Thanks to generous donations from our supporters, we created “Q & Abe” – a podcast that investigates real questions from visitors to the Cottage. This bonus episode accompanies the first episode of Season 3, Wait, she’s black?
As we talk to our experts looking for answers to the questions for the show, we sometimes have conversations that might not quite fit within the main episode – but we don’t think that should keep you all from hearing them. One of the things we’ve been hearing a lot, in all the conversations about race this summer, is an idea that “I don’t see color.” Karen Grigsby Bates and Nina Jablonski helped us gain insight into how to respond to that statement. In addition to the embedded media player below, you can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Stitcher / Google Podcasts or wherever you get podcasts. You also can read below for a transcript of the episode.
Joan Cummins: Hi everyone – This is Callie and Joan from Q&Abe, a podcast by President Lincoln’s Cottage.
Callie Hawkins: As we talk to our experts looking for answers to the questions for the show, we sometimes have conversations that might not quite fit within the main episode – but we don’t think that should keep you all from hearing them.
JC: This bonus episode accompanies episode 3.1, Wait, she’s black?, so if you have not yet listened to that episode, that might be a good place to start.
CH: One of the things I’ve been hearing a lot, in all the conversations about race this summer, is this idea that “I don’t see color,” and I was curious about how our guests might respond to that comment. Karen Grigsby Bates said:
Karen Grigsby Bates: Then that’s a real problem. You need to see color, because color is- you know, I exist. Color exists. The problem is assigning a weighted value to color. It’s not that you- it’s not that you don’t see it. Because that’s just disingenuous, of course you see color. And so you should recognize that. Yeah, I see color, but the color I’m seeing is not any better or any prettier or any nicer or any smarter than the color that’s next to it that’s a different color. That’s what I would say.
JC: And Nina Jablonski’s response really clearly broke down the physical and the social components that undermine that fallacy:
Nina Jablonski: This idea that someone can be colorblind in a social sense, is really an interesting and controversial one. Firstly, unless one is actually physically blind, one can see color. And we also privilege color in our brains insofar as primates, and humans are primates, among the many different kinds of mammals that exist in the world, primates are really color oriented creatures and so color means a lot to us and is really important to us. So people really are not color blind even if they might be red green color blind or blue yellow color blind, they’re not color blind, they can see some gradation of color. What many people now say is “Oh I’m color blind, it doesn’t matter to me,” they’re trying to aver that color itself has no psychological or social meaning to them. For some people, I would say for relatively few people, this may be the case. For most others, it is not because when we are growing, and as small children, we observe the people around us. We observe how people react to the people around us and we pick up on small nuances of behavior and attitude, and through that knowledge that we develop- and it doesn’t even have to be explicit speech, it can just be things that we observe when we’re kids about how someone acts towards someone else- we develop attitudes toward people outside of our family, people outside of our immediate circle of family, friends, and people who belong to groups given
other colors. Now this becomes a really interesting issue of how then do we sort out this fact? We have- we develop as kids this idea: okay, our friends appear to be mostly of this color or of that color, how do I think about these others? And they-they begin to develop what we would now call some biases either for or against specific skin colors. It is unusual for such biases not to develop. It is possible, it is biologically possible. But unless parents and caregivers are really careful about socializing kids to be exposed to a wide range of people of all different skin colors and treat them in precisely equal ways, kids will develop some preference for their own color or for somebody else’s color. They will develop some feeling about the quality, the value of color. When we talk about implicit bias today, and especially in the realm of policing, as it is often mentioned, we’re really talking about the adult manifestations of the accumulation of this process over a lifetime. This doesn’t even have to be fueled necessarily by any kind of racism or feeling of animus. It can just be that “oh, people are different. I react to them slightly differently or I might react to them quite a bit differently if the associations are strongly positive or strongly negative.” And so, the idea that people can say that they are color blind is nonsense. Most people are not in any kind of biological or psychological or social way. They develop some level of implicit bias as a result of their socialization. The key thing from our perspective today is that we come to recognize that. We come to recognize how influential that- that implicit bias is in the daily formation of impressions. In the perpetuation of stereotypes in our own mind and we say “hold on, hold on. I’m holding an impression that has no basis,” and this is where people really need to put on the brakes and say “Oh, ok, um, we need to think about this, we need to think about ways that we can prevent implicit bias in the first place.”
JC: Or if it’s going to continue to exist in your head where it’s very hard to get rid of, how can we prevent it from having bad manifestations in the world around you?
CH: I hope you found those insights as useful as I did! We’ll see you in a week with our next full episode.
JC: This episode was produced by me, Joan Cummins, and Callie Hawkins, with backup from the President Lincoln’s Cottage team. Music for Q&Abe was written, performed, and is copyrighted by Clancy Newman.
CH: Q&Abe is possible thanks to generous supporters of President Lincoln’s Cottage, including the National Endowment for the Humanities. To find out how you can support this podcast and other programming, visit www.lincolncottage.org. You can also write to us at [email protected].
JC: President Lincoln’s Cottage is a home for brave ideas. Stay curious!