Lascelve Graham | Is colour blindness prevalent in Ja?
We need to be clear that structural, systemic racism in all its forms and manifestations throughout America, Europe, and its former colonies, originates from the idea of white supremacy.
The comments related to my first article underline how popular the colour-blind rhetoric is in Jamaica; how steeped, mired, and entrenched people are in the colour-blind jargon; and how penetrative and successful it is, reaching to the lowest echelons of our society. Colour blindness is designed to soothe, lull, hypnotise, bully black people into quiet acceptance of and resignation with their current condition.
Harriet Tubman of The Underground Railroad fame lamented: “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew that they were slaves.” Colour-blindness rhetoric seeks to aggravate, compound the problem that confronted Tubman. The colour-blind approach urges black people to forget about slavery, which happened so far in the past while being silent on white people’s enjoyment now of the wealth, status, and other ill-gotten gains from slavery. White people currently enjoy the positives from slavery while black people are told to forget about the negatives, which they experience daily, and get on with it, take personal responsibility. All over the world, black people are agitating for, demanding not necessarily their fair share of the spoils, but a share of same, to which they contributed so profoundly.
The means of maintaining the favoured white position has changed with time, moving from crude chattel slavery through blatant, brazen systemic oppressive laws, policies, and practices, for example, redlining in the USA, to much more sophisticated and subtle forms like colour blindness. Starting from this privileged white position, colour blindness makes discussing race a taboo and eschews attempts at levelling the playing field, which are denounced as unfair privilege, special undeserved favours. This works to ensure that the inequities persist. The idea of structural, systemic racism is anathema to colour-blindness ideology.
LEGITIMISATION OF DYNAMICS
Structural, systemic racism is defined as the normalisation and legitimisation of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal – that routinely advantages one particular group (like white) while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for other groups (like blacks). For example, in terms of jobs, structural systemic racism operates by way of minimising access to available openings using hiring discrimination, limited opportunities, and social networks – ruled out because of address or not being in a certain network (who knows you). Colour-blind racism, on the other hand, would explain joblessness in terms of individualism driven by culture, behaviour, and discipline – lack of motivation or willpower on the part of black people.
Colour blindness proposes that behaviourism or “imputed cultural limitations” explains structural, systemic racism. Colour-blind ideology hides systemic forms of racism. It marginalises them and rejects any programmes designed to address a legacy of structural discrimination, for example, affirmative action, which become special privileges, with consequent language changes, not an effort to level the playing field. Structural, systemic racism operates to ensure the maintenance of the social status quo, which existed since the time of slavery. Colour blindness is systemic racism in sheep’s clothing.
Colour blindness rejects the idea that racism has set up a hierarchy that advantages whites, that it still exists, and is an impediment to the success of blacks. Hence, it obliterates the consciousness one needs to fight structural, systemic racism. Colour blindness ascribes systemic racism to structural anomalies, or “one-off situations”, “one bad apple”, “rogue cop.” It also attempts to demonise, reduce the humanity of the victim or community, as if this minimises the gravity of the crime or legitimises the injustice.
Professor George Beckford, in his seminal work Persistent Poverty: Underdevelopment in Plantation Economies of the Third World, discloses, inter alia. “At first, white people had justified slavery on the grounds that the black Africans were heathens. But when they had been converted to Christianity, that justification could no longer stand. And so, the theory of the racial inferiority of black people was advanced.
“In every instance, race has been an important factor in class divisions. The fundamental heritage of the slave plantation was the creation of severely handicapped minorities, darker in colour than the rest of the population.
“The overall conclusion is that race has always been, and continues to be, along with colour, an important determinant of caste and class in every plantation society in the world.” The evidence also indicates that individuals have strong preferences for physical appearances that are closer to the European model and have derogatory attitudes towards those that are like the African. He further pointed out that race prejudice comes to the fore most clearly and strongest at the point of marriage into the upper class – guess who’s coming to dinner?
In Jamaica, in terms of jobs, hiring discrimination, limited opportunities, and social networks restrict access to a number of available openings for blacks, and the colour- blindness rhetoric is trendy and strong. Here, too, race and colour continue to play pivotal roles in respect of the socio-economic group in which one finds oneself, with whites and near whites being at the top and blacks being at the bottom.
When one adds the popularity, the pervasiveness of the colour-blindness narrative to this maelstrom, this milieu of inequity, it is unlikely that racial equality will be achieved anytime soon.
Dr Lascelve ‘Muggy’ Graham, former captain, senior national football team. Send feedback to email@example.com