Truly Color Blind

Roger Lott, The Dartmouth, March 7, 2011

All the recent alarm about the resignations of three minority faculty members (See: “A Troubling Trifecta,” Feb. 18) has inevitably led to calls for special efforts to make certain racial groups feel welcome at Dartmouth. If the College really wants to foster a color-blind environment, however, it would be well advised not to treat minorities as though they need extra attention.

Unfortunately, minorities at Dartmouth are often encouraged to define themselves according to a special, “colored” status. Recent Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations included a showing of the film “For Colored Girls” and an “Alliance for Children of Color Playdate” whose accompanying picture on Dartmouth’s website shows an all-black group of parents and youngsters. Events like these hardly lead to the kind of positive interracial interactions the College talks about so much.

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Defining people according to their “colored” status can give rise to the kind of “sense of limitation” President Barack Obama spoke of before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 2009, when Obama wisely called for “no excuses” and “a new mindset” of personal responsibility. Echoing such ideas of self-reliance is black businessman Ward Connerly, who has called acts of racial favoritism “Degrading to people who accept them.” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas expresses similar sentiments in his 2007 autobiography, in which he relates how denigrating it was when people assumed he “had to be handled with kid gloves” because of his race. Predictably, Connerly and Thomas have been widely lambasted as “race traitors,” “oreos” and “Uncle Toms.”

An excessive sense of racial victimization can lead people to ignore their own shortcomings. {snip}

{snip} At present there is a widespread tendency to excuse otherwise unacceptable behavior on the part of “oppressed” minorities. In 2007, all University of Delaware Resident Assistants–who lead campus-wide, mandatory diversity training–were instructed that “people of color cannot be racists.” This statement ignores a number of recorded instances of blacks making virulently anti-white comments. The fact that minorities used to be subject to terrible racism shouldn’t entitle them to treat others with less discretion.

Active discrimination is nowhere near the problem for minorities that it once was. There is a good deal of evidence that many of the issues faced by the black community today have less to do with racism than with a lack of educational opportunity in poor urban communities and the insidious impact of a welfare system that discourages self-reliance. {snip} What we shouldn’t be doing, however, is emphasizing minorities’ racial identities through exclusive racial events, promoting special treatment for certain minority groups and establishing lower standards for minorities.

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