Colorblindness Has Become A Conservative Shield For Racial InequalityRoundup
tags: conservatism, racism, Political rhetoric
Frank J. Cirillo is a Schwartz postdoctoral fellow at the New-York Historical Society and The New School, studying abolitionism during the American Civil War.
Time and again, President Trump and the Republican Party have invoked the idea of colorblindness to stifle meaningful reform proposals aimed at achieving racial equality. In July, Trump dismissed a reporter’s question about the vastly disproportionate rate at which African Americans are killed by police officers by noting that police kill White people, too. America, he is suggesting, is a post-racial society where racial injustice is an irrelevant and defunct issue, long since relegated to the past — and, by implication, where further action in that direction is no longer necessary.
This purposefully misleading argument is nothing new. Starting in the 1970s, White politicians in many Southern states, and throughout the country, deployed colorblindness in adapting to a new post-Civil Rights Movement era. Far from facilitating further change, these White leaders consciously sought to constrain it, selectively appropriating the dream of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a future post-race society and pretending it was already reality.
Over the ensuing decades, White Southern politicians helped forge a national societal ethos of colorblindness. These legislators had long celebrated the symbols of the Confederacy, a breakaway state bent on creating a slaveholding empire, using Confederate-inspired state holidays, statues and flags to promote white supremacy. Now, they commemorated rebel leaders alongside appropriated Black heroes like King. By intent, their muddled “both sides” narrative obscured the urgent need for change that required acknowledging color and enduring racism.
But that narrative is no longer tenable. Following months of sustained protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the police killing of George Floyd, more Americans have seemingly woken up to the truth that to produce real change, people cannot pretend that race does not exist. Rather, they must recognize the intrinsic reality of Black racial injustice, and how deeply rooted it is in American history. And this also means finally grappling with, and repudiating, the legacy of the Confederacy.
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