Don't Be Colorblind, Says Workplace Diversity Consultant

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As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, you could be sending out the wrong message by claiming that you "just don't notice" race, warns Carmen Van Kerckhove, president of the workplace diversity consulting firm New Demographic.

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Recognizing Racial Stereotypes and Their Impact on the Workplace.

Do you claim that your coworkers could be black, brown, purple, or polka-dotted, and it wouldn't make a difference to you? Do you proudly proclaim that you're colorblind and just don't notice race? If so, you could be making a big mistake as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, according to Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder and president of New Demographic (http://www.newdemographic.com), a workplace diversity consulting firm.

"Dr. Martin Luther King hoped his children wouldn't be judged by the color of their skin. He didn't expect people not to notice the color of their skin," Van Kerckhove says. "Noticing a person's race doesn't make you racist. What does make you racist is if you make assumptions about that person's intellectual, physical, or emotional characteristics based on the race you think the person is."

Human beings are hard-wired to notice variations in skintone, facial features, hair texture, eye color, and the myriad of other phenotypic factors that cause us to draw conclusions as to what "race" a person is.

Then why do some people insist on claiming that they don't notice color? Perhaps because there is such a strong emphasis on workplace diversity that people worry about being perceived as racist.

However, there is nothing racist about noticing physical differences, as long as you don't believe that race predetermines intellectual, physical, and emotional traits.

But there's an even more important reason why you shouldn't claim colorblindness.

"When you proclaim that you're colorblind, what you're really implying is that race doesn't matter in America," Van Kerckhove says. "While it's true that race is not a biological reality, it is a very real social construct that has a profound impact on our lives. Race still matters because racism is alive and well. Pretending otherwise negates the everyday experiences of millions of people of color in this country."

For individuals, New Demographic offers the Anti-Racism Action Group, a 9-week-long course that takes an in-depth look at race, racism, privilege, and stereotypes. You can participate no matter where you are located geographically. The next one begins on Monday, January 28, 2008 and will take place on 9 consecutive Mondays at 7 pm Pacific / 10 pm Eastern. For more information, visit http://www.newdemographic.com/arag

For organizations, Carmen Van Kerckhove is available to speak on the topic "Recognizing Racial Stereotypes and Their Impact on the Workplace." Racial stereotypes impact our perceptions of and interactions with others. This seminar examines the most common racial stereotypes--both negative and positive--and demonstrates how these widespread ideas can manifest themselves in our everyday lives. Using a variety of media, Carmen Van Kerckhove explores the historical origins of these stereotypes and explains why they are so harmful. For more information, visit http://www.newdemographic.com/workplace

Carmen Van Kerckhove is co-founder and president of New Demographic, a consulting firm that helps people learn about race and racism without having to endure the misery of diversity training. She hosts the podcast Addicted to Race and blogs at Racialicious, Anti-Racist Parent, and Race in the Workplace. Carmen's perspectives on race and racism have been featured in Newsweek, USA Today, The New York Times, MSNBC Live, and NPR's News & Notes.

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