Colorblindness, Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity
By Gordon Nagayma Hall, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology
Colorblindness is an aspirational strategy to reduce racial prejudice that is not effective in a world of racial inequalities. Colorblind racial ideology has been defined in a landmark American Psychologist article by Helen A. Neville and colleagues (2013) as consisting of two interrelated domains:
- Color-evasion - denial of racial differences by emphasizing sameness
- Power-evasion - denial of racism by emphasizing equal opportunities
Arguments and policies based on colorblind theories and ideas tend to have certain common characteristics. They tend to deny:
- blatant forms of racism
- institutional racism
- White privilege
Arguments that deny race attempt to reject notions of White superiority by claiming that everyone is the same. Denial of racism involves the claim that blatant racism (e.g., a racial slur) is a relic of the past and no longer occurs. Arguments that deny institutional racism may claim reverse racism – that institutional policies (e.g., college admissions) unfairly benefit racial and ethnic minorities. Denial of White privilege is the argument that White people do not have certain advantages because of the color of their skin. All four forms of denial justify the racial status quo of inequality. Color blindness can occur among both Whites and people of color.
Colorblind ideology undermines diversity, inclusion, and equity. Diversity is the representation of differences. People from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds have rich cultural, social, and intellectual traditions that differ from mainstream traditions. Inclusion involves access for diverse groups of people to decision-making, resources, and opportunity. An advantage of inclusion of diverse groups in academic settings is that it fosters complex thinking among all groups, including Whites (Hurtado & DeAngelo, 2012). Equity is fairness. To achieve equity, more resources may need to be devoted to those who do not have access to them than to those who already do.
It is no accident that academic institutions are much less diverse than society. Treating everyone the same perpetuates exclusive social and professional networks in academia that have been replicated for generations. The assumption is that those who have gained access to these networks are the most qualified to participate in academia. Yet, access to these networks is not distributed equitably or fairly. Individual efforts to join these networks may be thwarted by non-merit based structural barriers including one’s cultural, social, and economic background.
Diversity begins with color consciousness, or critical awareness of race and racism (Neville et al., 2013). However, awareness of and valuing diversity are not sufficient to achieve it. Assuming that diverse persons will be attracted to an institution simply because of its excellence or because it values diversity is a passive approach that is unlikely to diversify an institution. Proactive and ongoing efforts toward inclusion and equity are necessary to create and sustain diversity.
Hurtado, S. & DeAngelo, L. (2012). Linking diversity and civic-minded practices with student outcomes: New evidence from national surveys. Liberal Education,
Neville, H. A., Awad, G. H., Brooks, J. E., Flores, M. P., & Bluemel, J. (2013). Color-blind racial ideology: Theory, training, and measurement implications in psychology. American Psychologist, 68, 455–466. http:// dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0033282