Actually, you do see colour.
“I don’t see colour, I don’t care what colour you are,” is a phrase I hear constantly. It’s one of the most common deflections people use when I conduct Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) focus groups and interviews for organisations wanting to be more inclusive. And when I hear those words, I immediately know the company’s EDI issues run deep. The supposed colour-blindness comment is often automatic and defensive in tone. The speaker will almost always follow up their claim with some explanations as to how colour (race) isn’t important to them or how they don’t care about the colour of peoples’ skin. In hiring positions, it’s often followed up with “I just hire the best candidate”.
So, why is claiming colour-blindness an issue?
You’re showing your privilege
It’s a privilege to “not see colour.” While a white person may be able to ignore the reality, BIPOC individuals are forced to face it head-on. They don’t have the option to step back, throw their hands up, and claim neutrality. Because there is no neutrality. Either we’re actively helping to elevate BIPOC folks, or we’re complacent to discrimination.
Ignoring race = ignoring struggles
At a surface level, claiming not to see race seems innocent and potentially even progressive. But aside from the impossibility of the statement, disregarding or ignoring race actually harms people of colour. When race is ignored, so is the acknowledgement of what racialized people have had to go through– the mountains of struggle they scaled to achieve what white people are born into.
When we ignore race, we minimise, or even vaporise, spaces to address BIPOC plights. And if we do not acknowledge or discuss discriminatory realities, how can we work toward a better future? This is especially important (and must be addressed) in leadership and in HR spaces. The reality of racism and discrimination doesn't go away simply because you don’t see or acknowledge it.
“I don’t see colour” is, in itself, self-congratulatory but not self-aware. It’s like pinning a badge on your shirt and claiming you’re better and different than other white people because you don’t see people for the colour of their skin but for who they are as a person. But who they are as a person has been shaped in part by racial experiences. You disregard their culture, background, upbringing, struggles, and who they are as a whole person when disregarding their race.
By claiming not to see colour, you place yourself above others without doing the necessary work to understand racialized issues and work toward a better, more inclusive environment. I might even go as far as to say it’s a cop-out; you remove yourself from the situation and make it so you don’t need to discuss the issues.
Seeing race doesn’t mean you’re a bad person
Just because you see colour doesn’t make you a bad person, just like claiming you don’t see colour doesn’t make you a good person. Race is part of our current reality, and what’s important is what you do to make our reality a more inclusive one.
A key thread within all EDI work isn’t to erase differences; it’s to celebrate, honour, and include them. In organisations, it means we must actively work to recognize and acknowledge the differences so we provide tools for all to succeed and for everyone to truly belong.
So I see colour, when next?
As an EDI consultant, my mission is to partner with organisations to create spaces of belonging. Historically, I would have said my job is not to educate about race, but the reality is that it’s something I must do. I come across “colour blindness” at all levels of the corporate ladder far too often and it stands in the way of organisational change. Race is also something a lot of privileged people feel uncomfortable with, so it’s a conversation they typically avoid. But, as we know, growth happens in discomfort. And this discomfort is a symptom of self-awareness and self-reflection that needs to be explored further, which is exactly what we want. It’s time for us all to evaluate how we approach people and situations, how we respond, and why.
So don’t say, “I don’t see colour.” Instead, lean into discomfort, get curious and be an ally in change.