For Decades, Whites Used "Colorblind" Rhetoric to Stall Equality. Now the Right Wing is Dropping the Charade

Historians in the News
tags: racism, immigration, Colorblindness

Ian Haney López, a law professor at UC Berkeley, told me that the use of white grievance to rationalize racist oppression has a long history in this country, dating back to slavery. It lost mainstream acceptability after World War II and the atrocities of Hitler.

In the 1960s, opponents of the civil rights movement brought it back in disguise. “The forces of white dominance realized they could use a ‘colorblind’ argument to say the racial status quo has to be preserved,” Haney López said. Under their rationale, he explains, “the most you can do is stop formally oppressing people on an expressly racial basis.”

To go further, with race-conscious policies attempting to repair centuries of systemic racism, was cast as oppressive to white people.

In a 1964 campaign speech, Barry Goldwater mainstreamed the idea that anti-racism was unconstitutional and racist by appealing to “colorblind” fictions: “It has been well-said that the Constitution is colorblind. And so it is just as wrong to compel children to attend certain schools for the sake of so-called integration as for the sake of segregation.”

That was nonsense. The Constitution never was colorblind. It set race-conscious policies from the beginning, like the “three-fifths” clause from 1787 that counted each enslaved individual as less than a full person. After the Civil War, framers of the 14th Amendment repeatedly rejected efforts to ban consideration of race by the federal government. Congress then passed multiple laws that specifically helped formerly enslaved African Americans on the basis of race.


“Colorblind” grifters often invoke the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., quoting his dream of a nation where his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Of course, King was unequivocal in his support for affirmative action: “It is obvious that if a man is entered at the starting line in a race 300 years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.”

GOP politicians are now shedding the costume of colorblindness. “We’re coming back to an open conversation of white people as imperiled by innately inferior groups,” Haney López told me.

“Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white” was a line from white supremacist Bob Whitaker’s early 2000s essay “The Mantra.” Back then, it was fringe. Today, it’s a popular right-wing talking point.

Read entire article at Los Angeles Times

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