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Monday, September 22, 2014

Colorblindness, Color Insight, and Oppositional Consciousness. How Trayvon Martin and MIchael Brown play into the short game and the long game.

Ok, so the Ferguson Curriculum is mind blowing, so much information, so many different directions to go with it, and conversations that spiral deeper and deeper into important societal issues, that it becomes easy to lose your way, and get sucked into the vortex and never find which way is up.

I am going to try to make sense of what I read in two ways.   First, by addressing the Armstrong and Wildman article and the idea of colorblindness vs color insight, then by looking at the idea of oppositional consciousness in relation to Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin.

The Armstrong and Wildman article contests that the idea of colorblindness as political policy came about and grew in popularity only when it helped the cause of those in power already.  In effect white people denying race problems because they chose to look at the world without color as a factor.  In effect pronouncing "racism is not my problem because I am someone without race."  One of the problems with this philosophy is that it ignores the privileges afforded by simply being white, and places the focus only on those who are not white and the lack of privileges afforded them.  The flaw turns a blind eye toward inequality, in favor of lack of segregation.  White people have race.  This fact cannot be disregarded, when we as Armstrong and Wildman suggest, acknowledge this fact, and can discuss what having race means, then we can also discuss what it means to be of a different race, and place the focus on the "me" instead of the box checked on the application.  When we can discuss openly the broad inequalities that come with race privileges, then we can begin to build bridges toward true equality.

I chose the Mansbridge and Morris article "Oppositional Consciousness - The Subjective Roots of Social Protest" because the idea of revolution and change appeal to me on a base level.

In this article, the authors/editors suggest the idea of change is brought about by the feeling of wanting change being coupled with a catalyst that is capable of organizing the masses under a common idea, and forcing society to change.  Like others, this article clearly points out that the ruling norms and ideas of a society are tightly shared with its ruling class. Ascendent classes may have the power to change the predominant power or ideology, but that power is always present.  Whenever it is asserted, there is conflict, and our primal human response is either that of shame or anger.

In the cases of Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown (which I have chosen not because they are the only examples, but because they are recent, well-known, and share common messages) I believe there are clear indications, of examples of the type of thinking that indicate the flaws of colorblindness, and oppositional consciousness.  Check out the video:

Hand's up, don't shoot!

While the speaker Phillip Agnew, from the Dream Defenders, explains to us all that (sic)"from the time you are born, this action speaks to the idea that I give up, I want to live" we are keyed in to a mentality, that I believe exemplifies the type of thinking that we need to discuss.  We have a white network anchor, asking the black man to explain the message of hands up.  Agnew explains, the problem is not in his explanation, but in the underlying message that black children are brought up to know this, and that they are all told explicitly from a young age how to handle interactions with police.  Is this the same conversation happening routinely with white families?  Why, if this "hands up"motion is universal, does Agnew need to explain it?

The idea of the long and short game unfolding here is also interesting to me.  Subordinate groups are often taught intrinsically and explicitly to rebel in small ways toward groups in power/privilege.  This is woven into the fabric of their consciousness, as Mansbridge and Morris point out "in crisscrossing routes with frequent collisions and cross-fertilization."  So individuals grow up learning to be suspicious of those in power, and find small ways to rebel.  This is what I refer to as the "long game" the idea of opposition.  When there are galvanizing incidents, such as the cases of Martin and Brown, leaders use the opportunity and timing to organize groups of like-minded individuals, and push change, banking on the notoriety of riots and outrage to educate, inform, heighten awareness, through slogans, protest, etc.

This is what I refer to as the "short game."  The seeds of unrest have been planted and fertilized all along, and when opportunity presents, you capitalize on it, and drive change.  The civic leaders in the cases of Martin and Brown understand the timing and cultural significance of major events, and rightly use these occurrences to further a movement.  Individuals decide, perhaps based on shock, or just new information, to back a movement, and at a base level, change can happen.  The role of the media in this process cannot be disregarded, nor can the role of popular perception.

I am left with the questions.  If the ruling group in society is replaced with a different group, and the ideas that rule are changed, how do we ensure that the new rules are better?  If the goals of change are to provide a structure of equity, can there ever be a ruling group?  Are we better served with fewer but better laws to address inequity or does everything need to be spelled out?


  1. Brian, I like the way you describe the long and short game of change. I also really like that you mention, "the role of media in this process cannot be disregarded, nor can the role of popular perception." I guess every generation might say it, but it is really interesting to be a young adult at this time and see/be a part of social media revolutions. Reminds me of the protests in Egypt in 2011 and the more recent #saveourgirls movement. Though I'm not like my sixth graders and wasn't born in a world where nearly everyone owned a cell phone, it is still hard to imagine how the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown stories would have been shared and what the response would be without 24 news coverage and social media blasts.

  2. Brian, I enjoyed how you tied our reading from this week from Armstrong and Wildman into the Ferguson syllabus. The hands up - don't shoot video was also powerful. I do find it interesting that from a young age children of color are taught how to use this interaction with cops, but it is not the same for white children. The closest white children may get to that is in a game of cowboys and indians, which mostly comes with the cowboy shooting the indian. Here is an article from 2013, A Mother's Rules for Being Young, Black, and Male.

  3. Brian, that is a great question: how do we ensure that the new rules are better? Just take a look at what has been happening in much overturn, so many changes - and how many of them are for the better? How many of them are hindering the youth that are in our classrooms every day and have passed through our schools, left with a lot to learn because we had to spend time teaching to some test?

    On a very different note, maybe I've been reading too many negative comments on too many news articles, and so I'm feeling a little bitter, but I am having SUCH a hard time wrapping my mind around how I feel about the issues in Ferguson. Hoping our discussion helps.