Color-blindness is 'unethical,' USC profs declare

Two University of South Carolina professors argue in a recent paper that “color-blind racial attitudes” are “unethical” and “can also perpetuate White norms.”

Mary Ann Priester and Ronald Pitner, both of whom teach in the College of Social Work at USC, advanced that claim in a July 19 research article examining the prevalence of color-blind attitudes among psychology students.

Defining color-blindness as “denial or lack of awareness of race-based privilege, institutional racism, and/or racial discrimination,” they argue that “this lack of awareness has been identified as a barrier to developing therapeutic rapport with racially diverse populations.”

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“Color-blind racial attitudes may prevent White individuals from developing a deeper level of awareness of racial oppression,” the professors assert, later adding that “deficits in awareness are not only unethical, but can also perpetuate White norms within the professions.”

Because of the harm allegedly caused when white people subscribe to color-blind racial attitudes, the professors surveyed 409 college students to determine the prevalence of “color-blind racial attitudes” among students with varying levels of “diversity exposure.”

Students were considered to be color-blind if they agreed with meritocratic statements such as “Everyone who works hard, no matter what race they are, has an equal chance to become rich” and “Race plays a major role in the type of social services that people receive in the United States.”

The professors determined that “being White was associated with higher scores on the color-blindness measure, indicating a greater lack of awareness of White privilege and racial discrimination among White students,” and speculate that this might be due to the fact that “race is often not as central” to the identity of white individuals.

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Curiously, they also found that “students who attended predominantly White undergraduate institutions had greater awareness of racial oppression than students who attended institutions that were racially balanced,” a result that runs contrary to conventional wisdom.

Citing “greater levels of exclusion and racial microaggressions at predominantly White institutions,” they suggest that “White students may become more sensitized to racism when they witness differential treatment of racial/ethnic minority students on campus.”

Reiterating their assertion that color-blindness presents a barrier to establishing “therapeutic rapport with clients,” the professors conclude that “understanding how diversity exposure influences color-blind racial attitudes...can better inform multicultural training curriculum and strategies.”

Neither Priester nor Pitner responded to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

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