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For several decades, racial discourse in both law and politics has arguably been dominated by the call for colorblindness, that we should aspire to “get beyond race” and “see people as people not as skin color.” While liberals and conservatives have differed sharply about whether particular race conscious policies are justified (e.g. affirmative action, magnet schools, minority districting), across the political spectrum, colorblindness has been advanced as the prevailing racial norm around which we should organize. Some contend that we must take account of race on the way to a colorblind ideal; others dispute this trajectory and assert that colorblindness tomorrow can only be achieved by implementing colorblindness now. Still others who eschew normative arguments in favor of empirically based claims argue that eliminating race from public policy decisions actually produces better social decisions. In some instances colorblindness has even become formal state policy through legislative initiatives such as Proposition 209 in California and Proposal 2 in Michigan.
This debate has largely overlooked the particular phenomenon that is at the center of the 2009 CRS Symposium: the persistence of race and racial dynamics in spaces that have been rendered formally colorblind. Notwithstanding the general recognition that context shapes how race is experienced, there has been little attempt to assess how the specific context of formal colorblindness affects the experience of race. Our plan is to do so by convening legal and social science scholars to undertake interdisciplinary examinations of how race functions in environments that are formally colorblind.