When ‘colorblindness’ isn’t colorblind

By Jamelle Bouie

More good stuff today from TAPPED. Here’s Adam Serwer on the alleged “color-blindness” of Arizona’s recent immigration law:

One of the primary arguments of the “read the law” chorus is that since the law has a provision outlawing racial profiling it won’t unfairly target Latinos. This is basically an extension of colorblind racist philosophy into law — namely the text of the bill outlaws racial profiling, despite the fact that it is clearly aimed at the state’s Latino population. The reason you can pass a law that encourages racial profiling in spirit while prohibiting it in letter is that everyone has a concept in their head of what an “illegal immigrant” looks and sounds like. A police officer wouldn’t have to make a judgment based on race alone; as the civil-rights groups’ lawsuit points out, they could make such decisions based on racialized factors such as “language, accent, clothing, English-word selection” or “failure to communicate in English.”

In an earlier era, this same “colorblind racist philosophy” was used to craft laws targeting African-Americans. Rarely were Jim Crow laws explicitly racist, instead, they relied on “colorblind” mechanisms — like poll taxes and grandfather clauses — to achieve the desired, anti-black outcome. Arizona’s immigration law is obviously not the same as Jim Crow, but it’s animated by the same basic idea of “colorblindness” — if something doesn’t explicitly mention race, then it can’t be racist. And the converse is also true, anything that mentions race is de facto racist, even if it’s designed to ameliorate racial prejudice (see: Chief Justice John Roberts, 2007)

It’s tempting to lay this on conservatives as another example of their inability to understand racism as something broader and more pervasive than simple prejudice. And while that’s true, it’s not simply a conservative problem. Serwer noted in another post, that Americans of all stripes have trouble thinking about race in ways that move beyond hooded white supremacists and angry skinheads. As he put it:

This is part of why the American conversation on race is so counterproductive — it’s almost entirely focused on excluding almost every model of rational behavior from the category of “racism,” rather than examining the very real effects race continues to have on people’s lives. The

Yep, that gets to the nub of it.