Ignoring skin color is dangerous, UT professor finds

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marie Suizzo

Teaching children to ignore skin color is dangerous and counterproductive, according to a UT professor’s study.

Education professor Marie-Anne Suizzo performed a study on colorblind socialization, or the practice of raising children to ignore and avoid discussions of skin color.

“White children are often taught that all skin colors are equal and should therefore be ignored,” Suizzo wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “If a child brings it up, you must quickly silence them and explain that mentioning someone’s skin color is rude, and even racist.” 

Suizzo found there was a gap in how white and African-American mothers discussed race with their children. While African-American mothers openly discussed positive and negative aspects of skin color, white mothers avoided the topic altogether. 

“Despite all our best intentions to avoid and mute any mention of racism, children learn about it from their environments,” Suizzo said. “In our study of white mothers, we found that moms with a higher percentage of non-white friends had children with more positive attitudes toward African Americans.”

The study also found that educating children about racism in schools was effective at reducing negative views of other races.

Eric Tang, African and African diaspora studies professor, said practicing colorblindness has proven to be ineffective.

“Today’s colorblind proponents falsely argue that the practices which protect non-white racial groups against ongoing discrimination are unnecessary,” Tang said in an email. “But the truth is that civil rights laws never ended racial inequality and violence; moreover, nobody in this society is truly capable of abandoning their racial lens and so any claim that one ‘never sees race’ is simply disingenuous.”

Government freshman Shaneal Harun said efforts of colorblind socialization actually perpetuate inequality.

“Teaching colorblindness does nothing to challenge racism because it encourages white children to ignore existing structures that provide them power and privilege,” Harun said. “It results in a political discussion where attempts by people of color to bring up issues of racism are labeled as causing racism themselves.”

Harun said ignoring realities of race and skin color is only possible for certain people.

“People of color don’t get the luxury of colorblindness,” Harun said. “We are constantly reminded of the reality of race in how we attempt to use our voices and the real risks of violence and inequality we face.”