The concept of colorblindness was challenged as a solution to racism in a lecture given by Dr. Rita Cameron-Wedding at the Union Ballroom Tuesday afternoon.
In the lecture, titled “A Challenge to Colorblindness: Racial Inequality in the 21st Century,” Cameron-Wedding argued colorblindness, stereotyping and implicit biases are tools of modern racism and serve to keep historic racial barriers in place. Cameron-Wedding is a professor of women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies at Sacramento State University, as well as chair of the Department of Women’s Studies. Cameron-Wedding’s teachings on implicit bias are being used throughout the nation, most recently to train the Sacramento Police Department. She has also served two terms as a governor’s appointee to the California Commission on the Status of Women.
Colorblindness is a problematic concept, Cameron-Wedding explained, because it assumes an even playing field in society. It claims race is no longer an issue in society, and suppresses public discourse about race by implying whoever mentions race in a discussion is a racist, or is playing the race card.
Implicit bias and stereotyping are not overt racism, but they allow negative associations in people. Cameron-Wedding showed jaw-dropping videos of experiments conducted with children to show stereotyping starts early. In one video clip from the news show “20/20,” a group of kids were shown a picture of a black man and a white man. When asked which man they thought was more likely to be a criminal, the kids pointed to the photo of the black man. Asked who was more likely to be a teacher, the kids pointed to the photo of the white man. The photo of the white man happened to be of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, while the photo of the black man was of Harvard University professor Roland Fryer.
Cameron-Wedding also went on to talk about the school-to-prison pipeline, a prevalent social trend in which students, particularly those who are already disadvantaged, are pushed out of the school system and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Contributing to this pattern is zero-tolerance policies at schools, where minor violations of school rules are excessively punished. A disturbing instance occurred earlier this year when a six-year-old black girl was arrested in Florida for having a temper tantrum.
At the end of the lecture Cameron-Wedding was honored with the 2012 Livingston Award, which is awarded to those who have positively affected the life of the University through their teaching and service.
Students came away from the lecture feeling informed.
“It was very educational and I hope a lot of people took something away from it,” said freshman and business and economics major Christopher Lewis.
“I didn’t think racism still existed today. (The lecture) opened my eyes. I’m shocked and amazed (racism) still exists,” said freshman computer engineering major Nick Balatsky.
Erica Lazaldi, a junior anthropology major, said, “She did an excellent job getting everyone in the room comfortable with a topic no one really likes to address, but is in our faces all the time.”
Asked why she chose to lecture about this topic, Cameron-Wedding said, “I think it’s a very compelling issue” because it affects the country’s children. “A lot of kids won’t be able to make it to Sac State with the current school-to-prison pipeline. Every kid deserves a chance.”
Christine Ebalo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org