Thursday, 9 March 2017

Why Teaching Your Children To Be “Colour-Blind” Is Problematic

By Amanda Hawker

How many times have you heard someone say “I don’t see colour or race,” or “there is only one race, the human race.” How many times have you heard this phrase?

You hear it so often in discussions about race and racism. Even more so in post-Apartheid South Africa where it seems everything sooner or later, somehow ends up being about race. Because our society is obsessed with it. But also racial inequality still permeates the fabric of our existence.

Social media and the rise of public discourse on racism and race relations has led to some very tricky conversations between parents and their children. So, what does a parent do when confronted with a child asking questions about race?


Well, you have two options:

1. You can be honest with your child about where we are as a country and how we got here. A pillar of that discussion is an honest dissection of race, what it means and how it has been used as an excuse to exploit and abuse black, brown and yellow people for centuries, or, You can bury your head in the sand and pretend that all is hunky dory as we all sit around a fire singing kumbayah...

In today’s deeply divided society, it is often the black parents who bear the brunt of option 1, not out of choice, but rather out of necessity - as they need to prepare their children for the exploitation, abuse and resulting inequality they will have to deal with from day one of their lives, in every sphere of their lives. It seems that, to all intents and purposes, it is the more historically privileged white parents who have the privilege of option 2.

Here’s what one black parent had to say about this schism:

Dear White Parents

You are failing your kids and society by not teaching them about race relations and race dynamics in South Africa especially from a young age. Why do you understand that they need to learn about the bees and the birds, bullying and so much more but do not teach them about race relations?

Teaching children to be "colour-blind" is as bad as teaching children to be racist and call people of colour names. Colour blindness is erasure because by saying you don't see someone's race, gender or even sexual orientation; it means you don't acknowledge who they are and how they have been shaped by the experiences and the discrimination they face because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Please do the world a favour and teach your child about race issues so they can build racial stamina and not have their world shattered as teenagers when their friend gets a coveted spot in the national team because of sporting quotas or as an adult when they are forced to deal with their black friend taking up an Affirmative Action post and becoming their boss.

We as black parents are doing the most and teaching our children about what it means to live in a black skin in South Africa so that they their world doesn't shatter and they understand what's happening when they are called racist names or discriminated against in any way because of their race. Teach your children so they don't hurt our children and erase their pain and experiences.

It’s bad enough that you need laws to tell you to give people a fair chance in life.

Sincerely yours,
A Black Parent

Colour-blindness is a theory that suggests that the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity.

At face value, colour-blindness seems like a good thing – a noble act; an attempt to judge people on the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin, focusing on common characteristics between people, such as their shared humanity (the “There’s only one race, the human race squad.)

The problem is that colour-blindness alone is not enough to heal racial wounds on a national or personal level. It is only a half-measure that in the end actually operates as a form of racism. Raising our children to be colour-blind in no way protects us. Colour-blindness creates a society that denies black peoples’ lived experiences of racism, it rejects black cultural heritage, and it invalidates our unique perspectives of life as black people with a history of being oppressed in a racist country.

As a parent, your first instinct is to try to protect your child from all the unpleasantness in the world for as long as possible. And yes, it takes a lot of introspection and honesty to begin the journey to teaching them about race in an honest and forthright manner. It means breaking the bubble of illusion you’ve enveloped them in, uncovering and dealing with many realities that you might not be ready to accept or even acknowledge. It sucks. It’s scary. But it needs to be done.

If done correctly, with respect and humility, teaching your children about race will lead to an appreciation and respect of other races and an understanding that each race has something valuable to offer society as a whole. This can only be a good thing for us all.

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Amanda is a Cape Town based writer. She loves history, music, writing, travelling and HBO TV series. Her favourite writers are Ken Saro Wiwa, Stephen King and Toni Morrison. In her spare time she writes short stories and explores the lesser-known tourist spots of Cape Town.  ................................................................................................................................................................

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