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Hastings Alumni Mag-Fall 2013

{ engaged Scholarship } UC HASTINGS 33 not important to them. Some sighted people even thought that blind people were fortunate because they didn’t have to deal with the messy world of race. * * * * Q Can you delve further into this “messy world of race” and colorblindness—from a legal perspective? A Our courts, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, are moving toward colorblindness, which is the idea that government should not take race into consideration in any type of decision making— whether it is for benign, beneficial, or harmful purposes. Especially in equal protection jurisprudence, the court is beginning to conflate the government’s use of race for remedial purposes—such as affirmative action to make up for past harms that have been perpetuated against a group—with the invidious use of racial categories to subordinate a group. The basic idea behind color- blindness is that any consideration of race by the government is bad and that we will only have a fair, just, and equitable society once we get beyond race. But for me, the question is, what does it mean to get beyond it? Do we get beyond it by, in a sense, having the court limit the government’s ability to use racial categories to address persisting inequalities? Or does government need to acknowledge race to level the playing field? Which still leaves open the question that, given our country’s long and pathetic history with race, is getting beyond race even possible? Doing research with blind people about race is a way to take the colorblind metaphor seriously in terms of understanding whether its underlying assumption—that blindness produces a diminished understanding of race and inhibits racial antagonisms—is accurate as an empirical matter. * * * * Q And what’s your view? A I think colorblindness is a noble idea, but so are unicorns and tooth fairies. The data show that it is simply a misleading and, indeed, harmful way to frame how race plays out in today’s society. As evidenced in my book and research, race isn’t important just because it’s visually obvious, the sum of mere physical traits. Rather, it’s important because we’re socialized to experience race in a particular way, to give significance to certain cues, to orient our lives around certain features and react to those differences. And this social aspect is so strong that even blind people “see” race. My hope is that these research findings can help inform and change the conversation about race and lead to more thoughtful laws and policies that focus on the social dynamics of racial subordination rather than assuming that racial difference is natural or self-evident. * * * * Q How would this play out in the courts? A I hope my work will help give the courts pause before using colorblindness as an interpretive tool. Before we give up on the idea of the government using racial categories to atone for past and ongoing harms done to minorities, we must appreciate the extent to which society is still reproducing racial ideologies and entrenching racial hierarchies in ways that can have harmful effects on these groups. A deeper understanding of these complexities may lead the court to think twice before giving up on affirmative action or other similar initiatives. Otherwise, it is complicit in maintaining inequality. Put differently, if blind folks are still seeing race and acting on it in a manner that is problematic, you can be sure sighted folks are as well. Race is still a central problem in our society, and we’re not going to get beyond it by simply sticking our head in the sand and acting like it no longer exists.


Hastings Alumni Mag-Fall 2013
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