The Paradox Of Appearing Colorblind

In the above video, professor Michael Norton describes a game designed to evaluate people’s openness when talking about race. The game is similar to the classic “Guess Who?”; a participant picks from a set of 12 faces – six black, six white – and the other participant uses yes/no questions to guess which face his or her partner had in mind:

Even though asking if a person was black or white would eliminate half of the contenders, 57% of people did not mention race.  If the other volunteer was African American, they were even less likely to mention it.  In that scenario, 79% didn’t ask if the face they had in mind was white or black.

They reproduced the experiment with children and found that, while little kids would ask about race, by nine or ten, they’d stopped.  The little kids often beat the older kids at the game, given that race was a pretty good way to eliminate faces.

Interestingly, the people who didn’t mention race were probably trying to appear not racist, but their decision had the opposite effect.  The partners of people who didn’t mention race rated them as more racist than the partners of people who did.  Bringing up race was, in fact, a way to signal comfort with racial difference.