Colorblindess vs. ColorBRAVE

In her Ted Talk, Mellody Hobson, a Financial Executive, discusses her stance on colorblindness. She opens the Ted Talk by acknowledging that race in our country is an uncomfortable subject. However, by using her personal experiences as a successful Black women in a field dominated by White men, she provides compelling arguments as to why we should no longer be colorblind, but start the conversation of race in the workplace.

Colorblindness is a term used to describe one’s ability or choice to disregard and/or overlook race. Variations of phrases similar to “I don’t see color” are distinct examples. As Hobson points out, avoiding the topic of race is not the answer, for it mutes the discussion of diversity and inclusiveness ultimately. This neglects a significance piece of one’s identity.

I personally remember a time when the people around me chose to be colorblind. It was my freshman year of high school, and I was the only Black person on our cheerleading team. One of our away games took place in a very conservative town in North Georgia. There were approximately fifteen people of color in the entire gym, including the members of our basketball team and their families. At some point, the game got heated; racial slurs and threats were exchanged to the Black basketball players and myself. Yes I was upset in that moment, but I remember feeling more disappointed that the other cheerleaders chose it act like it didn’t happen.

My race was never discussed during practices or at games. The only reference to my color would arise while trying to explain to my coaches that my hair does not curl while in box braids. My teammates and coaches chose to overlook the difference in my hair, just like they did during the Georgia situation. I wanted them to acknowledge that my Blackness made me a victim to racial threats. So no, they did not spit out the racial slurs, but choosing to not acknowledge my race and the experiences that come with it, is form of racism.

While some choose to be colorblind, others seem to be on the opposite end of the extreme by being color conscious. Color Consciousness is when one thinks they are aware of someone’s reality due to the assumptions they have about their race. While I do think it’s important to be aware of race, assuming to know anyone’s reality without being that person can be offensive. During her Ted Talk Hobson stated that she was recently mistaken for kitchen help. Though I don’t have details about the situation, I believe her skin color played a role is one’s decision to mistake her as kitchen help.

Concluding her Ted Talk Hobson challenged us to be Colorbrave. We have to start creating spaces where we can have these difficult conversations. As Hobson stated if we don’t begin this conversation about race and discrimination it threatens to rob another generation of all the opportunities wanted for them regardless of the color of their skin.


By Mesha Byrd

MS Nonprofit Management Degree candidate at the New School for Public Engagement

7 thoughts on “Colorblindess vs. ColorBRAVE

  1. The conversation around race and equality require the “bold” commitment to confront the biases that live in everyone. The notion that engaging in “uncomfortable” conversations around race need to be to fostered in all sectors of business,but more importantly in everyday life! The casual conversations regarding race that can be fostered in places like a morning bus ride or in a school lunch room are even more important than those that take place in the corporate realm. The lessons learned in our everyday walk have the power to start an overall awareness to race and inequality and hopefully plant seeds of change that will flourish with time. Change stars with an awareness and action will herald a shift in overall culture and treatment.

  2. This post reminds me of an article I read some time ago, “The Costs of Racial Color Blindness,” by Michael I. Norton and Evan P. Apfelbaum. The article can be read at (https://hbr.org/2013/07/the-costs-of-racial-color-blindness). It basically sends the same message of ignoring to address, acknowledge, or know one’s race, has a bigger cost than embracing and welcoming different races. I think that this goes hand-in-hand with the saying “if you’re not apart of the solution, then you’re apart of the problem.” When Hobson’s teammates chose to not stand up for her or defend her from the racial slurs at the game, it sent a message that although they’ve never treated her differently behind closed doors, to some extent they promoted the behavior by being bystanders.

  3. In many ways people turn toward colorblindness because it’s easy and because it perpetuates a culture of silence. In the same way that policies like “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” did a better job of protecting the close-minded, colorblindness allows those who harbor prejudice to get by unnoticed.

    The idea of being ColorBrave is empowering and pushes for greater conversation around sensitive issues. The same people who worry that diversity initiatives will force them to hire unqualified people often do not have the background or knowledge that goes along with understanding race and prejudice. Most of these people probably don’t think of themselves as prejudiced because they have never had to think hard about these topics. By pushing those in power to be more ColorBrave, we step toward creating spaces where race can be seriously discussed without tension.

  4. I think this concept of colorbrave should be something shared in diversity trainings within organizations and schools nationwide. Race is a “sticky” subject that has been avoided due to the discomfort it may cause many and emotions it brings up in others. This has been an excuse not to deal with the issue head on and but we need to learn as Dobson points out to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Once we are able to step out of our comfort zones only then can we have real and effective discussions about race and racism. The idea of not seeing color or being colorblind is just another way to shy away from the issue and I believe to act as it does not exist. This silences voices and realities of blacks who are proud to identify with their race. Therefore I believe it is important to have language that acknowledges our differences and uplifts and embraces them as well.

  5. This speaks truth to an issue that every person of color deals with. People are either too embarrassed to confront racial inequalities, or too caught up in their privilege to realize it. All colorblindness does, is strip persons of color of their culture, identity, and history.

  6. I found Hobson’s talk refreshing. Being a 41 year old black woman myself and working in corporate America for more than 20 years I can really relate to what she spoke about and I understand the notion that she points out regarding individuals who claim to not see color. While I do believe that there are many people who do not judge you based purely on race I do not believe that its not noticed. I feel that people say that because they feel that it offers a sense of belonging and respect for that particular monitory. They want to make the individual comfortable. While as Hobson states “let’s talk about it” perhaps that will make the person comfortable as appose to not discussing it and acting as though it does not exist. No discussions at all on the topic can be viewed as being just as offensive as the individuals who do judge solely based on race.

  7. Hobson’s comments on her having box braids in her hair triggers two emotions in me laughter and sadness. Because our society in general puts so much emphasis on hair it never seizes to amaze me how amazed and fascinated most white women are in my office when I wear my hair in its natural state. My naturally free cropped afro has always prompted white women to ask me if they could touch my hair or how I manage to get my hair in that particular style. While I have made it very clear that is is very inappropriate to ever touch my hair I still get the silly and sometimes flat out ignorant questions regarding my hair. I laugh and move on. However its very sad when other black women who may not embrace my natural hair journey they seem to be ashamed by it and often ask me the opposite of the typical blond hair blue eyed ladies. The ask questions like does the man in your life like it? Why would you wear your hair like that? My answers are always the same. Kimberly likes it like this. And that’s all that matters.

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