Gwendolyn R.Y. Miller, a diversity consultant who advises educational institutions on how to tackle racial microaggressions, says being color blind is a “microinvalidation,” since it serves to “exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of certain groups.” She says the phrase “We all bleed red when we’re cut” is a microaggression. (Perhaps Shakespeare was being microaggressive to Jews (and others) when he wrote his great, humanistic line: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”) Miller says the claim that “character, not color, is what counts with me” is a racial microaggression too.
If that line sounds familiar, that’s because it is almost exactly what Martin Luther King said in his “I have a dream” speech. But American colleges in the 21st century demonize those who follow the King approach of judging people by “the content of their character” rather than by the color of their skin. Today, MLK would be viewed as naive at best and suspect at worst, conspiring to deny the primacy of our selves as “racial/cultural beings.”
But here’s the thing: King—like many other postwar radicals, liberals, and progressives—was challenging the idea that people should be engaged with and judged as “racial / cultural beings.” He, and others, preferred to treat people as people, not as products or expressions of “culture.” Now, 50 years on, the regressive, racial politics of identity has won out over that old humanistic dream of a post-race society, to such an extent that anyone who refuses to think of whites and blacks as different is treated as problematic.