Mindfulness Practices Can Uproot Racial Color Blindness
At work and in society generally, we hear others say “I don’t see color,” or “I see us all as one human race.” According to an Harvard Business Review article titled “The Costs of Racial ‘Color Blindness’”:
It’s a natural tendency, proven time and again in research: When you see a new person, one of the first things you notice is his or her race. In business life, however, we typically pretend we don’t notice—a behavior that’s called ‘color blindness’—because we want to reduce our odds of exhibiting prejudice or engaging in discrimination, or of seeming to do either. (1)
It is typically white-bodied individuals who have the privilege to “not notice race.” This attempt to be PC actually leaves people of color unseen and unheard in their experience. By saying that we see everyone as the same, we are actually telling our colleagues and friends of color that we don’t see their experience with race and the harmful effects of racism as valid.
The same HBR article states, “Rather than avoiding race, smart companies deal with it head-on—and they recognize that ‘embracing diversity’ means recognizing all races, including the majority one, to avoid showing preference or creating a backlash.” (1)
That’s a wonderful sentiment, but how in the world do we do that?
Looking to the wisdom practices at the intersection of mindfulness and race that Rhonda V. Magee and Ruth King masterfully outline in their books, The Inner Work of Racial Justice and Mindful of Race respectively, we can cultivate the means to truly heal.
As a direct antidote to colorblindness, Rhonda V. Magee has pioneered a set of mindfulness practices called ColorInsight practices. She states:
We can seek to be “color-blind,” perhaps believing that we have transcended the need to be a part of race conversations. But beware: the temptation to feel we are somehow so evolved that we don’t need to examine race in our lives—a form of what Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Welwood called “spiritual bypassing”—is just one of the many ways that we avoid the pain and personal challenge of dealing with the racism that we know exists. The work of ColorInsight, however, calls you to do something different. It supports you in looking at race and racism as perhaps you have never done before, whatever your background or experience. It supports you in rejecting the temptation to normalize racism, or to bypass it. Instead, it helps you find ways to stay in the complex struggle for multiracial, democratic justice—in courageous fellowship with others… To do so, you will be challenged to really examine your beliefs, conditionings, and behavior. You will think and act differently in ways that will actually lessen racism’s many impacts on you and on others. (2)
This quote highlights the necessity to cultivate mindfulness practices that can open our awareness to the colorblindness that may be instilled in us. Rhonda V. Magee spells out a variety of powerful practices that “explore the original teachings on mindfulness deeply, [allowing us to] see that the awareness it supports has personal, interpersonal, and communal systemic implications. It’s an awareness that supports you in waking up to the many facets of your life in the world.” (2) This renewed awareness that ColorInsight intentionally cultivates can lead to healing and liberation within ourselves and in the world.
Lastly, Ruth King’s incredible book Mindful of Race: Transforming Race from the Inside Out shares that this idea of “we are all one human race” does come from a specific lens of truth. In the Two Truths Doctrine that she discusses, there are two realities that exist simultaneously: ultimate reality and relative reality. King states:
Simply stated, in relative reality, we are some bodies—formed, habituated, ego-driven, and relating to life through concepts. In ultimate reality, we are no bodies—formless, empty of self, and eternal. In relative reality, I am a woman, African American, lesbian, great-grandmother, artist, and elder. However, in ultimate reality, I’m none of these things. I am beyond conception; I am awareness dancing with the karmic rhythms of life. In ultimate reality, there is neither race nor a reason to suffer. We are undivided and beyond definition. But in relative reality, we’re all in considerable pain as racially diverse beings driven by fear, hatred, greed, and delusion. In relative reality, language is commonly how we relate. Talking about race is messy because it brings to light our racial beliefs and values expressed in ignorance, innocence, and righteousness. Many of us show up with good intentions but are braced, bruised, and afraid. We put our foot in our mouth; we get scared, become frustrated or belligerent, or just shut down. We feel unclear, unskilled, angry, and cautious. Our mind plays habit songs that get in the way of our ability to connect and be open to what’s right here. (3)
So, according to ultimate reality, race is just a social construct that doesn’t truly define us at all; however, according to relative reality, race is a very real construct that impacts people immensely every single day. We must hold both of these truths as reality, and we must understand that both of these truths can exist at the same time. We must see that common humanity connects all of us in a deep web of interconnectivity and strength, AND we must also honor and appreciate the identities that our colleagues, friends, and community members have.
It is difficult to write a blog post on color blindness that will provide all the answers to deconstruct such a socially and personally ingrained belief. Mindfulness, ColorInsight practice, and the Two Truths Doctrine can set the stage for this deconstruction and shift. Mindfulness can be a transformative practice to open our eyes to ColorInsight and the Two Truths Doctrine. As we work through our DEI and Anti-Racism journey, the power of becoming more aware of how we move through our day is beneficial, allowing us to be better colleagues, allies, and leaders.
- Magee, Rhonda V.. The Inner Work of Racial Justice (p. 49-50). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
- King, Ruth. Mindful of Race (p. 13). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.