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A Colorblind America is a Racist America: The Colorblind Racial Ideology (CBRI) as a Perpetuator of Institutionalized Racism
The conceptualization and practice of racism in the United States at both the societal and individual levels had occurred well before its existence as a problem worthy of psychological inquiry and analysis. In fact, racism existed in practice and in theory, namely through slavery, long before psychology was formally established as a field of scientific study. When racism or the oppression of people of color is brought up, it is no surprise that slavery is the most prominent reference for a majority of Americans; the current climate of race-based discrimination and oppression is a result of slavery. Slavery is an overt, or obvious, product of racism and oppression, while failure to provide equal opportunity at an institutional or governmental level is a more covert, or less obvious, variation.
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Explicit mentions or discussions of racism and oppression following slavery in the United States were not made in the psychological realm until around the late 1930’s. Up until then, racism and discrimination were justified and upheld through biological science with studies showing biological race-dependent differences in cognition (Graves, 2015; Smedley and Smedley, 2005).
In 1914, Gustav Feingold published The Influence of Environment on Identification of Persons and Things, one of the earliest influential pieces in the history of race as a concept in psychology. His publication described what is now known as the own-race bias, or the tendency to recognize and relate naturally with those who are of the same race or ethnicity [visually] as ourselves (Feingold, 1914). With that being said, the most prominent groundbreaking event in history as the topic of racism relates to psychology is the execution of ‘The Doll Test’ by Dr. Mamrie and Dr. Kenneth Clark. In their study, spouses Clark and Clark set out to examine the existence and manifestation of psychological effects resulting from segregation in black American children; their findings were later used as primary evidence in the Brown v. Board of Education (1950) case that ended segregation in American schools (Mays, Johnson, Coles, Gellene, & Cochran, 2013; ). Following the Clarks in 1954, Gordon Allport published The Nature of Prejudice, which defined concretely for the first time the nature of social issues (i.e. racism) as psychological in nature (Allport, 1954).
Within the last decade, the United States has seen a rise in the consideration of racism as a pressing social issue in the realms of academia and informal social discourse. As the invention of the internet made way for the conception of social media, the gaining and sharing of knowledge on a mass scale has increased – a necessary occurrence for the revelation of modern racism as institutionalized, or established by government, and multi-faceted. Despite the abolishment of slavery as legal practice, and subsequently race-based discrimination, discrepancies still exist in a multitude of facets of life for black Americans. Shams (2015) describes housing as one of the most prominent areas of racial discrepancy, noting that Black Americans are significantly less likely to get the same financing options as white Americans despite controlling for income. Additionally, and also despite controlling for income, American neighborhoods are still segregated with higher overall crime rates and considerably lower home value compared to their equal-income but white peers (Shams, 2015).
What are we to make of racism’s modern existence as an institutionally banned yet institutionally practiced form of oppression? How, despite general condemnation of the practice and overwhelming academic inquiry finding race-based discrepancies, are we still living in a nation of privileged white and oppressed black Americans?
Although created and fostered by the institution, that is the government of ultimate power, modern racism relies on the attitudes and ideals of every-day white Americans to stay afloat; the issue with this lies in the fact that, if ill-informed or from a place of ignorance, these ideals have significant influence and perpetuate the oppressive institution (Hughey, Embrick, & Doane, 2015).
Specifically problematic is the color-blind racial ideology (CBRI), an ideal held primarily by those of the socially privileged race claiming race as not a factor influential in their perceptions, beliefs, or actions (Neville, Awad, Flores, & Bluemel, 2013; Apfelbaum, Norton, & Sommers, 2012). In this narrative, white Americans are claiming that they, as individuals, are not racist, entirely negating the fact that the problem lies within the institution. CBRI has been shown to increase prejudice in high-conflict resolution scenarios even when an attempt to actively use strategies to reduce prejudice were executed (Donders, Correll, and Wittenbrink, 2008; Neville et al., 2013). Using the social and behavioral sub-disciplines of psychology, this paper seeks to provide evidence-based significance for CBRI as a primary threat to racial equality in modern America despite the well-intentions behind it; further, that the color-blind racial ideology is a product and practice of white privilege in its perpetration of modern racism.
Social psychology will be significant in the context of understanding the ways in which people of color are justifiably threatened by or untrusting of whites, having what some believe is a chip on their shoulder. It is also significant to the discussion on “reverse racism” and why, despite legitimate arguments, some still believe it is a legitimate phenomenon. Social psychology can further aid in the understanding of why the presence, real or perceived, of whites impacts how and why people of color interact, communicate, behave, and feel the way they do; it similarly informs the same in the context of how whites perceive the presence of people of color.
Supplementing the social psychology sub-discipline, Behavioral psychology will be useful in discourse on social and cultural conditioning; specifically, it will aid in understanding the ways in which our environment has primed and continues to influence our prejudices and attitudes with respect to race. Behavioral psychology will inform a large portion of white individuals’ vulnerability to adopting problematic ideologies, such as CBRI, and narratives, such as reverse racism, without conscious consideration and intent. This sub-discipline will be further relevant to the discussion on how interaction with the environment, specifically the media and its representation and portrayal of black Americans, largely informs thought formation and subsequently influences the behaviors of white Americans.
The remainder of this paper will discuss (1) the disconnect between the often well intended adoption of CBRI and the undesirable and unintended outcome (perpetuation of racism), (2) the relationship between mass media and white Americans and the implications of that relationship on the progression toward and regression from racial equality, and lastly, (3) an analysis of theory on white privilege and the ways in which shame surrounding it hinders progression of racial equality at both the individual and societal levels.
Graves, J. L. (2015). Why the nonexistence of biological races does not mean the nonexistence of racism. American Behavioral Scientist, 1-22. doi: 10.1177/0002764215588810
Hughey, M. W., Embrick, D. G., & Doane, A. (2015). Paving the way for future race research: Exploring the racial mechanisms within a color-blind, racialized social system. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(11), 1347-1357. doi: 10.1177/0002764215591033
Hughey, Embrick, and Doane (2015)
Mays, V. M., Johnson, D., Coles, C. N., Gellene, D., & Cochran, S. D. (2013). Using the science of psychology to target perpetrators of racism and race-based discrimination for intervention efforts: Preventing another trayvon martin tragedy. The Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 5(1), 11-36.
Mays, Johnson, Coles, Gellene, and Cochran (2013)
Shams, T. (2015). The declining significance of race or the persistent racialization of blacks? A conceptual, empirical, and methodological review of today’s race debate in America. Journal of Black Studies, 46(3), 282-296. doi: 10.1177/0021934714568566
Smedley, A., & Smedley, B. D. (2005). Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real: Anthropological and historical perspectives on the social construction of race. American Psychologist, 60(1), 16-26. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.1.16
Smedley and Smedley (2005)
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