The Sanitizing Effect of “Colorblindness”

This month’s post comes from a student of Dr. Castro-Gill’s American Ethnic Studies course at the University of Washington. It is written by Kaili Rayne Lamb.

Week one of AES 340 has delved into deep systemic issues in education concerning race and ethnicity, especially the root of race itself. One topic that I am interested in is the danger of a “race-neutral” or colorblind perspective. 

To employ a colorblind perspective is to choose to ignore racial or ethnic differences in an effort to promote equality and remove bias (Scruggs, 2009). While this may initially sound like a strategy with merit, multiple perspectives and voices argue otherwise. In Ladson-Billings’ (1998) writing on critical race theory and education, she explains how this homogenization of students presents a harmful narrative that disregards the reality of many groups’ lives and struggles in the United States. As put plainly by King (1992), this attitude “misequates the middle passage with Ellis Island.” 

I have seen this homogenized approach to addressing diversity in the classroom have effects in my own life. I remember early elementary, when Thanksgiving was a time of clipart of Native Americans (embellished with feathers and smiles) and pilgrims holding hands. We were presented with a narrative in which Thanksgiving was a time of unity between Native Americans and colonists, a cute dinner between friends learning to get along. It was not for many years until we were taught anything differently, and even these lessons were highly sanitized. Not only this, but Native Americans/First Nations people were presented as a relic of the past. My 6-7 year old self walked away from these lessons believing that I myself must have Native American ancestry, that all of us Americans did, that it was our roots. It was not until several years later when I realized this was not at all the case. It’s admittedly hard to determine where this conclusion comes from, and how much my sanitized education contributed to it, but I feel that this harmful sanitization and dismissal of genocide, along with a reduction of an important group of people to a mark on a timeline, led to several misunderstandings for me and other children. Choosing to ignore the starkly different realities white versus indigenous people had/have also disregards the significant amount of time that indigenous people thrived on this continent before colonization and that they had a viable society without the interference of white people.  

The erasure and dismissal of ethnic groups was also touched upon in our discussion of race as a political versus social construct. When one’s rebuttal to racism is “well race is a social construct, we shouldn’t worry about it,” this by extension means that racism can be solved by ignoring it or refusing to acknowledge it, which maintains the unjust status quo. Rather, race should be viewed as a weapon created to maintain white supremacy by white supremacists. By recognizing this ugly reality we can start to examine race critically. 

Returning to colorblindness, choosing to be “blind” to race is choosing to leave these power dynamics intact and choosing to believe they don’t exist. Not only does it maintain these inequities but also may dismiss the identities that have resulted from racial categorizations. 

Overall, I am gaining a better understanding of the importance of acknowledging race. It may feel uncomfortable, but it is important to make sure that everyone is recognized, celebrated, and heard. It is also important for me to understand when my race/ethnicity puts me at an advantage instead of choosing to ignore these societal problems by believing “race is made up, it doesn’t mean anything, why would they care that I’m white passing?” Racial and ethnic identities should not be ignored nor should they be diminished to a label. To choose to ignore your own race means you have been afforded the privilege to not be defined by your race. White people never worry that they’ll only be seen for their skin color. They can say race doesn’t exist because it has never negatively impacted their relation to other people, they have never felt these power dynamics waged against them. As written in Scruggs’ (2009) article, “The core of ‘I don’t see color,’ is ‘I don’t see my own color … because my race and culture is the center of the universe.'”


King, J. E. (1992). Diaspora Literacy and Consciousness in the Struggle Against Miseducation in the Black Community. The Journal of Negro Education, 61(3), 317-340.,

A.-O. (2009, August 24). Colorblindness: the New Racism? Learning for Justice.

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