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Recognizing 'Colorblindness' to Better Your Ability to Work with a Variety of Communities

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘I’m colorblind, I don’t see color when looking at people,” when discussing issues of injustice? While a well meaning belief, it is unrealistic and actually may cause more harm than good.

‘Colorblindness denies the lived experiences of other people,” (Meghan Burke, 2020).

Why is it so wrong to ‘not see color’?

To start off, I feel Makeda Brome said it best in an interview available on Education Week (Ferlazzo, 2020), “First, I would like to say that most educators who say they “don’t see race” might also say they are colorblind. To those that would claim their statement, I would say there is no such thing as being colorblind. I would say that those who “do not see race” or claim to be colorblind are denying the racial identity of their students.” Brome is an instructional math coach at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy, with over 10 years of experience in education. Her experience has led to great insight on how to manage different life-experiences as a result of race and gender in the classroom, which can be translated into our day-to-day lives.

When we claim to be ‘colorblind,’ we are also ignoring the individual experiences that make up our differences. “When you do not see a student’s race, you are denying the very fabric of their being. You are denying something they cannot and should not “rid’” or deny themselves of….A student cannot not see their race…Their race contributes to the experiences that they have as they navigate through society,” Makeda continued (Ferlazzo, 2020). In order to see the whole person, we need to recognize that there are differences.

At this point, you may be asking yourself ‘well, how does that make things equal?’ You see, there is a difference between equality and equity.

Equity vs. Equality

You have likely heard the word ‘equity,’ but what does it really mean and what place does it hold in this conversation, especially when compared to equality?

Three individuals of different stature attempting to see a baseball game.
When thinking of equality vs. equity, pay attention to what would help everyone get the same end result, rather than how to give everyone the same resources. Image from EquityTool.

Starting with equality, it is defined as ‘the state or quality of being equal; correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability,” (County of Marin, n.d.). This is essentially that every individual has the same access to the same number of resources, no matter their demographics.

On the other hand, equity is defined as ‘the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality,’ (County of Marin, n.d.). The idea of equity is much more complicated than equality. The largest difference between the two definitions is the inclusion of ‘fairness,’ but what does that look like and how is it any different than equality? In cases where equality is applied everyone may receive the same benefits or care across the board, so let's say in the case of a community garden every family unit will receive equal amounts of vegetables. This may seem right, but if we were to add fairness into the equation the amount of produce received by each family would include the number of individuals within the family unit and their dietary needs. If we applied equality, there would be families that would end up in excess as they may be 2-3 person households, while other families would end up in need as they live in 4+ person households.

The idea of equity is essentially paying more attention where attention is due. Objectively the resources and opportunities available to communities of color are much farther and fewer between than white communities. In order to better understand how we need to move forward, we need to understand the difference in equity and equality.

What can we do?

Have the Difficult Conversations

If thinking about having these conversations fills you with anxiety, you are not alone, but do not let that anxiety stop you from bettering yourself. Discuss situations that you recognize and may even be confused about in a calm and respectful manner. The United States is becoming more diverse as the years go by, and while it has always been important to recognize our differences, it is more important now than ever to make these changes (Jensen, et. al, 2021).

Do’s and Don’ts (Open Access Government, 2020).

  1. Do focus on the lived personal experience that people share, but recognize that these are individual experiences. One person’s lived experience may be similar to another, but is not the rule.

  2. Don’t do the more subtle ‘Where are you from?’ question. Recognizing that someone may be from another culture or part of the world does not mean indirectly asking if they are from the states. If you are curious, respectfully ask questions.

  3. Do apologize for missteps. We all make mistakes, but what makes a difference is apologizing for any offense, intended or not. This opens up the conversation, and you can learn from your mistakes.

  4. Don’t get defensive. If you are having a difficult conversation and feel yourself becoming defensive, stop for a moment and ask yourself why you feel that way. Analyze your own feelings before moving forward.

Recognize Your Own Biases

If you have caught yourself identifying as ‘colorblind,’ try asking yourself the following questions*;

  1. When I claim to not see race, what else am I not seeing in others?

  2. What rich learning/life experiences and I miss out when I color (myself) blind?

  3. When I claim to not see color, do I realize that I am denying someone an essential part of their experience and existence while simultaneously holding on to mine?

*Adapted from questions posed by Makeda Brown (Ferlazzo, 2020).

If you are unsure where to start on where your own implicit biases lie, try taking the Harvard Implicit Association tests. Project Implicit was founded in 1998 and offers a variety of implicit bias tests online to help individuals recognize their biases, and gather data to educate the public about bias (Harvard, n.d.). Follow this link to take a test today.


I wanted to take a moment at the end of this post to recognize that I have previously called myself ‘colorblind,’ and had felt a certain level of pride in looking beyond something like race. Over the last six years my personal views have changed and I no longer identify as ‘colorblind,’ and I have worked (and will continue to work) to find resources to help myself go about these conversations in a respectful and mindful manner.

I am not an Iowa-native, I moved from South Kansas City, Missouri to Waverly, Iowa in 2017 for college. Compared to most Iowans, I had a unique experience in school as the minority enrollment in my district is 90%, with 74.8% economically disadvantaged (U.S. News, n.d.). Despite having lived in this environment, I still held the belief that I was colorblind up until a few years ago. I did not recognize the difference in equity and equality until I reached college and realized the other white students had completed titration labs in high school, and even done their first dissections, while my school could not afford to supply all of our classes with these resources. I spoke with other students who talked about opportunities as though myself and others in my high school had the chance for the same experiences that they had, but somehow they were just still so much farther ahead than us.

At this point in my life, both professional and personal, I have taken steps to reflect on my own life experiences and ask you to do the same. While this blog post may seem tangential to our environmental and community work, it is in fact woven into every single thing we do. Look through the following resources and branch out to learn more about how you can better yourself to help better the community. Remember, we are often guests in other worlds, we are not saviors.



County of Marin Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.) Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?

Ferlazzo, L. (2020, Feb. 2). Saying ‘I Don’t See Color’ Denies the Racial Identity of Students. Education Week.

Jensen, E., Jones, N., Rabe, M., Pratt, B., Medina, L., Orozco, K., and Spell, L. (2021, Aug. 12). The Chance That Two People Chosen at Random Are of Different Race or Ethnicity Groups Has Increased Since 2010. United States Census.

Krings, M. (2017, Jan. 24). Claims of being ‘color blind’ implies race does not matter, leads to unequal education, professor says. American Institute of Physics.

Miller, R. (2020, Jun. 19). How to start a conversation about racism and unconscious bias. All Things Internal Communication.

Narrative citation: Project Implicit (n.d.). Database Record for a Test.

Open Access Government. (2020, Jul. 15). Get comfortable with the uncomfortable: Talking about race can be difficult.

U.S. News. (n.d.). Hickman Mills C-1.

Vincenty, S. (202, Jun. 12). Being “Color Blind” Doesn’t Make You Not Racist–In Fact, It Can Mean the Opposite. Oprah Daily.


About The Author

Bri Hull is the Communications Associate at the Tallgrass Prairie Center. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Bri came to Iowa to attend Wartburg College. In her time in Iowa she developed an interest in environmental science and stayed to learn more about ways she can help her community. In her time with Green Iowa AmeriCorps, Bri hopes to learn how to become more green and how to reach out to her community to do the same.

This blog is one in a series as a part of her 2022-23 Professional Development Project. Her project focuses on increasing diversity and inclusion in our greenspaces.


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