Public Comment

Is Color Blindness a Matter of Color Perception?

By Arturo Núñez
Thursday May 21, 2009 - 10:09:00 AM

Color-blindness. This term is often touted by those who claim that race, in our present day circumstance, is a somewhat over-used conceptor at least insignificant, in other words, that one will be measured by virtue of one’s work and character—not by one’s race. However, individuals who often ascribe to this philosophy—such as residents of North Berkeley, for instance—often live in areas where one would be hard pressed to find a black neighbor. Oh, I know a few middle-class blacks who actually live in North Berkeley, but they are the exception, trust me; they live in a city where recent census stats calculate the white population there to be 82 percent. So, my question is this: how can those who purportedly profess that race is insignificant also live in areas that statistically guarantee that racial complexity will be very low? If race was, as these individuals confess, truly insignificant, then it seems that they would likewise unassumingly or incidentally meander and drift into areas where racial diversity is proportionally higher. These enlightened individuals are, after all, “color-blind,” and they’re not attuned to artificial racial signifiers such as white, black, brown, red or yellow. Right? 


The truth of the matter is still this: those areas with the best schools and safest neighborhoods have always been, and continue to be, heavily white. In fact, this statistical reality has intensified over the past 30 years—and right along with that our present-day “color-blind” philosophy, I might add. Perhaps what we are really saying is this: 

1. “Although I may happen to live in an area that, by design, demographically negates racial inclusiveness, it pains me no end to live among those for whom racial homogeneity is an imperative.”  

Or maybe that was badly put. Try this:  

2. “Although I may happen to live in an area that, by design, demographically negates racial inclusiveness, you’d be surprised to discover that MOST of us actually living here wholeheartedly subscribe to the philosophy of racial inclusiveness (as it surely can exist somewhere—just not here, where I myself consciously chose to live).”  

Wait a minute; that doesn’t sound impressive, nor is it any more laudable. How about this:  

3. “Although I may happen to live in an area that, by design, demographically negates racial inclusiveness, you’d be surprised to know that this area was once quite racially diverse. It’s just that now that it has become gentrified; all these ‘other kind’ of white folk are moving in.” 

Any way you slice it, and however much we try to rationalize it, race somehow gets tied into the formula. In some way, in some manner. Race, it seems, is after all significant and important—even when we philosophically profess otherwise—because it is categorically tied into our life choices—or lack thereof. Put it this way: if you can choose to live in a white area, then, yes, you are by design—whether you consciously recognize it or not—making a race-based decision because it is explicitly tied into the options available to you. We still live in a multiple-choice world but also in a world where the choices have become increasingly polarized. That is: you can choose (A) for white, or (B) for racially-inclusive, or (C) for none of the above. Since we don’t yet know what (C) is (that is, a possible racial utopia can perhaps exist somewhere—just not where I consciously choose to live), we opt for the remaining choices which can only exist in a world where race is, in fact, an institutionally operable factor. It can be no other way, even when we philosophically profess otherwise.  

Perhaps what we mean by “color-blindness” is not that at all, but actually “color-unperceptiveness.” We, therefore, are not actually blind to the fact that North Berkeley is statistically 82% white. Of course, most can likely see that much. And I’m sure most do. What I’m less sure of is whether most who live there perhaps don’t “perceive” it that way. Or, is their understanding of such a demographic reality perhaps obscured or obfuscated by the fact that a good majority of North Berkleyans are, in fact, socially or racially-conscious, or ecology-conscious, or gay-friendly, or civil rights activists with a long history of crucially important work. So while it might be that since the passage of Proposition 209 we’ve been legally “cleared” of having to perceive race, we are also certainly not legally blind to it either, as our race-loaded choices today clearly imply. And although some may perhaps claim they can see beyond the “superficial” race-based constructs of the past, it is really just racial “unperceptiveness”—a game we play with ourselves, a phantom arm of that same old racial construct we supposedly got rid of. And this new/improved paradigm is much more dangerous, I should add, since it deceptively pretends to not be there.  

And just exactly how does one battle or critically confront something that denies its own existence? Precisely my point.  



Arturo R. Núñez is a resident of Richmond.