Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Luke Charles Harris, Daniel Martinez HoSang & George Lipsitz (eds.)
Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness across the Disciplines
University of California Press, 2019
Reviewed by Kate Nelson
The preface of Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness Across the Disciplines claims that this collection of essays is aimed at academics who “pray to their disciplinary gods with one eye open.” According to the editors, this type of academic is deeply knowledgeable and committed to their field while specifically seeking out undercurrents of racism and white supremacy in their discipline. These scholars will find Seeing Race Again an excellent resource to help ferret out racial injustice.
A foundational structure running through the collection is that scholars have “seen race” since the beginning, using it to rationalize imperialism, colonialism, and racial divisions. This book posits that the “universalities” that many disciplines are founded on come from a limited Western perspective, creating a hierarchy with European practices at the top. Though the authors acknowledge that disciplines have greatly improved their racial views over the history of their existence, they argue that race must become part of the accepted dialogue of academics. Ignoring race may seem like an antidote to the racist origins of many disciplines. Yet, the chapters in this book dismantle the argument for colorblindness that has held back disciplines from continuing to remove racism from their construction. These chapters lay out ways to see race and racism across the disciplines that help destroy the racial hierarchies which resulted from and continue to exist in academia.
The volume is divided into three parts: “Masks,” which addresses “words, tropes, and concepts used within the disciplines to occlude race privilege via colorblind approaches.” “Moves,” perhaps the most provocative section, calls out the “distinct moves made within academic disciplines – especially research design, theories, and methods – that facilitate colorblind constructions of objectivity, knowledge production, and disciplinary authority,” and finally, “Resistance and Transformation” with essays giving pedagogical tools such as “concepts, strategies, and approaches to abolish colorblindness by renovating and reimagining disciplines, institutions, and social relations.”
“Masks” contains five essays, of which one is from Lipsitz, and two are from Crenshaw Williams. Lipsitz’s “The Sounds of Silence: How Race Neutrality Preserves White Supremacy” is an entry point for scholars taking their first critical look at colorblindness: it defines colorblindness and explains why it has been so popular across political lines and how it has wrought such damage in the disciplines. He breaks the myth that colorblindness originated in the late 20th century and shows that it has been used to disenfranchise, dismiss, deport, and demean non-whites since the start of colonialism. This essay could also be of interest to law scholars, as Lipsitz analyzes the legal history of colorblindness and the law scholarship that supported it. Crenshaw Williams’s essays, “Unmasking Colorblindness in the Law: Lessons from the Formation of Critical Race Theory” and “How Colorblindness Flourished in the Age of Obama,” provide academics insight into the twin climates of progress and regression in the fight against colorblindness. In “Unmasking Colorblindness,” Crenshaw Williams contends that the 1980s agitation against colorblindness in law schools that exploded into the field of Critical Race Theory was a direct result of the era’s cultural climate. “How Colorblindness Flourished in the Age of Obama” is a powerful argument on the setbacks racial advocacy groups suffered due to the misconception that Obama’s election represented a post-racial America. Both of these chapters take on new, more urgent meaning after the death of George Floyd and the nationwide protests in the summer of 2020.
The section “Moves” becomes a bit more discipline-specific: there is a chapter on white supremacy in music departments, two on unequal access to education, affirmative action, & colorblindness, and two on intersectionality. “Causality, Context, and Colorblindness: Equal Educational Opportunity and the Politics of Racist Disavowel” by Leah N. Gordon, and “Affirmative Action as Equalizing Opportunity: Challenging the Myth of ‘Preferential Treatment’,” a reprint of a 1994 essay by Luke Charles Harris and Uma Narayan, would both be useful to academics in Education, Law, and Public Policy, as well as any administrator interested in uprooting the foundational racism of US higher education. Barbara Tomlinson’s incendiary critique of white feminists’ appropriation of intersectionality, “Powerblind Intersectionality: Feminist Revanchism and Inclusion as a One-Way Street,” provides an excellent perspective for any white, female-identifying academic interested in incorporating Critical Race Theory into their scholarly work. Devon W. Carbado coins a term in his essay of the same name that will surely become required vocabulary for future scholars: “Colorblind Intersectionality.” Carbado expands on Crenshaw Williams’s concept of intersectionality to address situations where people do not acknowledge the role whiteness (and other dominant identities) play in the formation of their own identity and their access to privilege and power.
The final section, “Resistance and Transformation,” contains the most concrete tools for scholars and teachers. “They (Color) Blinded Me with Science: Counteracting Coloniality of Knowledge in Hegemonic Psychology,” by Glenn Adams and Phia S. Salter, looks at the conservative backlash in social psychology when progressive scholars addressed how white supremacy tainted the discipline in 2015. This essay specifically looks at public institutions in conservative states and would be useful for scholars of any discipline struggling to convince students, administrators, or colleagues that removing white supremacy is more than social justice: it is good science. Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s “Toward a New Research Agenda? Foucault, Whiteness, and Indigenous Sovereignty” specifically looks at the issues Indigenous Australians face. Her analysis of how racism towards Indigenous groups is an accepted social norm can be applied in many colonized nations of the Americas. “Why Black Lives Matter in the Humanities” by Felice Blake argues that literary studies have included diverse texts in the same way that diversity initiatives included black bodies: by bringing them into a white sphere and doing nothing to integrate that sphere. This essay is a great resource for anyone in the humanities who want ideas for removing colorblindness from their curriculum and their classroom. Paula Ioanide addresses a source of anxiety for many instructors: how to deal with privileged students’ pushback to discussing race and other non-privileged identities. “Negotiating Privileged Students’ Affective Resistances: Why a Pedagogy of Emotional Engagement is Necessary” offers an excellent analysis of how racially charged discussions can function in the classroom, with examples from Ioanide’s teaching, but could benefit from more structured pedagogical practices to share with “race-gender-sexuality-conscious” instructors. Finally, Milton Reynolds’s “Shifting Frames: Pedagogical Interventions in Colorblind Teaching Practices” could not be a better conclusion to this volume. Reynolds looks at the whole picture of colorblindness in education: students, teachers, classrooms, and societal perspectives. He also offers concrete activities and suggestions for holding difficult conversations in the classroom.
It should be noted that this book is not for Ethnic and Racial Studies scholars. The editors argue that the creation of these departments has allowed other disciplines to practice colorblindness in good faith since race is now considered to be outside their domain. This book is for scholars in the humanities and sciences who understand the need for radical revisions of the disciplines for their students and society at large. In other words, this collection is for academics looking to understand colorblindness, colonialism, and racism within the scope of their discipline.