Why we need to get over colorblindness

20 Nov

First, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5ZClSxVU-xM.

And take a moment. Let it all out. Enjoy Steve Harvey. Watch it again.

Any theories as to why the contestant on the right would say, “Black” when asked what she knows about zombies?

Maybe she knows nothing about zombies. This is entirely possible. But still then, why was “Black” the first answer that popped to mind?

Maybe she actually thinks all zombies are black. But then, she admits, “I don’t know if they’re white, or…”

So maybe not.

I actually think it’s entirely possible that she does (or did) think zombies are black, in the same way that other people might associate zombies with adults or men. It’s all about implicit associations: zombies are evil, and I think adults are more easily and automatically associated with evil than children are. I also think men (despite Eve’s apple incident) are more normatively associated with “bad” than women are. As a colleague’s son said after their house was broken into: the burglars were probably guys because “it’s unladylike” to steal. So too with blackness: as the Implicit Association Test (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) for racial preference demonstrates, we tend to associate evil with black faces more readily than with white faces. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little implicit association (aka bias) going on for the contestant.

I also wonder about the fact that everyone in contestant’s field of vision is black: Steve Harvey, the other contestant, and that contestant’s family. There is no doubt that she saw people right in front of her, and that she noticed a myriad of things about each of those people, as well as all of them collectively. For example, she probably noticed that all of them have two arms and two legs. And while she may not have noticed that she was noticing this, she was noticing, nonetheless, in the same way that she would have noticed if one or all of them didn’t have two arms and two legs.

Given that she couldn’t help noticing skin color, I wonder how much the contestant on the right was conscious of the blackness standing right in front of her, and what it meant to her. How unusual, uncomfortable or surprising it may have been. And therefore, how it may have been lurking very close to her consciousness, waiting for an opportunity to announce itself–any opportunity, no matter how relevant. I wonder whether “Black” would have been so readily at the fore for her, if Richard Dawson and a non-black contestant would have been her immediate visual context.

I also wonder what this contestant thought as soon as she said, “Black.” Given her attempt to retract (“I don’t know if they’re white…”), her grimace and then her attempt to validate her answer, I sense that there was a lot going on internally for her. And I think about what Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote:

“Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.”

There is a lot for her to unpack about what she said, why she said it, and what it felt like to be heard saying it. And it will take great courage, honesty and willingness to grow in order for her to begin that unpacking and then to finish the job.

And what it will take first and foremost is the willingness to admit: there is no such thing as colorblindness. Only colormuteness. And on some level, she must already know that.

** Thanks to my partner AP for the link. Which I can’t stop watching.

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