Can a person be colorblind concerning race?
Q: I’ve been hearing that parents shouldn’t say things like “we don’t see skin color.” I’m confused—I thought that was a good thing?
A: Colorblindness is the belief that an individual doesn’t see or notice skin color (or other racial/ethnic differences). Many adults embrace colorblindness as a way to share their belief in equity and racial justice.
Colorblindness, while a powerful idea, is impossible. The truth is that all of us notice skin color and racial/ethnic differences. All of us are influenced by the beliefs and stereotypes about different races and ethnicities that we have seen and heard within our culture and community. These messages begin in childhood and continue across our lives through interactions with our family, friends, culture, and media. It’s impossible to be colorblind.
Sometimes parents believe that if they tell their children to be colorblind—to not mention race or ethnicity—it will help them raise a non-racist child. But we know that colorblindness is not an effective approach to combating racism. Being “colorblind” ignores the lived experiences of people of color. The truth is that our children see and are shaped by race and racial biases starting early. (See ZERO TO THREE’s resource here for more information.)
Here’s What Parents Can Do:
Reflect on your own beliefs and biases.
Pay attention to your responses to people who are not from your racial or ethnic group. Your child is watching and learning from your approach. A commitment to colorblindness can get in the way of examining our own bias and responses to people different than ourselves. (See ZERO TO THREE’s resource on implicit bias for more info.)
Understand that the idea of race influences every aspect of our lived experience.
We all live in a world that is sensitive to race. Race has been used for hundreds of years to cause harm to some and offer unearned privileges to others. If we refuse to see race, then it is hard to see racism (from James Ford; read more).
Notice and describe skin tones.
It’s okay for your child to see you notice differences like skin color. Use positive words to describe these differences.
Focus on fairness.
Even young children understand fairness. Starting at 2 ½ to 3 years, you can talk about what it means to treat someone fairly (or not). Make it clear to your children what you believe to be right and fair. For older children (4 and up), you might choose some small aspect of their appearance—like having freckles—and ask them if it would be fair for them to be treated differently based on this difference.
Noticing differences can also mean learning about the rich history, language, and culture of other communities. Wonder, explore, and discover with your child: what is the same, what is different? Share stories about people from different places or with different traditions, languages, or skin tones.
Parenting for social justice is a journey, not a destination. Many times we are learning right along with our children. But staying steady even when we’re unsure helps our children be prepared for an inclusive world—which is a gift that lasts generations.
This article is part of a series on Parenting for Social Justice. For more, visit zerotothree.org/parentingforsocialjustice.