Communication Arts professor advocates for being colour wise, not colour blind

Monday, February 25, 2019

People have been taught to believe that being “blind” to skin colour is a positive way to approach anti-racism, but according to Vershawn Ashanti Young, professor in the Department of Communication Arts, this major misconception leaves marginalized races and cultures unseen.

Vershawn Young
“Many politicians, academics and everyday people say they don't see another person's colour or race,” says Young. “But the problem is that being colour-blind is really to deny and refuse to see others' cultural differences.”

Young aims to frame these misunderstandings in a positive way, by offering cultural competency workshops and anti-racist training. He’s also encouraging a more comprehensive cultural discussion with the release of his new book, The Routledge Reader of African American Rhetoric.

Cultural competency is the ability of an individual to effectively understand and interact with people across varying cultures. “If we open up a conversation about race instead of hiding behind a cloak of colour-blind ideology” he says, “we will move from being colour-blind to being colour-wise.”

The workshops held across the U.S. and Canada often run with the help of English Language and Literature professor Frankie Condon. They include consultations with academic departments hoping to revise their curriculum to be more culturally-inclusive.

“There is a disparity in the topics and figures who are regularly taught in the curriculum,” says Young. “In the workshops, academics are asked who else could be included, who is excluded and what is the importance of diverse voices in the educational process.”

When it comes to his new book, which he dubs his, “crown jewel,” Young hopes readers will see that African American rhetoric is all around us, in areas ranging from technology, music and art, to politics, queer studies and history. Through the power of education, his goal is to increase awareness and to encourage others to learn about African American culture.

In the spring, Young is teaching a class-based on his book and he is looking forward to learning more from his students and the perspectives they will bring to the classroom.

“I may not be like the majority of professors they’ve had,” he says. “I hope they see it as a rich opportunity to learn from each other, and that differences are not barriers, but opportunities for growth.”

This article was originally published in Waterloo Stories.