Floyd’s death was, what Texans call, “a coming to Jesus moment” for Turtle Island. It removed the veil of denial of police violence on the bodies of Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic people that these communities have been fighting for decades; his death removed a layer or two of veracity around the concept of a “colour-blind society” that never existed in the first place. Martin Luther King, Jr., never conceived the concept of colour blindness, and therefore it should never be attributed to him. Historian Liam Hogan points out in a Twitter thread: “MLK’s vision was not “colour blindness.” That is simply an ahistorical claim and betrays a lack of reading.”
MLK’s vision was not “colour blindness.” That is simply an ahistorical claim and betrays a lack of reading. What Sean has paraphrased is literally from a lecture on racial consciousness which concludes w/ a dream of a future where anti-black racism plays no determinative role. https://t.co/MnUvDwPZws
— Liam Hogan (@Limerick1914) May 24, 2021
Law professor and civil rights advocate Ronald Turner published a warning about the misinformation and manipulation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision and beliefs in his article, The Dangers of Misappropriation: Misusing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy to Prove the Colorblind Thesis. It was Ronald Reagan’s 1986 address that cemented the notion of colour blindness in an effort to erode social programs for marginalized people, as explained by Turner, “his administration had attempted to do away with affirmative action and antipoverty programs and had weakened the enforcement of civil rights law.” In this address, Reagan delivered the infamous line: “We want a colour-blind society. A society, that in the words of Dr. King, judges people not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” He used the words of a civil rights legend to justify the exact opposite of what King preached.
Before Trump, it was Reagan who gaslit America.
Whenever I hear anyone describe colour blindness as a racial vision, I immediately know two things: they know nothing about race and are happily undermining anti-racism efforts by minimizing the realities of the racism they want to avoid thinking or talking about. On that, not much has changed: white people are still fragile, institutions continue to uphold toxic, discriminatory environments that negatively impact their Black workers and, according to The Black Canadian National Survey, a study conducted by York University’s Institute for Social Research and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, “78 per cent of Black Canadians think racism is a ‘severe’ problem and 70 per cent of Black people experience racism in Canada on a regular basis,” as reported by The Toronto Star. The survey goes onto reveal that “at least 80 per cent of all racial groups say racism is a problem in their communities. But actually experiencing that racism falls disproportionately on Black Canadians.” In contrast, 56 per cent of white people view racism (in the workplace) as a small problem or not a problem at all. They must be colour blind.
But much has changed because Black Lives Matter (BLM) changed it.
For those who did their readings, listened to podcasts by creators of colour, like Bad + Bitchy, altered their media to listen to more Black voices, and had conversations on anti-Black racism in a respectful manner, the world looks different. And their learning has transferred to other issues of colonial and racial dominance and the white supremacist structures upon which Canada and America were built. Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where anecdotal evidence leads me to confidently theorize that public opinion on this issue has shifted among many racial groups. In floating the connection between BLM and the shift toward Palestinian support in two countries that have for decades unequivocally backed one side over another, one of my Twitter followers noted, “I would argue (tell me if I am out of line), BLM has brought some elements of systemic oppression into the mainstream discourse. People who now embrace BLM as normative belief, are having a reckoning about other spaces where some similar elements of systemic oppression exist.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
However, I don’t need to rely on my wily observational skills, Al Jazeera (whose offices were bombed in the latest Israeli air strikes) published an article on moving from the old, white moderate (who is an anathema to racial justice, which were the real words of King) idea of colour blindness to the racial reckoning of the systemic inequities and injustices faced primarily by Black people on both sides of the border. “The rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is forcing Americans to confront centuries of systemic state abuse of African Americans. As a result, younger Americans no longer believe the myth that their society is colour blind.” It goes onto note: “This moment of racial reckoning also encompasses a people consistently demonized in American media, politics, and textbooks: Palestinians.”
BLM, which started as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter), has shifted the discussion on anti-Black racism, but also expanded it to the examination of colonial and imperial authorities that oppress other populations within a (usually white, but could be religious in the case of India) supremacist framework. And this is not just political—these examinations have bled into every aspect of life, especially the workplace. Because of George Floyd’s murder, and BLM’s movement-building and community-building expertise, we can now start to unlearn the trash concepts that have shaped our thoughts of, and behaviours toward, one another within systems of oppression that have controlled the lives of Black people and other oppressed peoples around the world.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.