, gone under the radar: racism is still very much with us, but it remains of a subtler kind from the days of old.
This concerns psychology for two reasons. First, a wealth of color-blind racial attitudes research has been an area of particular interest for psychological research in recent years, and, second, uncovering how and why racism has moved from the overt to the covert can, perhaps, shine light on how and why individuals form and maintain such beliefs to begin with.
An example of one such study was published in the journal, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Back in 2013, two researchers, Linda Zou and Cheryl Dickter, tested the role of ambiguous color-blind racial attitudes on 113 white participants, where those who tested high for “color blindness” appeared to remain less sensitive to ambiguous, prejudiced racial verbal prompts.
As the researchers make clear: “People who endorse color blindness believe that ‘race should not an does not matter’. Though this attitude appears admirable,” the researchers continue, “in its effort to move beyond race, it overlooks or even denies the fact that race does regularly shape people’s experiences.”
Another dimensions of color blindness are so-called “microaggressions,” which are defined as “commonplace experiences of everyday prejudice slights and insults.” Such microaggressions, so the research indicates, “. . . can lead to anger, frustration, and reduce self-esteem in targets.”
Whereas overt racism implies clear intent, microaggressions are subtle and are more difficult to detect. Still, microaggressions “. . . may require greater cognitive and emotional resources” and can remain as detrimental as overt racist comments. “[T]his new form of racism is more difficult to pinpoint and [is] more likely to be expressed when it can be denied to others and to the perpetrators themselves,” writes Zou and Dickter.
Adopting color blindness “fosters inaction,” and, consequently, “preserves structural racism and inequality,” according to the authors of the aforementioned research. In short, to put it simply, pretending that race doesn’t matter may ignore how race actually shapes an individual’s life.
Although progress toward a more equitable society has been made in the United States in recent decades, racism, both individual and structural, appears to be alive and well. Overt racism has become taboo in mainstream culture, but the “new racism” appears to have reared its head in the form of color blindness. Finally, as psychologists attempt to identify and study how color blindness works in more detail, this type of work remains important because it sheds light on a subject that, for perhaps many of us, may not be an easy topic to discuss.
Zou, L. X., and Dickter, C. L. (2013). Perceptions of Racial Confrontation: The Role of Color Blindness and Comment Ambiguity. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 19(19), 92 – 96.