Why using the term "I don't see Colour" is problematic in today's workforce
Updated: Apr 8, 2019
It seems the concept of "colourblindness" is fairly popular, particularly in the workplace. The principle is that a person's race is invisible or it shouldn't matter, and to a particular degree race shouldn't matter, but in society, we know it does because we have all witnessed such inequalities among different racial groups.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we all know that the system we live in is inherently designed to keep black individuals and people of colour in positions of despotism, and while this affects everyone differently for many people of colour, every generation is starting from scratch economically. Black Men and Women are still paid less than their white counterparts and are over-prescribed when receiving medical treatment. Similar findings are present in other communities of colour too.
Recently I produced a research paper on Microaggression in the UK workforce and the impact this has on black individuals, but in particular black women (you can find out more about this research here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/new-dates-narratives-of-black-women-in-the-workplace-an-academic-psychology-lecture-focus-group-tickets-57377197743
The colourblindness approach sits neatly under microaggression. Ignoring a persons race and culture is more of a dismissal than a theory of acceptance. Over ten years ago Fiske and Lee (2008) found that ignoring differences is the road to avoiding daily interactions and conflict, and this still seems to be the belief today. Ignoring is not the right approach but rather an opportunity to perpetuate one group as inferior in comparison to another.
So are we doing enough to ensure that the workplace is comfortable for everyone?
The colourblindness approach causes problems within a company even if that is not the intent because by consistently ignoring a notable feature on a person creates a subconscious idea that this person is a problem within an organisation. If one cannot acknowledge the very obvious, perhaps it is creating a culture of dishonesty?
While Dr Martin Luther King's famous I have a dream speech used the colourblind narrative, he used this to highlight that a person should not feel oppressed based on their skin colour. However, it seems the original intent has been changed, making way for the argument that race must go "unnoticed".
So, what can your organisation do to champion positive attitudes towards people who have heritage from a hotter climate?
Here are four quick tips you can use to become more inclusive and avoid colourblindness
1. Look at your leadership team?
If everyone in your leadership team looks and acts the same well this is going to cause some issues. While we know people of the same race do not all think the same, we do know that there is a system the perpetuates stereotypes, colonisation and false narratives about people of colour. Evaluate your team and gain some insight from diverse groups on how to become open to race conversations.
2. Open Dialogues
Is race a taboo subject in your company? Are people more comfortable talking about gender? What is it about the race conversation? Whatever it is that causes the deep level of discomfort or anxiety is what needs addressing within your organisation?
We all have a part to play in the race conversation, find out what your role is. While race can at times feel personal a large part of the discussion is about addressing the disparities and the systemic bias towards non -white people. You do not have to be a person of colour to be a part of the change.
4. Remove assumptions
Do not assume the conversation or new plans you want to implement will end in a disaster. A lot of the times our fears of what the other person is going to think is what causes issues.
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