The Cost of Colorblindness

Priti Nemani @pritinotpretty
Published in
12 min readSep 6


A photo of a poem written by the author at age 12
Screenshot and poem by author

This trite, naïve, and somewhat pathetic poem, written by a 12-year-old me, makes my heart cringe into an embarrassed huddle in the corner of my chest. In the 24 years that passed since I wrote my first real (horrible) poem in 1999, my once simple embarrassment has morphed into a piteous brand of shame, a self-flagellating regret that my younger self failed to realize the danger inherent in the dream I painted with my cliched words. I did not realize my portrait of a better world meant a world without my identity, my unique identifiers. To melt would mean to blend, to fuse, and to disappear. Preteen Priti did not realize how she was advocating for her own demise. She only wanted people to understand her dream of a world that accepted her. For me, acceptance came at the cost of erasing myself.

When Rachel Foltz’s parents sent me home early from a sleepover because I “smelled like curry,” I vowed to eat less Indian food. When people wanted to call me “Pretty” instead of pronouncing my name the proper way as “Pree-thee,” I said yes, hoping they would enjoy the punny nature of my name enough to keep me around. When my mom put Indian food in my lunch bag, I left it in the bag and took out just the banana that would always be hiding at the bottom.

Yes, for much of my childhood, I wished my classmates were colorblind. I wished that they would see me as they saw themselves. I wished that we had some commonality beyond our studies, but all any of us could see was difference. Ugly difference.

While I eventually grew into the realization that my brown skin makes me beautiful and, more importantly, makes me the South Asian American woman that I am proud to be, I still feel a tiny fracture whenever I see people similarly situated to me stuck in the masochistic colorblindness hamster wheel. Yes, colorblindness is masochistic when employed by a person of color. Colorblindness breeds violence and danger both for the beholder and the beholden.

What do I mean when I say colorblindness? While I would love nothing more than to include the entirety of Day 8 from Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy since Ms. Saad best defines the term and its consequences, I would deprive you of the necessity to read her work on the whole (go, read it, now). Saad writes: “Race-based colorblindness is the idea that you do not ‘see’ color. That you do not notice differences in race. Or if you do, that you do not treat people different or oppress people based on those differences.”[1] Saad notes how enthusiastically proponents of colorblind thinking pride themselves on an ability to not regard race when they engage with racialized individuals:

“The promise of the Church of Colorblindness is that if we stop seeing race, race goes away. That racism will go away not through awakening consciousness of privilege and racial harm, not through systemic and institutional change, not through addressing imbalances in power, not through making amends for historical and current-day harm, but instead by simply acting as if the social construct of race has no actual consequences — both for those with white privilege and those without it. The belief is that if you act as if you do not see color, you will not do anything racist or benefit from racism. And if you teach your children to not see race too, you can create a new generation of people who will not do anything racist or benefit from racism.[2]

In theory, this sounds lovely, doesn’t it? By pretending we do not see color, we get rid of racism in one fell swoop, right? “The problem is that,” Saad writes, this is “not how white supremacy works.”[3] Choosing to ignore a problem does not make the problem go away.[4] Dr. Ibram X. Kendi likens the idea of “colorblindness” to “the notion of being not-racist,” meaning that, “by ostensibly failing to see race,” an individual with a colorblindness mentality “fails to see racism and falls into racist passivity.”[5]

A popular expression that many individuals who subscribe to the colorblind ideology is to exploit the famous line from the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” where he refers to a dream for an America where “people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”[6] Politicians who lack even the remotest capacity for compassion, like white supremacist GOP Texas Senator Ted Cruz, professional flip-flopper GOP Congresswoman Nancy Mace, and CRT’s self-proclaimed nemesis Governor Glenn Youngkin, love to profess Dr. King’s words in the face of those seeking redress for racial discrimination.[7] By perverting Dr. King’s words, the politicians in question advance an assimilationist agenda that functions to gaslight those who believe that blindness is certainly not the cure to racism in America, at times with such persuasion that they gain followers outside the white racial group.[8]

As Saad notes, colorblindness has a “cruel way of making BIPOC believe that they are just imagining they are being treated the way they are being treated because of their skin color, thus keeping them in a position of destabilization or inferiority.” Colorblindness allows one to avoid “not only looking at other people’s races but looking at your own,” or it can be the gatekeeper that lets a BIPOC individual into the GOP’s white party. Id.

For Vivek Ramaswamy, the Indian American Republican running to win the US Presidency in 2024, colorblindness is essential for his political success within the party of white supremacy, also known as the GOP. Vivek adheres to anti-Blackness whenever he can, and he touts his hatred for affirmative action, a system that he directly benefited from when he attended Harvard for his undergraduate studies and Yale for his legal education, at every possible opportunity. Vivek is very concerned that white people will not be sure about his allegiance to a colorblind ideology, so his rhetoric intentionally seeks to assure those who would think him racially conscious. In a tweet dated June 29, 2023, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, Ramaswamy wrote:

“Affirmative action is the single greatest form of institutional racism in America today. The Supreme Court just struck it down in college admissions. As President, I will end it in every sphere of American life. Meritocracy and ‘equity’ are fundamentally incompatible. Mark my words: ‘elite’ universities will now start to play complex games to achieve the same results using shadow tactics like deprioritizing test scores. This is unlawful and I will instruct the Justice Department to end these illegal practices. I will go further to repeal Lyndon Johnson’s disastrous Executive Order 11246, which mandates that federal contractors — approximately 20% of the U.S. workforce — adopt race-based hiring preferences. Top companies now regularly disfavor qualified applicants who happen to be white or Asian, which spawns resentment and condescension toward black and Hispanic hires. Everyone loses in the end. Time to restore colorblind meritocracy once and for all.”[9]

Unconditional assimilation to the colorblind mythology of 2023 white supremacy is the only way he gets to be seen within his chosen political party. Colorblindness is a function of assimilationist forces, selling BIPOC Americans on an illusory privilege that comes after one upholds white supremacy, and assimilation battles against anti-racism and segregation in what Dr. Kendi describes as a “three-way fight” for the right to control American society: “Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction in fixed hierarchy.”[10]

In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country…This is personal for me. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants.” Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

Segregationists believe that BIPOC individuals are “animals” and irreconcilably inferior to the white race, while assimilationists like Haley and Ramaswamy believe that, if approached as ignorant children, one can teach BIPOC people to “become fully human, just like White people.”[11] After all, Nikki and Vivek assimilated, didn’t they? The fact remains, regardless of whether you choose the path of assimilation or segregation, to fully become a white person, you must center whiteness and decenter your own non-white identity to prevent being convicted of committing the racial crime of being “yourself if you are not White in America.”[12]

For Ramaswamy, as a non-white man, promoting segregation would put his own personal interests at great risk, but, promoting anti-racism would not win him the allegiance of the GOP central party platform of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. Whatever is a brown republican candidate to do?

Assimilate and (probably not) win, or tell the truth and definitely lose.

Assimilate or tell the truth.

Assimilate or lose.

These are the options as Vivek sees them, and without regard for the deliberate ignorance and bigotry that accompanies such a limited worldview, he has chosen the road of unconditional, self-erasing assimilation with an overflowing sidecar of self-loathing and internalized racism.

“I’m sure the boogeyman ‘white supremacists’ exist somewhere in America — I have just never met him,” Ramaswamy said recently on CNN.[13]

Haley and Ramaswamy join a history of Americans using colorblindness as a means to elevate their images while twisting falsehoods into conversations about eradicating racism by converting intelligent discussions into arguments about how to best preserve white supremacy. The infamous Supreme Court Justice John Harlan proclaimed that “The Constitution is color-blind” in Plessy v. Ferguson,[14] a sentiment hailed in the 2023 concurrence written by Justice Clarence Thomas in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.[15] In his concurrence, Justice Thomas praised the justice who created the doctrine of “separate but equal” and memorialized the constitutionality of racial segregation, writing “For Justice Harlan, the Constitution was colorblind and categorically rejected laws designed to protect ‘a dominant race — a superior class of citizens,’ while imposing a ‘badge of servitude’ on others.”[16]

Claiming that the Constitution — inclusive of the Reconstruction amendments that made it possible for people like my family, Nikki Haley’s family, and Vivek Ramaswamy’s family to come to the United States — is color-blind, is a bald-faced lie and is a bald-faced lie that both Nikki and Vivek must tell with every bated breath if they want to win over the white GOP. By pretending that racism does not exist and that white supremacy is some sort of cultural conspiracy theory while living lives marked by racialized identities — both are South Asian American — Ramaswamy and Haley engage in a shameless promotion of white supremacy ideology. Both repeatedly parade their cultural heritage and status as children of immigrants prior to making colorblindness claims that preserve white supremacy. Why? Why would anyone do this? Haley and Ramaswamy recognize that “it is a racial crime to be yourself if you are not White in America…[and] a racial crime to look like yourself or empower yourself if you are not White,” and neither wants to be on the wrong side of the racial laws that built this country.

The secret rules of being a model minority are many.

Don’t make too many comments.

Smile all the time.

Always be sweet.

Always say yes.

Do extra.

Do more.

Do more than everyone else.

Be wallpaper.

One of the foundational rules of being a model minority that often goes unspoken is this:

To be a good model minority, you must be colorblind.

Sure, I’ll bring a something Indian to the company potluck, and yes, I promise it won’t smell!

Sure, you can tell me how to pronounce my name.

Sure, I’ll look the other way while I accept less than I deserve.

In contemplating the misuse of Dr. King’s words, Dr. Kendi writes, “The child of a Black neighborhood, church, college, and organization lived to ensure equal access to public accommodations and equal resources for all racialized spaces, an antiracist-strategy as culture-saving as his nonviolence was body-saving.”[17] Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva observes, “Few whites in the United States claim to be ‘racist.’ Most whites assert they ‘don’t see any color, just people’; that although the ugly face of discrimination is still with us, it is no longer the central factor determining minorities’ life changes,” and that such individuals claim to live in a society as envisioned by Dr. King where people are judged by the content of their character and not their race.[18]

By promoting the interests of whiteness, both Haley and Ramaswamy seek not to save their own culture but to erode it; and, the violence that comes with such erosion is of no consequence to either power-hungry candidate. While I care little for their own self-destructive natures, my concern rests around the way in which communities of color absorb the self-loathing rhetoric from Haley and Ramaswamy. By denying the existence of white supremacy, the possibility of an intelligent discussion about fixing the deeply broken immigration system becomes infinitely stalled by rants of the great replacement conspiracy theory. By denying the existence of anti-Black racism, the willingness to take meaningful steps to end rampant police brutality against Black and brown Americans falls flat in the face of colorblindness claims of “not all cops.” If you do not recognize the symptom, you cannot recognize the disease. If I ignore your cough, then I can pretend you don’t have a cold.

As members in the “middle castes” as termed by Isabel Wilkerson in Caste,[19] to adopt and promote a colorblind mentality is not only useless in the view of progress, but it is harmful and, in fact, dangerous. Regardless of intentionality, to be unaware of the racial hierarchy that overshadows every single piece of American society is to live a life that ultimately promotes hate. Colorblindness pours into the crooked melting pot, and all the thoughts and prayers in the world cannot keep that wretched melting pot from toppling over and burning a hole into the ground. We fare better by seeing each other for who we truly are, including those of us who would prefer to disappear into whiteness to the detriment of us all.

Perhaps the one who paid the greatest price for her colorblindness, for internalizing the racist forces that wanted her uniqueness to disappear, was the child named Pecola Breedlove. In her “Foreword” to The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison begins with a thought that will conclude this present essay:

“When I began writing The Bluest Eye, I was interested in something else. Not resistance to the contempt of others, ways to deflect it, but the far more tragic and disabling consequences of accepting rejection as legitimate, as self-evidence. I knew that some victims of powerful self-loathing turn out to be dangerous, reproducing the enemy who has humiliated them over and over. Others surrender their identity; melt into a structure that delivers the strong persona they lack. Most others, however, grow beyond it. But there are some who collapse, silently, anonymously, with no voice to express or acknowledge it. They are invisible.”[20]

I was an invisible brown kid, trying to fit in when I wrote the poem that you read in my introduction. Collapsing into myself in an effort to fit in, I prayed for a world where my skin color wouldn’t matter. I was fortunate enough, unlike Pecola, to have parents who made me want to be proud of my heritage, a pride that was hard earned and stays with me today.

Colorblindness erodes our identities, and it is our responsibility to sustain that which makes each of us differently, and perfectly, American. I will spend the rest of my days continuing to remind my inner child that the goal never was and never will be to “blend” in because I, with my brownness, and my womanness, and my queerness, am enough.

[1] Saad, Layla F. Me and White Supremacy. p. 77. London: Quercus, 2022. Print.

[2] Saad, pp. 78–79.

[3] Saad, p. 79.

[4] Saad, p. 79.

[5] Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. p. 10. New York: One World, 2023. Print.

[6] Schuessler, Jennifer, “Ted Cruz Invokes Dr. King, and Scholars See a Similar Distortion.” The New York Times. March 23, 2022.

[7] Ali, Wajahat, “I have a Dream Republicans Stop Using MLK as a Cover for their Racism.” Medium. January 17, 2022.

[8] Saad, p. 82.

[9] Ramaswamy, Vivek. X, f/k/a Twitter post via @vivekgramaswamy. June 29, 2023.

[10] Kendi, p. 31.

[11] Kendi, p. 31.

[12] Kendi. P. 28

[13] Williams, Juan. “Ignore and Inflame: The Vivek Ramaswamy Approach to Racism.” The Hill. September 4, 2023.

[14] Plessy v. Ferguson. United States Supreme Court. 163 U.S. 537 (1896).

[15] Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. United States Supreme Court. Docket №20–1199 (2023) (J. Thomas, concurrence, pp. 16–17.

[16] Id.

[17] Kendi, 179.

[18] Saad, p. 79, quoting Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in Contemporary America. The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. Lanham, Maryland. 2017. p. 1.

[19] Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Penguin, 2023. Print.

[20] Morrison, Toni. “Foreword,” The Bluest Eye. VINTAGE CLASSICS, New York, NY, 2007. pp. ix-xi.



Priti Nemani @pritinotpretty

I write about law, social justice, dismantling oppressive systems, empowering racialized individuals, legal ed, representation, and mental health.