When thinking about February, which colors come to mind? Do you see red and pink in anticipation of Valentine’s Day? I see red, black, and green—the Pan-African colors. While you think about Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking about Black History Month (BHM). It’s the only month in the year when black people can be black and proud. The celebration of BHM is considered as an avenue to approach to apply the practice of multiculturism in schools—and society at large. Nonetheless, I hear comments from non-black people who declare BHM as racist. You know who I’m talking about: the ones who claim to be colorblind.
To be colorblind is to be a “good citizen” (Choi 2008). Though well-intentioned, the colorblind approach opposes multicultural acknowledgment. Like speaking on someone’s weight or salary, speaking about race today does not make for polite conversation. “Adopting colorblindness lets members of groups associated with perpetuating racism (e.g., Whites) maintain an egalitarian self-image because it allows them to believe they are nonprejudiced and are self-presenting as such” (Plaut, Thomas, Hurd, & Romano 2009). However, those who claim to be colorblind may be perpetuating racist ideas, despite their best intentions.
In conversation with my friend, she recalls a caption she read: “Don’t call me chocolate if you don’t see color.” Immediately, I understood what this meant. It’s difficult for me to fully comprehend how one claims to be colorblind when we live in a multiracial and multicultural society. To be colorblind is to deliberately choose to ignore people’s differences—an important part of their identities. When we remove the person from their history and their cultural identity, which identity is left for the self to claim? What is the standard base identity that one should claim in this instance? I assume colorblind cardholders would say that the answer to the latter is American identity. However, what is American identity? Is it whiteness the definition of American identity? When we remove all colors on the canvas, we are left with a blank white surface. Disregarding race and cultural identity erases one’s ancestral history of triumphs and oppression which has shaped their standing in society today. Colorblind attitude only sweeps the dirt under the rug. We should not be afraid to look race in the eye and embrace a multicultural approach to everything.
The colorblind approach is present in many of our institutions. It is especially prevalent in education. Across the country, you will find teachers who boast that they are colorblind. Their decision to be colorblind is reflected in their teaching curriculum. Black History Month aims to highlight stories of blackness that would otherwise be buried in history. Outside of BHM, I would rarely read or learn about black people and our history, except when learning about slavery and the civil rights era. This is harmful, as it relegates black people’s history to just the period of slavery, though black people have always existed. This makes me wonder: without the designation of BHM, would black figures and black stories ever be featured in the educational curriculum?
The lack of “blackness” and other cultural identities in school curriculums reflect our society at large. Though BHM is a moment of reverence for black people in the United States, it also makes me critical of how much black history and American history aren’t seen as mutually inclusive concepts. Black history is othered instead of being regarded as another thread in the fabric of American history and American identity. Though segregation may be declared taboo on paper, we are still not an integrated society. If so, would we need to have a designated month to celebrating black history when we already acknowledge and celebrate all identities and cultures?
Author: Saida Valmé