“Colorblindness”: An Impossibility in the United States

Despite the reality that the United States is a White country, it is popular to hear the term “colorblindness.” Colorblindness is the belief that if one ignores racial differences, everything will be well. This is true for the majority population, but it is dangerous for anyone who is not White to believe in “colorblindness.”

A beautiful diary by a writer at Daily Kos explains this situation:

We black folk speak to our families and friends about racist attitudes we encounter daily but we never address it at work unless it cannot be avoided. Most of the time the people who direct it at us always pull the ‘race card’. So we go along each day learning to mask our feelings with smiles. We have learned to live with it because for the majority of us, we do not have a choice.

Several incidents (occurring in the past and recently) demonstrate that “colorblindness” did not, does not, and cannot ever exist in the United States.

Belief in the Inferiority of Black People

The majority population’s ridiculous notion of the inferiority of people belonging to the Black race negates even the idea of “colorblindness.”

Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia (sponsored by Ferris State University)

See the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia for multiple examples of the deeply held belief of Black inferiority.

College Students and Blackface

Tim Wise has written an article on the use of blackface by college students. The practice of minstrelsy is being reincarnated in these “ghetto parties.”

Ralph R. Papitto

Mr. Papitto, a former chairman of the board of trustees of Roger Williams University, admitted to using the vile slur (the “N-word”) for Black persons during the trustees’ May meeting. His use of the vile slur occurred when the trustees were discussing how to add Black candidates to the board of trustees (presently all-White with 14 men and 2 women). Interestingly, Mr. Papitto said it was the first time he used the vile slur against Black people. Mr. Papitto, 80 years old, said he heard the vile term in the media.

He said he had never used the term before.

‘The first time I heard it was on television and then rap music or something,’ Papitto told WPRO.

A Washington Post editorial found this claim to be unbelievable.

Mr. Papitto said that one of the most vulgar and hurtful words in the English language “kind of slipped out.” He also said, “The first time I heard it was on television and then rap music or something,” conjuring an unlikely image of Mr. Papitto, who is 80, kicking back to a little Snoop Dogg or Busta Rhymes.

District of Columbia

In the District of Columbia, Mayor Adrian Fenty has stated upon selecting non-Black people for powerful positions in the District of Columbia government that he looked for the best people, regardless of race. But the use of “colorblindness” resulted in few Black people being selected for the top positions in a jurisdiction with a 60% Black population.

Police Chief & Fire Chief

In announcing Rubin’s nomination, Fenty addressed a potentially thorny issue. He is naming a white man to replace a black chief in a majority-black city. Fenty drew some criticism when he recently named Acting Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, also white, to replace a black chief.

‘We interviewed people from all different nationalities, backgrounds and regions,” Fenty said. “We believe these are the best candidates. If you look at our entire Cabinet, you’ll see we are committed to diversity.’

Fenty’s Cabinet At-Large

Since taking office six months ago, Fenty (D) has replaced African Americans with non-black people in four of the city’s highest-profile jobs: city administrator, police chief, fire chief and schools chief. Among those who hold arguably the 10 most influential positions, five are white, three are of Asian descent and one is Latino. Only one — Neil O. Albert, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development — is black.


In dozens of interviews, residents, particularly African Americans, said they are concerned that Fenty’s choices have created a Cabinet that does not reflect the city it governs. They also said he has made many of his appointments in virtual isolation, consulting few city leaders or residents.

‘How can there be a scarcity of blacks for positions in the city with the most qualified black people in the world?’ … ‘If you can’t find qualified black people in Washington, D.C. . . . it makes me wonder: How hard did he really search?’

However, race cannot be completely avoided as an issue in DC, as Washington Post columnist Colbert King explained:

‘Not only has [Mayor Adrian] Fenty shopped west of the river for his appointees,’ the column observed, ‘but he’s also shown an affinity for white ones, especially in the public-safety realm.’…

Is this focus on race a holdover from the Marion Barry era? No. It’s been part of the District for more than a century.

Read ‘The Senator and the Socialite,’ Lawrence Otis Graham’s new book about former slave Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first black man to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate.