by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In a few months, the Supreme Court will strike down or reaffirm race-based affirmative action in college admissions. The anticipation surrounding the Court’s decision—in two separate cases pitting Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard and the University of North Carolina—has reignited the long-running national debate over color-blindness.
The question is: Should universities be permitted to discriminate on the basis of race? Should they be permitted to “see race”?
Not seeing race is the surest way, these days, to signal that you aren’t on the right side of this divide. Indeed, the term “color-blind” has become anathema to rightthink, and if you live in elite institutions—universities, corporate America, the mainstream media—the quickest way to demonstrate that you just don’t get it is to say, “I don’t see color” or “I was taught to treat everyone the same.”
Once considered a progressive attitude, color-blindness is now seen as backwards—a cheap surrender in the face of racism, at best; or a cover for deeply held racist beliefs, at worst.
But color-blindness is neither racist nor backwards. Properly understood, it is the belief that we should strive to treat people without regard to race in our personal lives and in our public policy.
Though it has roots in the Enlightenment, the color-blind principle was really developed during the fight against slavery and refined during the fight against segregation. It was not until after the Civil Rights Movement achieved its greatest victories that color-blindness was abandoned by progressives, embraced by conservatives, and memory-holed by activist-scholars.
These activist-scholars have written a false history of color-blindness meant to delegitimize it. According to this story, color-blindness was not the motivating principle behind the anti-racist activism of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was, instead, an idea concocted after the Civil Rights Movement by reactionaries who needed a way to oppose progressive policies without sounding racist.