The myth of the colour-blind children
August 16, 2010
I’ve often heard people tell the stories of how their children have become “colour-blind”, meaning that they don’t see race, and thus they aren’t “racist”. It’s a hopeful statement, talking about a future that can be different. It’s also a confession of sorts, saying that our children are able to achieve what we (“we” being whichever generation is saying this) couldn’t. It also calls out for redemption. No matter our past, we were able to give birth to children that are no longer indebted to that past.
But the important question would be: is it true? Are we creating a generation of colour-blind children? Is it even possible to be colour-blind in 2010? Or is colour-blind a myth created by the white liberals, used to be politically correct? A trend towards ignoring race in a attempt at sidestepping forms of racism had been identified in white studies all over the world. Would this comment on our children be part of that?
Obviously there is something very problematic embedded within this statement, since stating it already recognize our own racial struggles, and the fact that we couldn’t or wouldn’t reconcile with people from other races. And it’s deeply problematic is a white person and a black person, both 50 years old, with 30 years ahead of them together in this country, leave reconciliation to a next generation.
What bothers me is the fact that I doubt whether the next generation will be “colour-blind”. Maybe in the white liberal sense of the word, meaning refuse to talk about issues of race (which creates huge problems when it comes to reconciliation), but I doubt whether “colour-blind” will be achieved in the next generation – “colour-blind” in the sense that they don’t think whites should in some why continue to have specific privileges, or in the way where the humanity of all people of all races are equally recognized, and thus the death of all people from all races equally mourned.
Maybe what bothers me most is the fact that I’m wondering whether the colour-blind children myth might not be an easy strategy to postpone the painful discussions and actions that is so long overdue. If we can convince everyone that our children will be colour-blind, then it does in a way excuse us from the difficult work of reconciliation necessary today. This idea can be an easy strategy to claim that reconciliation has been secured for the future of South Africa, and that we can take if of the agenda.
The reality is however that our children will inherit our ideas. They will imitate the reconciliation that we embody. They will carry over the racialization that we received. Except if we work to intentionally change this. If parents, schools, society, media, and other role-players work together to slowly but surely become a mirror and a model. A mirror for our children to find out how they’ve been racialized, and a model for what might become in the future.
The myth of the colour-blind children is a hopeful myth. But even with hard work it will take more than one generation. By simply retelling the myth, without every saying: we will be reconciled with our neighbour. Us. This generation. Me. Myself. I will reconcile with someone, build a friendship with someone that is a racial other, and model the reconciliation which I hope for my children, this myth might become just another one in the line of hopeful stories which let us down.
(colour-blind is a misleading idea at this stage, and not something I propose that we make our aim).