Color-Blindness and the Color of Inequality

In a recent talk at Emory University, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Professor of Sociology at Duke University, raised two questions: “Why do we have such a high level of racial inequality in a country where ‘racism’ is presumably a thing of the past? How do whites explain the contradiction between their professed color-blindness and the color of inequality?”

Writing for the campus paper, Se Hwan Youn summarizes Bonilla-Silva’s main arguments like this:

The professor argued that whites use four central rationalizations, or “frames,” to deny the racism that remains in American social, political and economic systems. The four frames, he said, are abstract liberalism, naturalization, cultural racism and minimization of racism.

Reiterating his claim from his book Racism without Racists, Bonilla-Silva said abstract liberalism “can make whites appear moral and reasonable because they appeal to ideas associated with political liberalism, such as equal opportunity.”

Naturalization is “a frame that allows whites to explain away racial phenomena by suggesting they are natural occurrences,” Bonilla-Silva said. He said whites justify associating primarily other whites by arguing that racial minorities also tend to self-segregate — in other words, “lack of mixing is really just kind of lack of desire.”

He said cultural racism is the most widespread frame. It relies on stereotypical arguments to explain the low social standing of minorities, such as “blacks eat too much” or “Mexicans do not put much emphasis on education,” he said.

For the final frame, minimization of racism, people insist that there are few racists and they are hard to find, so racism is not widespread.

Minimization of racism is also associated with people’s hesitance to openly discuss racism in public, Bonilla-Silva said. He gave an example of an interview with a white person who said minorities use racism as an excuse “if things didn’t go their way,” and that whites suffer from reverse discrimination.

Other examples taken from his interviews with many white people showed similar responses, Bonilla-Silva said, which indicates many whites’ firm belief that blacks are playing “race cards” to gain preferential treatment.

Bonilla-Silva concluded the lecture by suggesting “five things we [minorities] ought to do,” including developing counter-arguments for the four frames and starting a new civil rights movement to demand true equality immediately.

I couldn’t agree more about the need for a new civil rights movement.

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