The Problem With The Phrase 'I Don't See Colour'
“We must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over Black Americans.”
Dr Martin Luther King Jr, 1967
54 years later and this statement still rings true.
It calls to question how people can deny that white supremacy exists and remain oblivious to the racial inequalities that take place in modern society
Charles Mills offers ‘The Racial Contract’, a variant of 'The Social Contract', in an attempt to explain this system by highlighting the intentional and unintentional exclusion of race from both the political and philosophical theorising of the past. If the social contract is “an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection”...
then the racial contract is codicil rendered in invisible ink...one which states that these written regulations do not apply to non-whites in the same manner they apply to whites.
The Declaration of Independence, for example, avows that all men are created equal – while Mill interjects that, considering this agreement was signed at a time slavery was still legal, this declaration was only ever limited to white people.
While some of the previous inequalities in the world have been addressed in the political realm, equality still remains a distant dream. While open discrimination may be prohibited, much more subtle forms of it still take places – such as Black pupils being wrongly excluded from schools over their hair. The gaps between Black and white attainments are everywhere, from education gaps , health gaps, and political representation.
The most important point is not the contract itself, but rather how little people seem to acknowledge its existence.
As long as it remains unacknowledged, members of society are able to live life as they normally do, hiding behind the illusion of equality.
This is what Mills refers to as “epistemology of ignorance”, which is what makes it easier for whites to completely ignore the difficulties of other races even when they are presented with instances of injustice on a daily basis - such as video evidence of unjustified shootings of Black people at the hands of police officers. These acts of injustice shed light on to the racial contract, meaning people are given the decision to either accept, deny or embrace its existence.
This is part of the reason I find the saying “I don’t see race” so enraging; by saying you do not see race you are essentially upholding racism by evading the recognition of the racially biased system that is in place.
Race is viewed as a taboo topic for most white people, as engaging in such discourse requires one to the divulge in the history of oppression that many non-whites have faced, which is typically difficult to address and accept. This situation is only made worse by the erasure of British colonial history and the idealisation of the Western world.
The collective amnesia in Western history books when it comes to discussing matters such as conquest, colonialism, and slavery are not accidental, as understanding history would also call for realising the subtle and multiple ways in which these legacies continue to pervade modern society today, and how they play a role in shaping white privilege as we have come to understand it.
The dismissal of the structural racism that exists in our policies are no more than self-imposed delusions, designed to ease white peoples' mind and give them an artificially clean conscience.