The new threat: ‘Racism without racists’ (double participation)

Published November 30, 2014 by djlwsu

The new threat: ‘Racism without racists’

By John Blake, CNN
updated 9:32 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
(CNN) — In a classic study on race, psychologists staged an experiment with two photographs that produced a surprising result.

They showed people a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife. Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man.

When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one. Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people — black and white — incorrectly said the black man had the knife.

Even before the Ferguson grand jury’s decision was announced, leaders were calling once again for a “national conversation on race.” But here’s why such conversations rarely go anywhere: Whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism, scholars and psychologists say.

The knife fight experiment hints at the language gap. Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility. It’s the Ku Klux Klan, racial slurs in public, something “bad” that people do.

But for many racial minorities, that type of racism doesn’t matter as much anymore, some scholars say. They talk more about the racism uncovered in the knife fight photos — it doesn’t wear a hood, but it causes unsuspecting people to see the world through a racially biased lens.

It’s what one Duke University sociologist calls “racism without racists.” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who’s written a book by that title, says it’s a new way of maintaining white domination in places like Ferguson.

“The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits,” says Bonilla-Silva.

“The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game.”

As people talk about what the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson means, Bonilla-Silva and others say it’s time for Americans to update their language on racism to reflect what it has become and not what it used to be.

The conversation can start, they say, by reflecting on three phrases that often crop up when whites and racial minorities talk about race.

‘I don’t see color’

It’s a phrase some white people invoke when a conversation turns to race. Some apply it to Ferguson. They’re not particularly troubled by the grand jury’s decision to not issue an indictment. The racial identities of Darren Wilson, the white police officer, and Michael Brown, the black man he killed, shouldn’t matter, they say. Let the legal system handle the decision without race-baiting. Justice should be colorblind.

Science has bad news, though, for anyone who claims to not see race: They’re deluding themselves, say several bias experts. A body of scientific research over the past 50 years shows that people notice not only race but gender, wealth, even weight.

When babies are as young as 3 months old, research shows they start preferring to be around people of their own race, says Howard J. Ross, author of “Everyday Bias,” which includes the story of the knife fight experiment.

Other studies confirm the power of racial bias, Ross says.

One study conducted by a Brigham Young University economics professor showed that white NBA referees call more fouls on black players, and black referees call more fouls on white players. Another study that was published in the American Journal of Sociologyshowed that newly released white felons experience better job hunting success than young black men with no criminal record, Ross says.

“Human beings are consistently, routinely and profoundly biased,” Ross says.

The knife fight experiment reveals that even racial minorities are not immune to racial bias, Ross says.

“The overwhelming number of people will actually experience the black man as having the knife because we’re more open to the notion of the black man having a knife than a white man, ” Ross says. “This is one of the most insidious things about bias. People may absorb these things without knowing them.”

Another famous experiment shows how racial bias can shape a person’s economic prospects.

The first thing we must stop doing is making racism a personal thing.
— Doreen E. Loury, director of Pan African Studies at Arcadia University

Professors at the University of Chicago and MIT sent 5,000 fictitious resumes in response to 1,300 help wanted ads. Each resume listed identical qualifications except for one variation — some applicants had Anglo-sounding names such as “Brendan,” while others had black-sounding names such as “Jamal.” Applicants with Anglo-sounding names were 50% more likely to get calls for interviews than their black-sounding counterparts.

Most of the people who didn’t call “Jamal” were probably unaware that their decision was motivated by racial bias, says Daniel L. Ames, a UCLA researcher who has studied and written about bias.

“If you ask someone on the hiring committee, none of them are going to say they’re racially biased,” Ames says. “They’re not lying. They’re just wrong.”

Ames says such biases are dangerous because they’re often unseen.

“Racial biases can in some ways be more destructive than overt racism because they’re harder to spot, and therefore harder to combat,” he says.

Still, some people are suspicious of focusing on the word bias. They prefer invoking the term racism because they say it leaves bruises. People claiming bias can admit they may have acted in racially insensitive ways but were unaware of their subconscious motivations.

“The idea of calling it racial bias lessens the blow,” says Crystal Moten, a history professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

“Do you want to lessen the blow or do you want to eradicate racism? I want to eradicate racism,” she says. “Yes I want opportunity for dialogue, but the impact of racism is killing people of color. We don’t have time to tend to the emotional wounds of others, not when violence against people of color is the national status quo.”

‘But I have black friends’

In the movie “The Godfather,” the character of Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, hatches an audacious plan to kill a mobster and a crooked cop who tried to kill his father. Michael’s elders scoff at his plans because they believe his judgment is clouded by anger. But in a line that would define his ruthless approach to wielding power, Michael tells them:

“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”

Ferguson has become a symbol of how some whites and racial minorities speak differently about racism, some say.
Ferguson has become a symbol of how some whites and racial minorities speak differently about racism, some say.

When some whites talk about racism, they think it’s only personal — what one person says or does to another. But many minorities and people who study race say racism can be impersonal, calculating, devoid of malice — such as Michael Corleone’s approach to power.

“The first thing we must stop doing is making racism a personal thing and understand that it is a system of advantage based on race,” says Doreen E. Loury, director of the Pan African Studies program at Arcadia University, near Philadelphia.

Loury says racism “permeates every facet of our societal pores.”

“It’s about more than that cop who targets a teen while ‘WWB’ (walking while black) but the system that makes it OK to not only stop him but to put him in a system that will target and limit his life chances for life,” she says.

Racial bias is so deeply engrained in people that it can manifest itself in surprising places, says Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at La Salle University in Philadelphia. He gave a hypothetical example:

“A white police officer in Ferguson may be married to a black woman and have black and Latino friends, but that doesn’t mean the officer is above racial profiling,” Gallagher says.

These old and new ways of talking about racism can be seen in how some whites and blacks perceive the events in Ferguson.

Many have already looked at them as something beyond a personal interaction between a white police officer and a young black man. They point out that two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is black, yet the mayor, police chief and five of six city council members are white — as are 50 of the 53 people in its Police Department.

Ferguson is like countless multiracial communities, they say: calm on the surface but seething with racial disparities beneath.

But those disparities are invisible to many whites, who often see themselves as victims of discrimination, writes Jamelle Bouie of Slate magazine in a recent essay, “The Gulf That Divides Us.” 

“Median income among black Americans is roughly half that of white Americans. But a narrow majority of whites believe blacks earn as much money as whites, and just 37% believe that there’s a disparity between the two groups. Likewise, while 56% of blacks believe black Americans face significant discrimination, only 16% of whites agree,” he writes.

“Many whites — including many millennials — believe discrimination against whites is more prevalent than discrimination against blacks.”

But as Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in The New York Times, the U.S. has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa had during apartheid.

The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits.
— Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of “Racism without Racists”

Such racial inequities might seem invisible partly because segregated housing patterns mean that many middle- and upper-class whites live far from poor blacks.

It’s also no longer culturally acceptable to be openly racist in the United States, says Bonilla-Silva, author of “Racism Without Racists.”

Overt racism is so widely rejected in America that a white supremacist in Montana recently announced that he is creating a new inclusive Ku Klux Klan chapter that will not discriminate against people because of their color or sexual orientation. Instead, according to one report, the chapter’s new mission will be to prevent a “new world order” where one government controls everything.

Another recent article revealed how white supremacists in America are facing such hostility at home that some have moved to Europe in an attempt to link up with far-right groups.

“The new racism, like God, works in mysterious ways and is quite effective in maintaining white privilege,” Bonilla-Silva says. “For example, instead of saying as they used to say during the Jim Crow era that they do not want us as neighbors, they say things nowadays such as ‘I am concerned about crime, property values and schools.’ “

‘Who you calling a racist?’

When protests erupted in Ferguson after the shooting this summer, various white and black residents tried to talk about race, but such discussions didn’t bear fruit because of another reason:

People refuse to admit their biases, research has consistently shown.

Ross, author of “Everyday Bias,” cited a Dartmouth College survey where misinformed voters were presented with factual information that contradicted their political biases.

There were voters, for example, who were disappointed with President Obama’s economic record and believed he hadn’t added any jobs during his presidency. They were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year that included a rising line indicating about a million jobs had been added.

“They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down, or stayed about the same,” Ross wrote. “Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.”

Ross says it’s even more difficult to get smart people to admit bias.

“The smarter we are, the more self-confident we are, and the more successful we are, the less likely we’re going to question our own thinking,” Ross says.

Some of the nation’s smartest legal minds aren’t big believers in racial bias either, and that could complicate efforts in Ferguson to reduce racial tensions.

Some say they could be eased by hiring more officers of color in Ferguson’s police force.

A conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court could get rid of an important tool against racial bias, some say.

But the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been suspicious of efforts to achieve diversity in workforces, believing that they amount to reverse racism or racial preferences, legal observers say.

Some fear the court is about to get rid of one of the most effective legal tools for addressing racial bias.

The court recently took up a fair housing case in Texas where the conservative majority could very well rule against the concept of “disparate impact,” a legal approach that doesn’t try to plumb the racist intentions of individuals or businesses but looks at the racial impact of their decisions.

Disparate impact is built on the belief that most people aren’t stupid enough to openly announce they’re racists but instead cloak their racism in seemingly race-neutral language. It also recognizes that some ostensibly race-neutral policies could reflect unintentional bias. A disparate impact lawsuit, for instance, wouldn’t have to prove that a police department’s white leaders are racist — it would only have to show the impact of having all white officers in an almost all-black town.

Roberts distilled his approach to race in one of the court’s most controversial cases in 2007. The court ruled 5-4 along ideological lines that a public school district in Seattle couldn’t consider race when assigning students to schools, even for the purposes of integration.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts said in what is arguably his most famous quote.

Roberts has equated affirmative action programs with Jim Crow laws, says Erwin Chemerinsky, author of “The Case Against the Supreme Court.”

“Chief Justice Roberts has expressly said that the Constitution and the government should be colorblind,” Chemerinsky says. “He sees no difference between government action that discriminates against minorities and one that benefits minorities.”

What that means for Ferguson is that any aggressive attempt to integrate the police force could be struck down in court, says Mark D. Naison, an African-American Studies professor at Fordham University in New York City.

Unless a lawyer can find smoking-gun evidence of some police department official saying he won’t hire blacks, people won’t have much legal leverage to make the police department diverse, he says.

Racial biases can in some ways be more destructive than overt racism.
— Daniel L. Ames, UCLA researcher

“Once the doctrine of disparate impact is weakened, you have to prove discriminatory intent in order to declare a practice discriminatory,” Naison says. “Huge racial disparities in law enforcement can be tolerated if they are the result of policies which are race-neutral in how they are written in the law even through the implementation is anything but.”

The courts may ignore colorblind racism, but ordinary people ought to be aware of it when they talk about racism, others say. Ross, author of “Everyday Bias,” says being biased doesn’t make people bad, just human.

He says people are hardwired to be biased because it helped keep our ancestors alive. They survived, in part, by having to make quick assumptions about strangers who might prove threatening.

“We need to reduce the level of guilt but increase the level of responsibility we take for it,” he says. “I didn’t choose to internalize these messages, but it’s inside of me and I have to be careful.”

Part of being careful is expanding our definition of racism, says Bonilla-Silva, author of “Racism Without Racists.”

Racism has evolved, but our language for describing it hasn’t, he says.

“Colorblind racism is the new racial music most people dance to,” he says. “The ‘new racism’ is subtle, institutionalized and seemingly nonracial.”

How long before another Ferguson erupts is anyone’s guess. But if and when it does, the knife fight experiment suggests that before people look at videotapes, read police reports and listen to radio talk shows to form their opinions, they should do something else first:

Look within themselves.

Complete coverage of what’s happening in Ferguson

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17 comments on “The new threat: ‘Racism without racists’ (double participation)

  • This is very eye opening to me because I know that I have said at least one of these three common phrases before. Before reading, I personally would have said that “I don’t see color.” But according to this reading I do. Everyone does but it’s subconsciously. This makes a lot of sense to me because it explains the reasoning for some of the examples used in class. For example, the Jose/Joe scenario – Joe is an “anglo-sounding name.” Something I have realized in this reading (and in class) is that racism in exceedingly hard to monitor. For instance, the courts claim to be “colorblind” in the rulings of racial sensitive cases, yet, this reading claims that is impossible. If it is impossible to be colorblind then there is a major discrepancy within society. All these different perceptions and subconscious thoughts create different “languages” so its incredibly hard for people to communicate.

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  • I always tell myself that ” I don’t see color”, but then whenever I am walking around and looking at others I catch myself stereotyping everyone. I know I am not the only one, but I always feel guilty for doing so. I also agree with the article saying that it is impossible to be colorblind, because even though the courts claim to be colorblind it is impossible because there will always be someone who is biased towards one race and will always be fighting for the side that they believe is right, even if it is not. And it is hard to tell when someone is being racist at anytime because you never know if that is what they are implying or if they don’t realize what they are saying at the time.

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    • While it’s upsetting that people so commonly stereotype others during day to day interactions we cannot place the entirety of the blame upon our shoulders. Growing up we have consistently been exposed to stereotypes of different demographic groups through various forms of media. It has gotten to the point that it is unfortunately an almost instant response and a way in which we classify the many people we come across day in and day out.

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  • After reading this article it totally changed my viewing of myself. I would say that I don’t see color but after reading this article it is actually true that I do see color everywhere and almost everyday in any type of way. People are always stereotyping other people are bias towards people for certain reasons. This reading claims that it is almost impossible for even the courts to be colorblind however they are even though they say that they aren’t. Its not that there is something wrong with society there is just so many different people that if there wasn’t this going on it wouldn’t be the same. This article was really eye opening and interesting to me I have never thought of colorblindness like this.

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  • Just in the opening paragraphs of this article, I can see how it relates heavily to our class. In the beginning of the semester, I feel that we all had an idea about racism. It is mostly small acts of hatred or discrimination, some may have even thought that racism doesn’t exist in our society anymore. And as the articles says “Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility. It’s the Ku Klux Klan, racial slurs in public, something “bad” that people do.”
    But now after learning about how racism profoundly affects our society and how it is institutionalized, I know that I think about racism differently, and I suspect many of my classmates do as well.
    After learning about all the topics in our class as well, I feel that “Whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism, scholars and psychologists say” holds more truth than I would have thought before.
    It’s stupid to say we don’t see race when we look at a person. We are a visual species. We don’t have to say we are colorblind to say we are not racist, or that we have a colored friend to show that we are not biased. Both whites and colored people should realize that we speak a different language when it comes to race. It’s impossible for someone who has grown up privileged all their life to understand the experiences of someone of color. On the same note, colored people have to understand that most whites are unaware of their privilege. Having conversations about the inequality gives both sides more understanding.

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  • WOW! This article is very truthful and eye opening. I have always tried my best to not be racist or judgmental and have also considered myself as colorblind but that is not the actual truth. I do indeed distinguish people by their ethnicity, race gander, and even body types. And this is very normal in our world because we are all observers. Even since we are small babies according to this article. Knowing this is just amazing because it is now something that i can cary in the back of my mind when we are discussing racial inequalities because we have all had different experiences that we cannot or will never be able to relate to.

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  • It is unfortunate that these studies show that the majority of people today are subconsciously biased towards race. As much as we may try to be “colorblind”, the reality is that we often make subconscious, instant judgments when we meet people based on how they look. This includes what race the person is, but extends beyond that, to how someone dresses or acts. The important thing is that we expose this information and talk about it more, since this is the only way to suppress the problem of subconscious biases. The idea that whites and blacks speak a different language when talking about race is new to me, but I can definitely see the truth in it. Some whites think that reverse racism has taken over racism as the bigger issue, but that is obviously not the case when looking at the facts.

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  • In this article, I was most surprised by how studies how showed that as little as 3 years old, kids notice race. I connected this to my own life. When I was in elementary school, I had 2 best friends, one of which, that was African American. As we got into celebrating Martin Luther King Day and learning about it, I remember being so confused. I wondered why he had to stand up and fight for something. It made no sense to me why anyone would ever see color of skin and think it made someone “less” than anyone else. Later on in life, when I was around 15, I had a 5-year-old sister and a 6-year-old cousin. One day I was watching them play and my sister told my boy cousin that they were going to get married. My cousins response was more than shocking, he said, “ I can not marry you, you are dark.” In this moment I was stunned that such a young boy could think in such ways, and who in the world would teach him that, especially that it wasn’t the fact that they were cousins, It was that she had darker skin than him. But this leads to show that yes we are human, it is in us that we have a bias, weather we think so or not. That does not mean that we can’t help it in our next generations.

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  • This article backed up everything we have been learning in class about institutional racism. Prior to CES I thought racism was a personal idea and that only terrible people chose to be racist. I also had the idea that being “color blind” was the correct way to live, however reading more articles like this and just going and listening in class I have realized that being “color blind” actually creates more problems and doesn’t leave any room for change. Everyone sees race, actually race is one of the first things people see when meeting someone new, so acting “color blind” really doesn’t help anyone and is just hiding from the fact that someones skin is different than yours. People claiming to be color blind is just ordinary people with no intention of discrimination falling into the trap of institutional racism. Nowadays the biggest problem when it comes to race in our society is not white supremacist groups, it is ordinary people who do not understand how they are being racist in everyday life because they have became so accustom to the privileges they receive.

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  • This article took on an unusual perspective about racial inequalities and the issues of racial discrimination in our country. We are born to be biased, it is a natural part of human life instead of feeling guilty about being biased we need to increase the level of responsibility that comes with it. I think that is a very strong point. We need to open our eyes and be more aware of racial slurs or racial inequalities that are happening right in front of that or us even were committing when we don’t mean to and blame it on being subconscious. There have been multiple studies like the black man and white man fighting while the white man was armed but yet people still said the black man was actually the one armed. How a survey was done that people with ‘white sounding names’ were more likely to get a call back for a job then a ‘black sounding name’ were. After Ferguson erupted the issue of looking at our country’s law enforcements ethnicity, which is predominately white, is an issue that we still can’t do anything about unless a police Sargent openly says they don’t hire blacks. So mant racist acts happen right in front of our eyes, some we cannot prove in a court system, but we can always take action as individuals to help approach these problems so they won’t keep reoccurring.

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  • This articles reminds me of how important education and knowledge is. Knowing the unknown and things that are natural but every damaging to minorities help us become more aware of what is really going on. As an African American this allows me to educate my community back at home and tell them how we are looked at and how we can fix ourselves, instead of pointing the finger at someone else. As Micheal Jackson said “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”

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  • I have always valued education and knowledge in my life. This is an very eye opening article. I personally would have said that “I don’t see color.” But according to this reading I do. Everyone does but it’s subconsciously. This makes a lot of sense to me because it explains the reasoning for some of the examples used in class. This reading claims that it is almost impossible for even the courts to be colorblind however they are even though they say that they aren’t. Now I know that I think about racism differently, and I suspect many of my classmates do as well.

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  • The language of racism has changed and maybe even for the worse. Although people tend to be less overtly racist, there are still implicit biases that are hard to notice. Consequently, our views of events, videos, and news reports can all be different. As mentioned some people viewed Ferguson as purely personal while others viewed it as impersonal. These views can be deeply entrenched in our biases. If a 3 month old wants to be around people of its own race more so then another, that means our racial biases are started very young.

    On another hand, people who consider themselves colorblind when considering cases like Ferguson may not be colorblind. Color is a reality. You can’t just forget about it. To consider colorblindness is to erase the racial inequalities that have been developing for over a century. People need to take notice of the “invisible knapsack” that certain people (specifically whites) receive. This along with a consideration of subconscious thoughts one may have will help improve the language of race.

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  • Only having to read a few lines of this article I noticed how I myself and our class as a whole can relate. Prior to reading this article I would think “I don’t see color” however, this is not true at all because we see color everyday wether we notice it or not. I always considered racism to be acts of hate or discrimination against a specific group of people but after reading this article I have learned that race is institutionalized and all around us. “Whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism, scholars and psychologists say” is a very accurate statement in the article and I believe this now more than ever. The mindset of “I don’t see color” is a foolish thing to say because when you interact with a person it is hard to see past this. I feel that by making statements like this or even “I have a colored friend” does not prove to yourself nor people around you that you are not racist. I personally feel that by not recognizing that racism is truly an issue it only makes matters worse. If we as a society begin to spark conversations pertaining to race it is the only way we can spark a change and better our society. We all must take into consideration that white races and people of color speak different languages when discussing race. The common phrase “walk a mile in my shoes” is an outlook we should all take grasp of. When discussing race society should be aware that it is hard to understand people of colors perspective and struggle if one has not first hand experienced it and as well most white people are not aware they are privileged because they know no other way.

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  • Many of the facts mentioned and highlighted in the article have been discussed and talked about during lecture, but needless to say, they are very alarming. Such facts include that the vast majority of officers in Ferguson are white, while the majority of population are black. The article also includes 3 phrases that accurately portrays conversions when talking about race. These 3 phrases are “I don’t see color”, ‘But I have black friends”, and “Who you calling a racists?” These 3 phrases can be categorized in Jay Smooth’s, video of “What they did” vs “What they are.” Unfortunately, these three conversation enders are “what they are”, and not “what they did conversations”. These 3 phrases are very common in everyday life when dealing with race, from a person trying to say that they are not racists. Whether an individual wants to admit it or not, there always exists a racial bias, and it is shown in the 3 month baby having a preference of people of similar “race.” As the article states, instead of trying to ignore racism, people should be aware of biases, and begin talking. It is the ignorance of current racism and privileges that continue to expand the current situation.

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  • All throughout this semester we have stumbled upon some of the same and reoccurring concepts. Colorblindness is one of those reoccurring topics. In this article “I don’t see color” is pointed out as a phrase that white people turn to when the conversation turns into a conversation about race. I completely agree with this article and science, no matter what people say, race cannot be ignored. People should be able to talk about race without making it personal. Racism should not just be defined as the Ku Klux Klan, racism is so much more than that. There are too many people that deny racial biases, no matter what your job may be, people must be able to recognize that this is a problem, they cannot continue to sweep it under the rug. Racial biases exists, and although it may occur subconsciously, it is still there. I have always seen color, and I always will see color. I catch myself thinking about racial stereotypes often, I don’t say the three phases in this article, I am willing to admit that I see color, but that is in no way a horrible thing, it is something that everyone sees but not everyone is willing to admit.

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  • With reading this I have seen more hints about myself because I have told myself I don’t see color but now I realize that I do see color. I do believe that I have trouble with colorblindness, but with this article its saying many americans don’t say that they don’t see color blindness. With courts seeing things they do end up being bias towards certain ethnicity groups but they never admit it. With how police departments go in Texas they really don’t have many African-Americans there, but they can’t force them because the police department doesn’t tell them straight up they aren’t getting hired because they are black, so the courts cant force the department to hire certain people. But this is just showing more about people not seeing color blindness.

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