Eduardo Bonilla-Silva would like to talk with us about race and racism. The Duke University professor of sociology and author of the acclaimed book, Racism Without Racists, will do just that Thursday, at 5:30 p.m. at UTSA’s Downtown Campus, DB 1.124, with free parking in Lot D3. Admission is free.
His talk is titled, “From King to Obama: Explaining Racism in Post-Racial America.” This will not be a boring evening.
The Rivard Report caught up with Professor Bonilla-Silva in advance of his Thursday lecture.
Rivard Report: Professor Bonilla-Silva, welcome to San Antonio and UTSA. We are pleased to have you visit. We regard our city as one of the most racially diverse cities in the nation with a majority Latino population approaching 60%, a smaller African-American population of less than 8% and small but growing Asian and African immigrant communities. Yet our occasional conversation about race and ethnicity often devolves into stereotypes that do nothing to advance anyone’s interests.
How do you use your own perspective to help people think differently about the topic?
Professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: My take on race matters is that racial animosity is fundamentally based on racial groups having different positions in society and, therefore, different interests. Stereotypes, then, follow the existence of a racial order rather than the other way around. If we wish to bring enlightenment to racial matters, we need to begin with the truth, which is acknowledging that some groups are better positioned in America than others—and they work hard to preserve their privileges.
My work then is fundamentally about “speaking truth to power.” I hope that those who receive what one scholar calls “the wages of whiteness,” will see the light and share the bread with the various racial minority groups. My work is a call for the racially disenfranchised to organize, to politic, and to make demands to improve their lot. “Power,” as Frederick Douglass told us more than a 100 years ago, “concedes nothing without a demand…It never did and it never will.”
Read more here on that subject.
RR: We like to think that San Antonio looks today like many cities will look 10, 20, 30 years from now as the Latino diaspora spreads to every corner of the country. How is that affecting the way you see the United States from, say, the way you saw the country developing a few decades ago?
Professor Bonilla-Silva: The so-called Latino explosion is producing serious changes in society. We (I am of Puerto Rican background) are already the largest minority group in the nation. But numbers are deceiving. We are not one group under the sun, but many and, on top of that, we are also racially divided.
I have argued that Latinos, as well as other groups, may help produce a new tri-racial order that will include whites, honorary whites, and a large, fuzzy group at the bottom I label as the “collective black.” If the USA develops such a system, then Latinos will fit in all three groups, further weakening the political potential of our numbers. This trend can change if we begin organizing now to prevent those Latinos who are white and honorary white from distancing themselves from the Latino masses. But I am pesoptimistic about this prospect and believe that the most likely outcome in the future is that Latinos will fragment and be part of a restructured racial order where whites will still be at the helm.
The whites and honorary whites of the future will include some Latinos (they will not call themselves that), but the Latino majority will be part of the largest group in the nation, the collective black.
RR: How do you see attitudes toward race changing with each succeeding generation? Is there going to be such a thing as a post-racial society, or is that just a media construct?
Professor Bonilla-Silva: Each generation develops a new racial language and new racial tropes to fit their moment and I have documented the language and tropes of this generation in my book, “Racism Without Racists.”
Our youth increasingly uses the racial ideology I refer to as “color-blind racism,” an ideology that avoids the old language of the past thereby defending the racial order of things in a slick way. Using the names and language of the past is not necessary to maintain racial domination and whites have developed an entirely new language, new metaphors, and new frames to justify racial inequality.
RR: That’s something that I’ll have to digest. As a Baby Boomer and parent with two Millennial sons, I see this new generation coming of age to be almost nonplussed about the issue of race. They seem more comfortable living and working in a racially diverse world, whereas people of my generation had to unlearn the prejudices handed down to us by parents and grandparents. Am I right, or do you see less progress toward understanding and acceptance?
Professor Bonilla-Silva: Everybody is touched by the dominant racial ideology I alluded to before, that is, by color blind nonsense. But as white and non-white children mature into adulthood and experience the labor market, jobs, the housing market, they diverge ideologically.
Young men and women of color wake up and realize that race matters. I see this all the time with my graduate students of color who lose their racial innocence quickly and realize that race negatively affects their options in all areas of life. White children change too as they become adults. Their early idealistic color-blindness turns sour as they join the adult white masses in believing that people of color do not work hard, use discrimination as an excuse, play the “race card,” and get the best in life through so-called “reverse discrimination.”
This is sad, but predictable as one’s racial interests sediment when one experiences life, as African Americans say, “for real.”
RR: President Lyndon Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty’ began 50 years ago this month. The anniversary has set off a national debate about its efficacy, a debate that seems distorted by the current standoff between political parties and the gridlock in Washington DC. Tea Party activists say the debate over social policies are unrelated to race, but many of us see race and racism at the very core of their positions and beliefs. How are you sorting all of this out?
Professor Bonilla-Silva: Racism is as American as apple pie. In my lecture I will explain how, despite changes—and changes that we brought through social mobilizations—a new racial regime has emerged which is quite effective in maintaining whites’ racial privilege.
RR: No other Western nation incarcerates as many of its citizens on criminal charges as the United States, and no state imprisons more of its population than Texas. The numbers are dramatically skewed racially, with minorities incarcerated at far greater rates for longer periods for non-violent crimes such as drug possession and addiction.
There seems to be the beginning of a national conversation about reversing several decades of draconian mandatory sentencing, perhaps because states can no longer afford the cost of such policies. What are you views about race and criminal justice?
Professor Bonilla-Silva: The criminal justice system has all but replaced localized racial vigilance by the white masses. Hence today, most whites do not participate directly in the “social control” of people of color, but benefit from a system that is biased in all facets against people of color. The worst part of it is that in the new order, some people of color participate in keeping us at bay.
This gives the impression that the system is not racialized: how could one call the system “racist” when so many police officers, correction officers, and the like are black and brown. But these officers just reproduce what they are taught and what they are told to do. Nothing new under the sun as during slavery and Jim Crow, some black and brown people also served as agents of the system.
RR: Tell our readers a little more about your lecture at UTSA’s Downtown Campus Thursday evening.
Professor Bonilla-Silva: I will try to solve the following puzzle: how can a country that is still so deeply racially divided, elect and re-elect a black President? My answer to this puzzle is that President Obama is no Martin Luther King, hence, his election did not mean the end of racism, but the rearticulation of our racial order. The puzzle is in fact no puzzle as white domination is safe when black and brown leaders adopt a post-racial position and persona.
If we are serious about ending race inequality and race conflicts in America, we must end the policies, practices, and culture that support white privilege. Doing what we have done as of late—talk the nice, post-racial talk—is in fact a step (or perhaps two steps) back. Having black and brown Presidents and Mayors was not the goal. The goal was and is advancing the politics to end racial inequality and this will not happen when our leaders, afraid of “offending” their white supporters, end up not talking about race at all!
RR: Thank you for your time, Professor.