Sociological Ruminations

A blog about non-fiction books that address societal issues and problems

Ferguson, Missouri and Racism Without Racists

A year ago I read a book by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva called Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America.  This was assigned reading in a graduate level sociology class on race and ethnicity.  In this book, Bonilla-Silva illustrates how the Civil Rights era changed social norms regarding public discussions of race.  In the opening pages, he delineates his goal for the book:

How is it possible to have this tremendous degree of racial inequality in a country where most whites claim that race is no longer relevant?  More important, how do whites explain the apparent contradiction between their professed color blindness and the United States’ color-coded inequality?  In this book I attempt to answer both of these questions.  I contend that whites have developed powerful explanations — which have ultimately become justifications — for contemporary racial inequality that exculpate them from any responsibility for the status of people of color.  These explanations emanate from a new racial ideology that I label color-blind racism (p. 2).

Throughout the book, he discusses the manner in which present-day racism is subtle and very different from the overt racism that predominated prior to the Civil Rights Movement.  He says that the color-blind rhetoric (e.g., “I don’t see race”) that is so prevalent in present-day discussions of race makes it increasingly difficult to to engage in discussions about race, and color-blind rhetoric also limits the opportunities to fight against racism.  Recently, I was wondering whether the author had made any public comments on Ferguson, Missouri, and I was thrilled to find the following CNN article. An excerpt from the article says:

Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility. It’s the Ku Klux Klan, racial slurs in public, something “bad” that people do.

But for many racial minorities, that type of racism doesn’t matter as much anymore, some scholars say. They talk more about the racism uncovered in the knife fight photos — it doesn’t wear a hood, but it causes unsuspecting people to see the world through a racially biased lens.

It’s what one Duke University sociologist calls “racism without racists.” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who’s written a book by that title, says it’s a new way of maintaining white domination in places like Ferguson.

“The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits,” says Bonilla-Silva.

“The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game.”

As people talk about what the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson means, Bonilla-Silva and others say it’s time for Americans to update their language on racism to reflect what it has become and not what it used to be.

The conversation can start, they say, by reflecting on three phrases that often crop up when whites and racial minorities talk about race.

The phrases are: (1) “I don’t see color”; (2) “But I have black friends”; and (3) “Who are you calling a racist?”

Click here to read the full article.  The opening of the article also contains a two minute long video that highlights various sociological findings about race and racism.  (It’s also possible to watch various lectures from Bonilla-Silva on YouTube).

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