“Color blindness”: A Crutch to Avoid Contreversy?

“Why Are You White?” Still frame from Mark Waters’ 2004 film “Mean Girls,” with character Karen Smith’s line, subtitled.

Multiculturalism in America’s schools is controversial, and ironic. In an effort to bring equal opportunity to the classroom through “color blindness,” educators make race taboo, failing to honor the diversity of their students. These classroom standards dismiss personal identity and perpetuate the divide between peers of different ethnicity.

The still frame image above is from the movie Mean Girls. The image displays a girl who looks like she is in her teens. The girl is white, blonde, and blue-eyed. As she is asking the question, subtitled below “So if you’re from Africa, why are you white?,” she has a perplexed look on her face. Behind her we can see the outline of other figures in what we know from the movie clip below is the cafeteria. Her facial expression does not look sarcastic or joking, but rather her curiosity seems sincere.

From the movie clip of the same scene, we can infer more about the meaning of the still frame. Karen Smith is sitting at the lunch table with Cady Heron, the new girl from Africa, Regina George, the blonde queen bee in the middle, and Gretchen Wieners, the brunette on the far right. After Karen asks the question, Gretchen looks at her with muted horror and concern. She scolds her, “Oh my God Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white.” This is the key line, in which the film offers a satirical look at multiculturalism in schools. Gretchen’s response to Karen highlights the taboo nature of any kind of race discussion among students. Gretchen’s reprimand, in which she conveys her shock at Karen’s lack of lunch table tact, uncovers a kind of conditioning and adherence to what she believes are obvious social skills/rules.

“You just don’t ask people why they’re white.” You just don’t talk about race. You don’t even see color. You’re colorblind.

Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle also satirizes on the irony of the simultaneous pride and silencing of multiculturalism in schools. He talks about his third grade teacher at the “Mestizo Mulatto Mongrel Elemantary” in Santa Monica, who wears the shirt, which reads the crossed-out-words, “Black White Red Yellow and Brown” and then leaves the word “Human” clearly written at the bottom, without a line through it. This is his teacher who claims to be colorblind and who provided Beatty’s first “type of multiculturalism: classroom multiculturalism, which reduced race, sexual orientation, and gender to inconsequence” (Beatty 28).

The “inconsequence” which Beatty identifies at “Mestizo Mulatto Mongrel” is the same inconsequence that occurs at North Shore High School in Mean Girls. It is a combination of conditioning, convenience, and fear, which eliminates the possibility for valuable discussion on diversity, and isolates peers.

In a way, color blindness is to multiculturalism as invisibility is to black identity. The commonality lies in the fact that both color blindness and invisibility serve the majority as blinders that erase the validity of both multiculturalism and black identity.

Both color blindness and invisibility exist as a crutch for which the majority to lean on as they sidestep the issues of racism and inequality in schools and beyond.

Citation: Mean Girls. Dir. Mark Waters. Paramount Pictures. 2004. Film.

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One comment

  1. I’d like to see these films. The concept/myth of “racial democracy” has for many years denied Brazilians of African descent a strong identity. In many households, children don’t get hear a discussion on race so when they get called a derogatory name in school for instance, it’s like a shock and they don’t know how to react. But nowadays, more and more people are beginning to discover an “identidade negra”. But there’s still a way’s to go: http://wp.me/p1XDuf-25V

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