Beyond colorblindness


In the third edition of their classic book, Racial Formation in the United States, Michael Omi and Howard Winant characterize our present era as that of “colorblindness.”  They trace it back to the early 1970’s as a response to the Civil Rights advances of the 60’s.  As a racial ideology, colorblindness “repudiated the concept of race itself.  In certain respects, the concept of race ‘neutrality’ already does that ideological work.  To dismiss the immense sociohistorical weight of race, to argue that it is somehow possible, indeed imperative, to refuse race consciousness and simply not take account of it, is by any rational standard a fool’s errand” (p. 220).

To claim to “not see race” can have noble intentions.   At its best, colorblindness seeks to claim our common humanity, to proclaim that skin color is merely that, skin color, and confess that underneath the veneer of difference we are all fundamentally the same.  This is colorblindness on its best behavior.  It is perhaps an easy default mode for those of us who don’t regularly experience the underbelly of racialization.

But, the sad truth is that if we don’t see color we don’t see history.  If we don’t see color we don’t take into account the creation of racial categories as a system of control and domination.  If we don’t see color we’re stuck with the veneer that we could all get along if we would all agree to be colorblind.

The harder, more authentic and healing path, the one Columbus Mennonite has been on this year, is attempting some kind of collective recognition (even on a small, congregational scale) that we are embedded in the meaning imposed on these bodies in which we live and move in the world.  It’s not a meaning of our choosing or even liking, but it is the sinful world into which we were born.

Christianity is an incarnational faith, which I take to mean, at a minimum, that we value bodies.  It is against bodies that we direct brutality.  It is in a body, and bodies, that divine revelation come to us.

During the five Sundays of October our worship series will again be directly addressing these matters.  We will be drawing from the book of Jeremiah throughout the month, a prophet who spoke to his people at a time of national crisis.  Our worship theme will be “A holy movement: From Colorblindness to Racial Consciousness to Antiracism and Pro-Justice.”