Colorblindness Linked to Racism Online and Off

An important and path breaking new study links colorblind racial ideology to racism online and off.  The study, by Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Suzanne L. Markoe of the University of California, Los Angeles, is published in the March issue of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

The study, which examined the relationship between responses to racial theme party images on social networking sites and a color-blind racial ideology,  found that white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially themed parties.  In other words, the more “color-blind” someone was, the less likely they would be to find parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes (e.g., photos of students dressed in blackface make-up attending a “gangsta party” to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day) offensive.

To conduct the study, Tynes and Markoe showed 217 ethnically diverse college students images from racially themed parties and prompted them to respond as if they were writing on a friend’s Facebook or MySpace page.   Fifty-eight percent of African-Americans were unequivocally bothered by the images, compared with only 21 percent of whites. The majority of white respondents (41 percent) were in the bothered-ambivalent group, and 24 percent were in the not bothered-ambivalent group. n the written response portion of the study, the responses ranged from approval and nonchalance (“OMG!! I can’t believe you guys would think of that!!! Horrible … but kinda funny not gonna lie”) to mild outrage (“This is obscenely offensive”).

The students also were asked questions about their attitudes toward racial privilege, institutional discrimination and racial issues. Those who scored higher on the measure were more likely to hold color-blind racial attitudes, and were more likely to be ambivalent or not bothered by the race party photos.  Respondents low in racial color-blindness were much more vocal in expressing their displeasure and opposition to these images, and would even go so far as to “de-friend” someone over posting those images.

Tynes’ research also revealed an incongruence of reactions among white students that she’s dubbed “Facebook face,” which she explains in an interview:

“To their friends, they would express mild approval of the party photos or just not discuss race,” Tynes said. “But in private, in a reaction that they thought their friends wouldn’t see, some students would let us know that they thought the image was racist or that it angered them. We think that it’s because whites have been socialized not to talk about race.”

According to Tynes, a color-blind racial attitude is the prevailing racial ideology of the post-Civil Rights era, and is the view that seeing race is inherently wrong:

“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist. You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on. You’re also not very likely to support affirmative action, and probably have a lower multi-cultural competence.”

Since a color-blind racial ideology is associated with endorsement of the racial theme party photos, Tynes says that mandatory courses on issues of racism and multicultural competence are necessary for students from elementary school through college.

Tynes, who recently was awarded a $1.4 million grant to study the effects of online racial discrimination by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said that along with the role children and adolescents play in producing online hate, her inspiration for the study was the numerous racially themed parties that occurred on college campuses across the country in 2007 and the resultant blowback when images from the parties were posted on Facebook and MySpace.


  1. Will

    I simply don’t believe in someone who says they are colorblind when it comes to race. To me it sounds like avoiding one’s inner racist mindset. Saying that you’re colorblind is like saying that you’re gender-blind. It’s not possible. For centuries, it has always been about color, and for someone who says that they don’t see color is unbelievable.

    I met a white woman on Myspace who claimed to be just that during a conversation about race. She brought up the “I married a black man” line as a way to prove that she’s colorblind. It proves nothing because I strongly believe that she still holds some negative feelings and certain stereotypes about blacks. I think she married a black man because of the “myth”, but that’s just my suspicion. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to marry or date outside one’s race, but one has to wonder what you TRULY feel about that significant other no matter who it is. In other words did you marry out of love, or marry out of myth?


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