The Danger of Racial Colorblindess

Monday, February 5, 2024 12:00 pm EST

Have you ever heard the phrase “I don’t see color,” when talking about race or ethnicity? Color blindness is the idea that ignoring or overlooking racial and ethnic differences promotes racial harmony and helps us treat people equally. But research shows that color blindness does just the opposite and can actually cause more harm in our interactions with people of different backgrounds.

At the Questrom School of Business at Boston University, Dr. Evan Apfelbaum researches color blindness and uses behavioral science to reveal the challenges and potential of diversity and social change. In 2012, Dr. Apfelbaum published an article entitled “Racial Color Blindness: Emergence, Practice, and Implications.” He has since published several papers on race, diversity, and how we relate to one another.

Max and Evan discuss the findings of Evan’s 2012 paper and their importance today, including why color blindness is unsuccessful as a strategy for making race relations go smoothly. They then discuss the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action in Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard, which was based on the view that the law requires racial color blindness in admissions decisions.

The DEI Podcast with Max Gaston is sponsored by Notre Dame Law School and co-sponsored on ThinkND by the Black Alumni of Notre Dame, the Alumni Rainbow Community of Notre Dame (ARC ND), YoungND, Native American Alumni, Notre Dame Women Connect, Hispanic Alumni of Notre Dame, Notre Dame Senior Alumni, and Asian Pacific Alumni of Notre Dame. Register to receive emails about upcoming episodes of The DEI Podcast.

2:10 – The growing relevance of color blindness as a decision making tool and the phenomenon of avoiding race as a social interaction strategy to try to be more culturally sensitive.

5:20 – Understanding and defining racial color blindness.

6:15 – A summary of the research and findings in “Racial Color Blindness: Emergence, Practice, and Implications,” (Evan P. Apfelbaum, Michael I. Norton, Samuel R. Sommers, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 21, No. 3 (JUNE 2012), pp. 205-209)

and how those findings hold up today.

9.53 – Discussing the mistaken belief that color blindness can prevent prejudice and discrimination. E.g., “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” ~ John Roberts, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

14:30 – Discussing how people do notice race when perceiving others, and why nevertheless by the age of 10 color blindness becomes children’s main approach for dealing with race.

18:00 – Discussing how color blindness can facilitate and justify racial resentment, thereby creating more bias in attitudes and behaviors.

21:58: Discussing how White individuals who ignore race come across as less trustful and more likely to be prejudiced to Black conversation partners.

24:23 – Discussing the affirmative action decision in Students for Fair Admissions and how universities and other organizations must now rethink their approach to diversity.

30:58 – Discussing the educational benefits of diversity using research findings on diverse juries vs all white juries.

35:27 – Discussing the problematic trend of using diversity as a reference for everyone except straight white men.

40:29 – Discussing fairness and the finding that when race is made salient, many White people shift from viewing color blindness as “everyone should have equal outcomes” to viewing it as “everyone should receive equal treatment, regardless of existing race-based inequalities.”

44:51 – Discussing the different concerns of liberals and conservatives when it comes to topics like fairness and affirmative action.

47:36 – Discussing how liberals and conservatives don’t actually have starkly different values on a whole but rather different understandings and concerns of fairness in relation to diversity.

49:25 – Discussing multiculturalism as an alternative approach to color blindness.

53:12 – Discussing Dr. Apfelbaum’s current research on how promoting diversity affects people’s beliefs on fairness and meritocracy in decision making processes.

BusinessHealth and SocietyLaw and PoliticsDEIMax GastonRacial ColorblindnessSocial JusticeThe Law SchoolUniversity of Notre Dame