Should educators claim that they don’t see color?

“I don’t see color, we are a color blind school.” In many schools you will hear this echoed or whispered as your Black or Brown body mentions race to a white colleague.

However, according to the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), “Black public preschool children are suspended from school at high rates: Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white preschool children.” It is heartbreaking to see that young Black children are being removed from their schools rather than provided social emotional strategies to succeed as a three or four year old.

Do you honestly believe suspension is a developmentally appropriate consequence for a child of three to four years of age? I certainly do not and I do not need to know what the child did. In fact, if educators truly believe they cannot see color, there will always be statistics that will challenge this notion and have often demonstrated the racial disparities within The United States of America.

Being colorblind is perhaps a phrase you, too, have heard a teacher or administrator state in regards to their student body or even faculty. I want to believe that when educators make this claim they are attempting to express that they treat all of their students and colleagues equally. When they claim to not see color, they are attempting to share how their intentions are not to objectively discriminate. If educators take the time to learn more about the topic of race or implicit bias they will come to see that students of color are still being disproportionately discriminated against.

As a teacher of color, my initial reaction is to tell people who state they are colorblind, “I find that statement offensive.” However, with more training in discussing race in educational spaces, I have learned to inquire with, “What do you mean by that?” I take this as a learning opportunity, to teach that people like me feel and see racial difference because we do not have the privilege of ignoring it. My experiences are valid because; I have been faced with implicit bias in school, when shopping, being accused of loitering and arrested for walking to my car a few blocks away from a friends’ home in a predominantly White neighborhood as a teen. Or being taunted because White people blatantly ask me how is it that I can speak English so “eloquently,” and other countless experiences. For me, it’s hard to believe anyone is colorblind.

Let’s bring it back to an educational standpoint. Did you know there are many statistics that show our Black students being suspended or expelled at high rates? For example, CRDC states, “Black boys represent 8% of all students, but 19% of students [are] expelled without educational services.” When reading these statistics, it is impossible yet again for me to not see color. The previous quote makes me wonder if social emotional learning is being put at the forefront of curriculum and if educators are being trained with racial justice in mind. Social emotional skills are necessary for students to successfully navigate any space within their school and overall community. Although, if Black students are being suspended without educational services, how will they access these skills to self-monitor, reflect and successfully socialize with their peers?

When thinking about being trained with a lens in racial justice I can personally think of different workshops I have attended to better support my students in a racially just environment. I first think of the mandated Implicit Bias training all New York City public school faculty are expected to participate in, by the end of the 2018-2019 academic school year that I recently participated in February 2019. In fact, on the New York City Department of Education’s website you can find a posting to get paid overtime to participate in the workshop titled, Implicit bias training and Critically Conscious Educators Rising Series. In the day long workshop, educators navigate their implicit biases. It makes me wonder, wow the city is paying us as educators to recognize that colorblindness does not exist. The idea of being color blind is so deeply rooted in people, an employer has to pay people to listen. Still not convinced?

Consider the following analogy, if we look at an American $1 bill, it’s value can shift. Outside of the U.S. it may have a higher value or lower! In fact, that $1 bill could be an entire month’s rent in another country. Yet, in the U.S. it can hardly buy a soda! Imagine if someone said I don’t see money…wouldn’t you be shocked? I relate this to the ideology of being color blind because in some spaces my value is viewed differently than others.

Please think about our students who desperately need our guidance. Think about what you can do as an educator to take a stand for the experiences or future experiences of your students. Acceptance may be difficult, but I highly recommend the book, Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools to guide you. It takes commitment to navigate how race plays a role in our daily lives. Yet, if we want real equity in schools, we need to acknowledge that it is impossible to be colorblind. Race is real even if we know scientifically it is not. Let us be conscious in the spaces our students enter and engage in. Let us teach them to advocate for themselves or to become allies. As Michelle Alexander wrote, “[We should have] a commitment to color consciousness…[it] places faith in our capacity as humans to to show care and concern for others, even as we are fully cognizant of race and possible racial differences.”

By: Dalila Mendez