Why does color blindness hinder equity?

July 8, 2019

Recently, a Latina millennial shared with me a change opportunity she experienced concerning bias. She was having a conversation with a new employee, explaining that it was important for her to be a part of a cohort that was diverse. The colleague responded that he was “color blind.”

Personally, I have experienced people who proudly present their diverse networks as evidence of their good intentions and will. But, due to how often we hear this phrase, I’ve spent a great deal of time self-examining whether having a diverse network made me a more equitable person. My self-examination taught me that I treated groups and people in my network differently. For example, I never thought of inviting a non-Latinx friend out for a night of salsa dancing, but after a while, I noticed they enjoyed salsa dancing too! The lesson here is that we can treat our diverse colleagues differently and unequally.

How do you respond to a colleague when they surprise you with such unaware comments? At Step Up: Equity Matters we suggest first ensuring that we understand the other person’s thought process before we provide our perspective, position, or opinion. In this case, the Latina millennial could ask the new employee one of the following questions:

  • Can you please help me understand what you mean by color blind?
  • Tell me more, I am curious what being color blind means to you?
  • Have you considered that you might engage differently with your friends?

But, if you are not ready to have the conversation, don’t have it! We never suggest that you must engage or that your job is to educate others. You may consider sending your colleague Melody Hobson’s Ted Talk on being color brave before engaging. You can provide a short message explaining, “I’m interested in exploring your comment about being color blind further. I found this fascinating perspective and I would like to discuss the talking points with you.”

Feel more prepared to engage in conversations that challenge biases and inequities! Check out our Brave Conversations workshop.