“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream Speech (1963)
The quote from Martin Luther King Jr. leading this article is to most Americans the natural continuation from what is perhaps the most profound sentence in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Indeed, King’s statement about being judged by the content of one’s character perfectly represents the aim of the Civil Rights movement, which ultimately produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
King’s vision for America is often referred to as the advancement of a colorblind society. In a colorblind society, an individual is not defined or judged by the color of their skin. Within a colorblind society, the social construct of race is irrelevant. What is made relevant is that everyone is treated equally under the law and afforded equal opportunity to for life, liberty, and happiness.
Consequently, the modern antiracist movement or third-wave antiracism seeks to usurp colorblind sentiments in favor of centering racial identity and seeing the world through the lens of race. They argue it is essential to center oneself on their racial identity as it will “empower racial difference of all kinds”. However, this is a seriously flawed worldview to adopt in a diverse county like the United States.
American professor Ibram Kendi, a leading figure in the modern adaptation of antiracism, argues to reject antiracism is to support bigotry, xenophobia, and racism. If one were to follow this argument through, then to advance a colorblind worldview is itself a racist act. And this is stated explicitly by Kendi when he claims, “[t]he language of the colorblind, like the language of the racist, is a mask to hide racism.” This new adaptation of antiracism is not only anti-colorblind, but it also believes to advert a colorblind worldview is akin to racism.
To combat racism, Kendi contends, one must think in antiracist terms. For instance, the opposite of being a racist is not its negation, but rather to take the proactive position of being antiracist. This view requires the individual to internalize an inherent identity about themself based on the color of their skin and simultaneously understand the power status of said group identity within the social hierarchy. To do otherwise would be to deny that it exists—and for Kendi, denial is the “heartbeat of racism”. Kendi believes this denial of racism is exacerbated under a colorblind society. He states:
The common idea of claiming color blindness is akin to the notion of being ‘not racist’. As with the ‘not racist’, the colorblind individual by ostensibly failing to see race, fails to see racism and falls into racist passivity.
When reading this passage, one can see Kendi’s contempt for a colorblind worldview. And this is the natural response for a person that has centered their whole identity on race essentialism, and their perception of the world is seen through the lens of race. This person’s whole being, and sense of purpose is destroyed by the idea another individual is indifferent to skin color.
Not only is the modern antiracist movement rife with emotional absurdities, but it is also antithetical to diversity and inclusion. This is ultimately why it fails as an alternative to a colorblind worldview. Centering oneself on skin color is not an attitude of individual empowerment but rather a provincial arrangement that discourages cultural unity. Race essentialism expresses the mental conception of diversity as e pluribus multis (Latin for ‘out of many, many’). There is no central theme that binds a diverse body politic together under centering oneself on skin color. Skin color is an immutable feature—and a person cannot change the fact that they were born a shade lighter or darker than the person next to them. Hence, it is a social attitude that is only concerned about a selective kind of empowerment—a collective empowerment. Thus, at the center of centering oneself on their skin color is a call to empower a group and not an individual.
In contrast, colorblindness expresses the mental conception of diversity as e pluribus unum (Latin for ‘out of many, one’), whereby what is centered is the common aim of individuals, e.g., life, liberty, and happiness. While there are things about our individual lives that make us unique (the notion of the many), what binds us to one another are concepts like the celebration of individuality and our desire to do good (that which constitutes oneness). So, while Americans come in many shades, we are of one shade when it comes to that which truly matters.
This is the fundamental difference between a colorblind worldview and an antiracist worldview. The former is unifying, and the latter is exclusionary. A colorblind society advocates for a diverse, inclusive, and productive culture without the performativity, whereas antiracism advances cultural segregation with glee. A colorblind society carries with it the mental conception and authentic attitude that we are all in this together. Antiracism is about racial power differentials.
What Kendi et al. are adverting as a replacement for the colorblind worldview doesn’t address racism—it promotes racism. It creates a false ‘us versus them’ metanarrative based on race that feeds other ridiculous racialized notions like critical race theory (CRT) and great replacement theory (GRT). It is no coincidence these obscure pseudoscientific social theories became mainstream in conjunction with the rise of third-wave antiracism.
We need to move back to King’s social philosophy. A diverse society cannot survive if what we center ourselves on are superficial identities that separate us from each other. Let’s return to seeing the world through the lens of individual character and end the business of racializing the world.