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Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States

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The first edition of this best-selling book showed that alongside the subtle forms of discrimination typical of the post-Civil Rights era, new powerful ideology of "color-blind racism" has emerged. Bonilla-Silva documented how beneath the rhetorical maze of contemporary racial discourse lies a full-blown arsenal of arguments, phrases, and stories that whites use to account for and ultimately justify racial inequities.

In the new edition Bonilla-Silva has added a chapter dealing with the future of racial stratification in America that goes beyond the white / black dichotomy. He argues that the U.S. is developing a more complex and apparently "plural" racial order that will mimic Latin American patterns of racial stratification. Another new chapter addresses a variety of questions from readers of the first edition. And he has updated the book throughout with new information, data, and references where appropriate. The book ends with a new Postscript, "What is to be Done (For Real?)". As in the highly acclaimed first edition, Bonilla-Silva continues to challenge color-blind thinking.

288 pages, Paperback

First published June 5, 2003

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About the author

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

10 books80 followers
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva is a professor of sociology at Duke University.

He is trained in class analysis, political sociology, and the sociology of development (globalization). However, his work in the last 20 years has been in the area of race. He has published on racial theory, race and methodology, color-blind racism, the idea that race stratification in the USA is becoming Latin America-like, racial grammar, HWCUs, race and human rights, race and citizenship, whiteness, and the Obama phenomenon among other things.

He holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Profile Image for Andrea.
Author 5 books175 followers
February 18, 2013
A very interesting book, and one that almost feels as though it's telling you things you already know...and of course it is. It's documenting how many whites understand their reality and justify it, so if you've spent any time awake and alive in the world, much of this will sound very familiar. But I think it's good to bring a critical academic eye to it, though at times I felt it was stating the obvious -- an unfair criticism as I'm sure to many folks, all of this is far from obvious.

He himself gives a rather brilliant paragraph summary of the point:
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 colorblind racism. This ideology, which acquired cohesiveness and dominance in the late 196Os, explains contemporary racial inequality as the outcome of nonracial dynamics. Whereas Jim Crow racism explained blacks' social standing as he result of their biological and moral inferiority, color-blind racism avoids such facile arguments. Instead, whites rationalize minorities' contemporary status as the product of market dynamics, naturally occurring phenomena, and blacks' imputed cultural limitations.

He is clear about how he defines his foundational terms. Race is socially constructed and subject to change, yet produces real effects on those racialized as 'black' or 'white'. The second term is 'racial structure', the "the totality of the social relations and practices that reinforce white privilege. Accordingly, the task of analysts interested in studying racial structures is to uncover the particular social, economic, political, social control, and ideological mechanisms responsible for the reproduction of racial privilege in a society." And the third term is ideology: "the racially based frameworks used by actors to explain and justify (dominant race) or challenge (subordinate race or races) the racial status quo. Although all the races in a racialized social system have the capacity of developing these frameworks, the frameworks of the dominant race tend to become the master frameworks upon which all racial actors ground (for or against) their ideological positions."

He further breaks down how you can analyse racial ideology through its three components: common frames, style, and racial stories. This I find quite a uesful and very practical breakdown, though I feel that there is surely other levels to analysing ideology...I feel I should know what more there is, be able to articulate it, but I'll leave that for the moment as I don't feel articulate at all about it. Perhaps it's in his oblique references to Gramsci, or at least reliance on his thought, without delving into its complexity. He writes:
And because the group life of the various racially defined groups is based on hierarchy and domination, the ruling ideology expresses as "common sense" the interests of the dominant race, while oppositional ideologies attempt to challenge that common sense by providing alternative frames, ideas, and stories based on the experiences of subordinated races.

He doesn't often quote directly or cite Hall either, but he's definitely here, especially in considering the flexible nature of such ideologies, the way we wield them quite unconsciously, and the reality that they are rarely internally consistent and not to be demolished by pure logic alone.

I think this is a good foundational book on how a majority of whites think. There is an outline of the four major frames:
- abstract liberalism - "involves using ideas associated with political liberalism (e.g., "equal opportunity," the idea that force should not be used to achieve social policy) and economic liberalism (e.g., choice, individualism) in an abstract manner to explain racial matters. By framing race-related issues in the language of liberalism, whites can appear "reasonable" and even "moral," while opposing almost all practical approaches to deal with de facto racial inequality."

- "Naturalization is a frame that allows whites to explain away racial phenomena by suggesting they are natural occurrences. For example, whites can claim "segregation" is natural because people from all backgrounds "gravitate toward likeness."

- "Cultural racism is a frame that relies on culturally based arguments such as "Mexicans do not put much emphasis on education" or "blacks have too many babies" to explain the standing of minorities in society."

- "Minimization of racism is a frame that suggests discrimination is no longer a central factor affecting minorities' life chances ('It's better now than in the past' or 'there is discrimination, but there are plenty of jobs out there.

For style he relies on a much more traditional discourse analysis, but one which really resonate with my own interviews of people when it turns to the subject of race. Here is the list:
First, I document whites' avoidance of direct racial language to expressing their racial views. Second, I analyze the central "semantic moves" (see below) whites use as verbal parachutes to avoid dangerous discussions or to save face. Third, I examine the role of projection in whites' racial discourse. Fourth, I show the role of diminutives in colorblind race talk. Finally, I show how incursions into forbidden issues produce almost total incoherence in many whites.

And of course storytelling, story telling has been all the rage, and though in my growing up story telling meant lying, I still think it's a key concept though I could wish for a different name. He found four major story lines, though there were variations and combinations: "The major racial story lines of the post-Civil Rights era are "The past is the past," "I did not own slaves," "If (other ethnic groups) have made it, how come blacks have not?," and "I did not get a (job or promotion) because of a black man."

His results chime with experience as well...I never did think academics and educated people were necessarily any less racist, just better at not being obvious, and definitely better at rationalising it. They don't even have the excuse that poor people do, of being at the bottom of the heap fighting for every scrap. But Bonilla-Silve found in fact, that it is working class white women who are the most likely to be non or even anti-racist. They are the most able to empathise and to understand what other races go through and to be able to see through the rhetoric of colour-blindness. I would have said myself that geography is very important here, that is an aspect that is mostly missing here in an intentional sense. He notes that segregation allows whites to sequester themselves, and that negative stereotypes grow stronger the more segregated whites are. In terms of breaking down these stereotypes, growing up in mixed neighborhoods tends to help. I liked that he also looked at Black opinions and style, though again it is hardly surprising that most don't use the dominant frames, styles and stories, but that some of the frames, particularly that of liberalism, do have some traction.

This is a foundational book in terms of what people actually think, how they frame and understand things. I'm more excited about why, how this connects to the success or failure of struggle, the building up and tearing down of social structures and etc, but that complements work like this perfectly. And I liked that Bonilla-Silva is trying to think of how we improve things, change our world. He gives a list of 5 ways which I quite like:

1. because color blindness has tainted their views, it is of cardinal importance that activists in the new movement educate the black masses on the nuances of color blindness.

2. we need to nurture a large cohort of antiracist whites to begin challenging color-blind nonsense from within.

3. for researchers and activists alike to provide counter-ideological arguments to each of the frames of color-blind racism.

4. we need to undress whites' claims of color blindness before a huge mirror. That mirror must reflect the myriad facts of contemporary whiteness, such as whites living in white neighborhoods, sending their kids to white schools, associating primarily with whites, and having almost all their primary relationships with whites

5. whiteness must be challenged wherever it exists; regardless of the social organization in which whiteness manifests itself (universities, corporations, schools, neighborhoods, churches), those committed to racial equality must develop a personal practice to challenge it.

6. the most important strategy for fighting "new racism" practices and the ideology of color blindness is to become militant once again. Changes in systems of domination and their accompanying ideologies are never accomplished by racial dialogues-the notion of "Can we all just get along?" or "workshops on racism"-through education, or through "moral reform"23 alone. What is needed to slay modern-day racism is a new, in-your-face, fight-the-power civil rights movement, a new movement to spark change, to challenge not just color-blind whites but also minority folks who have become content with the crumbs they receive
from past struggles. This new civil rights movement, as I have mentioned elsewhere,24 must have at the core of its agenda the struggle for equality of results. Progressives cannot continue fighting for "equality of opportunity" when true equality cannot be achieved that way. It is time to demand equality now
Profile Image for Paige.
552 reviews121 followers
August 12, 2015
“One reason why, in general terms, whites and people of color cannot agree on racial matters is because they conceive terms such as ‘racism’ very differently,” writes Eduardo Bonilla-Silva writes in the excellent first chapter of his excellent book Racism without Racists. He continues, “Whereas for most whites racism is prejudice, for most people of color racism is systemic or institutionalized.” This is really the crux of his argument: in the post-Jim Crow racial order, prejudice is frowned upon by virtually everyone—even David Duke (former Grand Wizard of the KKK) claims that he’s not racist, merely “pro-white”—and yet the situation of black people as a whole has not improved much since the 1960s. This is the racism without racists of the title—that despite ostensibly good intentions and a lack of conscious bias, the racist legacy (segregation, anti-miscegenation, unequal schools, unequal housing, discrimination, police brutality, etc.) is still firmly in place. As Bonilla-Silva shows in interviews, many white racial progressives who are supportive of people of color in the abstract are either hesitant to support or even oppose any policies that would actually ameliorate the racist circumstances we find in our country.

This book is great. It’s obviously well-researched—the average number of footnotes for each chapter is 64, and chapters that don’t rely primarily on his studies/interviews have up to 191. I have highlighted passages on almost every single page of this book. For someone wanting to know what racism looks like in America today, or is dubious that it exists at all, this book is basically a one-stop resource to inform (this book, along with The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, was assigned reading for a race & ethnic relations class I took last year).

Bonilla-Silva focuses the most on black-white relations “because blacks are still the racial antithesis of whites in the racial spectrum,” but he does examine other racial groups as well. The book is also about United States racial relations in particular, although there is a chapter where he briefly discusses Latin American race relations because he believes the US is heading toward a “triracial stratification system similar to that of many Latin American and Caribbean nations.” There is also an excellent chapter on why the Obama presidency does not herald the end of racism as many hoped, and another on the frames of “abstract liberalism” that people now couch their racism in rather than spewing out-and-out prejudicial statements.

The only blight on this book is that it does, unfortunately, contain some transphobia. I cringed when I read this: “Henrietta, a transsexual school teacher in his fifties...” Ouch. Maybe it stands out so starkly in contrast to the the rest of the book in which the author is so right on, but this purposeful misgendering was just not cool (also, does Henrietta identify as "transsexual," or is that the author's label?). As is perhaps evidenced by that example, the book is not particularly intersectional—but then, it never claimed to be, as it focuses on race specifically. At times the book can get a bit “academic,” but it isn’t of the dry sort, just the detailed.

Overall this is a strong, well-argued, and really important book that I wish more people would read (or at least absorb the message of). I’ve been recommending it and referring to it in conversation over the past year before even finishing it. So tackling it one chapter a time is a fine way to read it; even reading one chapter would be worth it—and hey, look at that, the first chapter is available for free on Google Books :3
Profile Image for Seven.
63 reviews6 followers
October 31, 2007
some of my best friends are books...lol...
Profile Image for Tressie Mcphd.
21 reviews74 followers
January 5, 2013
People are going to tell you that EBS's argument is tautological. That's not totally without merit but you have to understand that the interviews are with individuals but the argument is about culture. Culture arguments stay being tautological. LOL Hard to get around that. It's an important theoretical response to the social psych super micro analysis of racism that makes it seem as though everyone is a racist so no one is really a racist. Most importantly, EBS is a hoot to read. Third edition, 6th para of forward he basically thanks all his haters. It's one of the great academic gangsta moments of all time.
Profile Image for Jamie.
337 reviews16 followers
June 6, 2018
It is difficult to describe my thoughts on this book. Perhaps the most suitable descriptor, ironically, would be that it is "problematic." The book's premise is an interesting one; that racism is still prevalent, having evolved beyond, for the most part, the overt Jim Crow-style racism and into a new color-blind racism that makes no reference to race while maintaining many injustices and inequalities, and how that color-blind avoidance of discussing race can exacerbate this. This thesis is not without merit. To those who doubt that such injustices and inequalities still exist, a chapter is dedicated to outlining relevant data and to build a case which I don't think can be credibly denied.

The lion's share of the book is dedicated to Bonilla-Silva's analysis of several of his own survey studies, in which everything is heavy-handedly spun in order to fit his biases. When a respondent confirmed his narrative, their words were accepted at face value. When a respondent said something disconfirmatory, or inconvenient, he found a way, without fail, to scrutinize and spin their words into a confirmation. Bonilla-Silva's criteria for racism, as he himself indirectly admits early on, is one designed to continually move the goalposts, so that as moral progress is made, racism will perpetually seem to be just as great a problem. Many of the things he sees and classifies as racist are simply absurd. Being opposed to race-based affirmative action policies, for example, is in his eyes a sign of racism. I waited patiently throughout for a explanation - even a brief one - as to whether affirmative action policies actually work to reduce minority poverty where they've been implemented, but no data was ever offered. Another laughable creed advanced was that any suggestion that family life, culture, or personal responsibility plays ANY role - however slight or nuanced - in the current lot of black Americans, is part and parcel of this color-blind racism he describes.

Bonilla-Silva concludes by predicting that many white people will hate this book because - more or less - they are racists, and/or can't handle the truth. Dishonest and manipulative, to the last. All of this said, I am actually happy I read this book, and I did learn from it. There are some new perspectives, relevant information, and much insight into the worldview and thought process of those who have siloed themselves off into far-left echochambers of the academy to be gained.
Profile Image for Kyle.
12 reviews3 followers
October 30, 2009
I have a few qualms with this book. The biggest is that, although Bonilla-Silva claims that pathologizing the internalization of racist beliefs in moral terms is problematic, in areas of the book in which he measures subjects' responses via a standard of "purity," he does just that. Within his analysis, he also allows that the structural has an influence over the cultural but does not grant these concepts a reciprocal relationship. Otherwise quite insightful, however.
Profile Image for Brian.
647 reviews79 followers
November 10, 2015
Racism without Racists is a sociological study of why exactly it is that despite a sizeable portion of white people in America claiming that race doesn't even enter their thinking, or that they "don't see color," or that racism is in the past and things are better now, or some combination or variant of those arguments, any study of culture will reveal that there is still a huge gap between white and black people on household wealth, educational attainment, criminal conviction rate, rate of graduation, and so on. So, how is it that this occurs, and how do white people explain it when it's brought to their attention? Bonilla-Silva's argument is that there are four main strategies whites use:

1) Abstract Racism. This is using ostensibly-liberal language to frame racial issues such that whites can appear reasonable for opposing them. Saying that affirmative action is "reverse discrimination" and that it's unfair to use it to address past discrimination, for example, or claiming that segregation in housing or friendship groups can't be dealt with because it would interfere with people's free choice to live where they please or choose their associates.
2) Naturalization. This is the idea that current conditions exist because it's just the way they are or that it's a natural outcome. Segregated friendship groups are because people just prefer to associated with others that are "like them" rather than any deliberate policies or unconscious prejudice.
3) Cultural Racism. This takes a lot of the old language about biological realities of race and recasts it as a property of culture. It's not that black people are inherently lazy, it's that they have a culture of poverty that discourages hard work.
4) Minimization of Racism. This is claiming that racism existed in the past and had a great effect, but is no longer important in current times. Slavery existed and it was terrible, but I don't own slaves, so you can't blame me for anything. The past is the past.

It's actually a much more academic work than I expected it to be. When my wife recommended it to me she didn't say much about it, so I went in thinking it was going to be more of a mass-market explanation of contemporary racism--a sort of Brief History of Time for American social structures--but it's actually an analysis of two studies conducted on racial attitudes in Americans, one on adults in Detroit and one on college students. The book thus repeatedly refers to quotes from the surveyed individuals to illustrate its points, which are pretty enlightening.

One thing I found especially interesting was the notion of incoherence. Bonilla-Silva's argument is that when whites have to express their internalized prejudice in a color-blind fashion, they increasingly resort to verbal flailing that ends up becoming almost word salad. One example was a student asked about interracial marriage:
Interviewer: "So what do you think about people who are absolutely against it, you know, who want to keep the races pure or whatever?"

Scott: "I mean, I kind of, I feel that way also because I kind of, I don't know, I kinda wanna stay with my nationality in a way, you know. I think once, once you start breaking away, you start losing your own like deep home family values and in away, you get mixed emotions, you know. But then again, it's just like the old times are gone, you know it's all modern-day now. So really you[r] nationality really don't, shouldn't count. But then again, some people don't want to have so much blood within their family, within their name, you know. I know people that will not marry unless they're a hundred percent Italian. I got a couple of people who will not date anyone unless they're hundred percent Italian, so..."
Compare that to one of the black interviewees's answer:
Interviewer: "Did you ever have any white relationships?"
Joe: "No."
Interviewer: "Did you ever have any romantic interest in a white person?"
Joe: "No."
Interviewer: "And why would you think that is so?"
Joe: "My preference."
Or, to be fair, in the other direction:
Carla: "If you like it, I love it."
Bonilla-Silva says that this occurs because black people already know that racism is a real force in society, so they have no need to use the language of color-blindness and thus don't have any cognitive dissonance to overcome.

Counter to popular expectations, the survey results indicate that the whites who are least affected by color-blind racism are working-class white women. The book offers a two-fold explanation for this. The first is that they're more likely to work with black people due to having food sector or service jobs, and this exposure helps humanize what would otherwise be the distant Other. The second is that as women, they already experience societal discrimination, so it is easier for them to understand it as a force.

There's also a repeated point made that part of the reason whites can resort to color-blind racism as a argument is because they see all-white groups as "normal" due to growing up in mostly-white environments, living in white towns, attending white schools, and so on. This leads to e.g. complaints that they don't have any black friends because of "self-segregation," while not seeing that similar complaints could be made about their group of only or primarily white friends.

The end has some of predictions about the future of race in America. Bonilla-Silva think that we're likely to move toward a multi-tiered racial structure similar to Latin America, where instead of most race relations seen through the lens of white or black, there's a three-level grouping composed of whites, including some Eastern Europeans, some Asians, urban-dwelling Native Americans, and Arabs; "honorary whites," including most East Asians, white-appearing Latinos or multiracial people, and South Asians; and "the collective black," including dark-skinned Latinos, blacks, Africans, and Southeast Asians. This new order will diffuse racial tensions away from whites by focusing the anger of the collective black about racism toward honorary whites, who they will probably have more contact with, in much the way that a robust middle class prevents the poor from being angry at the rich. He also suggests that color-blind racism and the new racial dynamics might combine to make race a taboo subject, in much the way that claims of someone "playing the race card" is rhetorically deployed today, but on a society-wide scale.

I think the book is a little weak at times because despite Bonilla-Silva's initial notes that he is speaking of social structures and societal trends rather than examining the heart of any individual person, he occasionally resorts to moralistic language, including explicitly using the word "purity" to refer to people's degree of apparent prejudice. This is relatively minor, but Bonilla-Silva has a whole postscript dedicated to people accusing him of calling them racist, so I think it mars Racism Without Racists more than the word count it takes up would indicate. It may be hard to avoid, but since one of the solutions advocated at the end is education on the frames of color-blind racism and the challenging of "whiteness" as a social space, talking about purity is probably a bad way to go about that.

Some people are just oversensitive, though. Bonilla-Silva has a note near the end about how some people got as far as the single usage of the word "Amerikkka" in the intro--a word that occurs nowhere else in Racism Without Racists--and they immediately put the book down and fired off an email to him about how he obviously hates America. There's not much point in diluting the argument to appeal to those people because they'll never be convinced either way.

I suppose if there is any problem with the book, it's the same as the one with The Republican Brain or Merchants of Doubt--namely, that the people who most need to read it are those who are least likely to do so. There's no real way to get around that, though, and some truths are disturbing and uncomfortable no matter how they're presented.
Profile Image for Alex.
278 reviews5 followers
July 29, 2019
While old-fashioned Archie Bunker racism is no longer acceptable in society (for the most part, as I type this in the Trump era), this book looks at how racism has simply become more coded. Discrimination in housing availability, in education opportunities, in banking practices, in policing, and in everyday micro aggressions has put racism under the surface and has made it much more subversive. Even the way politicians talk about issues like immigration, border security, and community safety are all just more sophisticated ways of reinforcing the dominant hierarchy with white people at the top and dark-skinned people at the bottom.

There's a very interesting chapter on Obama's presidency and how he was much more centre or centre-right than his public image would lead people to believe. Whether this was a strategic choice to get votes or part of his own socialization, it ended in people voting for an abstract liberalism that looked and sounded good on the surface, but which didn't live up to its potential and was ultimately disappointing for people of colour on a policy level. (I'd still take it over Trump and the current political climate in a heartbeat, though)

I wish I could make everyone read this book. It takes a hard look at people's attitudes in a supposedly post-racial society and how our under-the-surface beliefs and behaviours only make racism that much more pervasive but difficult to confront because most people legitimately feel they are NOT racist. But when they're asked questions about housing or affirmative action, it quickly becomes apparent that their progressive words are a front only used to save face and to avoid the label of "racist."
Profile Image for Anita.
219 reviews11 followers
February 17, 2017
I am p unfamiliar with sociological methods and such so I don't know if I can rate this on the Robustness of his Research but I do think this is a pretty comprehensive survey analysis of Word Tricks White People Use ("I don't see color!")
I also appreciate that he got Straight To The Point about eg it was almost like the New Jim Crow but more roaringly upset (NJC was like sad-can-you-believe-this and Bonilla-Silva is like SAD CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS!!)

I also think an analogous and slightly different version of his "racial frames" would apply to recent Chinese immigrants? although by his analysis it seems that education isn't really the factor that unblinds colorblinds but instead it's some ability to articulate and recognize the effects of ongoing discrimination in ones own life too. which is useful as in rhetorical kits but perhaps discomforting because like the intersection of respectability and colorblindness?!?!?!!??!

predictions of a triracial society maybe ironically delayed not by progressive agitation but instead a bigly orange trash bag :(

@Kevin Wang, Willy Xiao, Meghan McKenzie what are your thoughts on your Eye Condition being appropriated by society etc. as a neutralizing political term that perpetuates white male hegemony please discuss thank you !!
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
December 15, 2017
Every "not racist" person needs to read this book so we can all once and for all get rid of the colorblind myth. The collection of interviews on race was so well done and it was so disheartening to hear that so many people harbor such lazy thinking on race. The one thing that rubbed me the wrong way was his analysis of Obama. I get the criticism, but I think part of the left's disappointment with Obama is that they thought he was someone he wasn't. I wish we could have taken him at his word. He told us who he was--a pragmatist who identified himself as an American. Same with Trump. Why don't we buy people's own descriptions of themselves and we project our own hopes onto them? Trump told us who he was and so did Obama.
Profile Image for Lance Eaton.
402 reviews30 followers
July 20, 2018
In this updated edition (just after Trump's election), Bonilla-Silva explores how the blatant racism of yesteryear has been replaced with a racism that is best described as color-blind racism. Color-blind racism is grounded in the idea that if people claim they do not see skin color or to act overtly harsh towards people of color, they are not racists (like white supremacists) and therefore, their actions are motivated by something else (market values, evaluations of self, etc). Bonilla-Silva dumps that ideology on its head and shows exactly how color-blind racism perpetuates racism and white supremacy within the United States. Besides articulating historical and cultural contexts that create this situation, he breaks down two sociological studies that he conducted among white college students and working-class folks to unpack the ways in which racist assumptions are embedded in how they perceive of, discuss, and interact with people of color. Bonilla-Silva is a master in unpacking the assumptions present within how the subjects discuss race and tying it into the hypocrisies of color-blind racism and readers will appreciate this book that provides a language and pathway to articulating the problems of color-blind racism. Furthermore, Bonvilla-Silva's critical take on the Obama presidency and the election of Trump also prove helpful in understanding how much racism pervades the modern US culture.
Profile Image for Mona Kareem.
Author 7 books139 followers
October 10, 2013
In general, I think sociologists are annoying writers (less annoying than political scientists though). The first half of the book had an important contribution to offer regarding the rhetoric of color-blindness as depicted in the logic and speech of whites. Starting from his chapter on the color-blindness of black people, the book goes in decline with many generalizations and problematic approaches. The absence of gender in his analysis is really intolerable.
I think his claim that color-blindness has gotten to black people as well is somehow patronizing. If blacks adopt a liberal thinking that consists of equal opportunity and hard working, this in fact is a mechanism of survival and resistance. I think any black person has encountered racism in their lives, yet they differ in approaching and dealing with this issue.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book127 followers
January 19, 2022
Very conflicted about this book: I'd say it was a 4 for the value of its core concepts but a 1 for the distorting effects that EBS's personal politics and ideology had on the argument. I found myself agreeing with a good deal of the core text, but the later essays tacked on to updated versions of the text were abysmal.

Let's start with the argument and its value. EBS argues that a new racial ideology has emerged in the post-Civil Rights era to justify continuing racial inequality and white domination: colorblind racism. I wish EBS had given a one or two sentence definition of this term, but here's what I think it is: white people using a variety of techniques (race-blind liberalism, claiming to have black friends, generalizing about minorities but with caveats, ascribing racist beliefs to others, purposeful vagueness, etc) to A. deny that racism continues today and seriously affects the life quality/opportunity/rights of people of color v. whites B. Come up with alternative, often POC-blaming explanations (usually cultural rather than biologically racial) for continued inequality and C. deny that they have any role to play either in creating the problem, benefitting from future/past racism and white privilege, or solving the problem.

EBS main research method is to convincingly lay out the data on continued racial inequality and then do extended qualitative interviews with white college students and white adults of various backgrounds on their views on race. While I sometimes thinks EBS spins these interviews to fit his own argument, the interviews do suggest a strong plausibility for his thesis. The interviewees show a tremendous ignorance about history and ongoing racial discrimination; they justify inequities with reliance on stereotypes; they use statements like "let the past be the past" or "let's treat everyone equally" to blithely deny the continuing relevance of racism; they exaggerate their contacts with black people; and they utterly fail to critically examine why, if they were raised in a mostly white environment, that was the case (other than pointing to the circular logic that 'people just like to live with their own). I was disturbed to find out how many people expressed concern with interracial marriage by pointing to the problems the kids will face; as if that's the problem of those parents or kids and not the problem of continued intolerance in society.

If I were EBS, here's how I would have framed my argument; this is sort of a toned-down version of his case. Overall, these interviews show that white Americans too often use colorblind frames and language to act as if we as a country had transcended race when we have not. It is the substitution of wish for inconvenient reality, and it colors a great deal of our politics and culture. It is, in short, a powerful denial mechanism. This belief can then be A. a way of justifying ongoing racial inequality B. A way of eschewing any responsibility C. A de facto defense of the racial status quo. This book shows how this mindset acts to undercut movements for racial progress given how many people simply don't think critically about race, our history, and their own lives/roles in these wider stories. Even though racism as a whole has declined and PoC have made significant progress in many ways, colorblind racism remains a major obstacle to change.

I think this is an argument that everyone should hear, and it is more or less a moderated version of what EBS says. Why did I moderate his argument? Because the actual book is way more flawed, ideological, and oversimplified than what I've presented above. Let's get to the problems in this book.

The root of this book's problems is the failure to distinguish scholarship from politics and ideology. Scholarship should entail minimizing one's ideological/political commitments as much as possible in the pursuit of truth; full objectivity is possible, but we strive for it nonetheless, in large part so we can have a chance of convincing people who don't already agree with us. EBS, however, openly roots his book in ideological/political commitments rather than trying to minimize them.

Here's one example: this book takes a sort of crude Marxist/Gramscian frame on colorblind racism. For EBS, ideology is exclusively a tool that dominant groups use to justify their dominance and to inculcate in the dominated a sense that their subordination is just. That's certainly part of what ideas/ideologies do. Through that lens, everything a white interviewee says that could be taken as justifying the racial hierarchy must be taken as such, and only as such. For example, opposition to affirmative action or busing or concerns about certain cultural trends that might be part of the problems holding back progress for PoC must be interpreted as wanting to preserve white racial domination or making excuses for continued racial inequalities. However, ideas/ideologies are not just about preserving domination. They are about situating oneself in society, envisioning a just society in which we can all live, locating oneself in a variety of traditions (cultural, faith-based, intellectual, etc), creating a moral code and identity for oneself, and so on.

EBS has only one frame to look at these interviews through, so naturally almost every answer fits his frame unless the speaker embraces a fully progressive politics. However, these interviewees (or many of them) are engaged in a more complex set of thought processes. They largely don't have a pre-existing commitment to the racial hierarchy; rather, they explain ongoing inequality through lazy thinking, assumptions, biases, and stereotypes. They generally want a society that is integrated and racially egalitarian, but they don't want to do anything to reach that point. They might desire these ends but have other moral commitments (equality under the law, meritocracy, for instance) that move them to oppose affirmative action, which you can plausibly argues violates those principles. They might have a conservative worldview in which top-down gov't solutions are seen as ineffective, backfiring, or producing unexpected outcomes. None of these positions, which are all over the interviews, is evidence of a white commitment to using colorblind racism to maintain racial inequality. Rather, what emerges from these interviews is ignorance, moral lassitude, and simplistic thinking that are the product of living in racially isolated environments and not making the effort to learn about race in our society. EBS, again because of this narrow ideological frame, can only see the power dynamic here. This dynamic exists, but to say it is the only thing at work is highly reductionist.

Another problem: EBS falls into what Bill Maher calls "progressophobia," or the downplaying or denial that any progress has been made for fear of being seen as justifying ongoing injustice. Colorblind ideology, as I said before, pretends we live in a world we don't live in; in that sense it is bad. But it is much, much better than the biological racism of Jim Crow, in which whites all over the country viewed PoC as essentially inferior to themselves and as inherently second-class citizens. This was the dominant way of looking at race 100 years ago; it was challenged here and there in the 20th century, but in the last 50 years or so we have seen dramatic changes in people's beliefs on race on everything from equal citizenship, intermarriage, intelligence, culture, and so on. The vast majority of Americans do not want to return to anything resembling Jim Crow or overt racism, although the ongoing denial of the continuing significance of race can be an excuse for embracing pretty racist politicians like Trump. I am not saying we are done; we are far from it, and in many ways we have been backsliding in recent years toward the return of overt racism and white nationalism. But in order to know how we made progress in the past we have to admit that some progress happened; this process is crucial for making progress now, but EBS seems committed to simply moving the goalposts on racism while not spelling out what a racially egalitarian society would look like (critical race theorists never seem to do this for some reason).

And this is where the mixing of politics and research particularly hampers this book: EBS measures progress solely by his own highly progressive political metric. If you aren't reaching EBS' standards (sort of social democratic Sanders type stuff plus CRT worldview), then you aren't making progress, thus allowing him to deny that progress had been made; instead, racism has simply morphed, Terminator style. This is how he can deny that the election of Obama signaled any progress on race at all, even though basically no one in 1961 when he was born would have considered this to be possible in their lifetimes. EBS argues in absurd fashion that Obama was "center right," that he played to white audiences and corporate overlords while ignoring PoC, and that he failed to achieve meaningful change. Of course, this ignores that if Obama had come out as a fire-breathing radical, he wouldn't have been elected dog catcher, much less president. It ignores the political limitations on "revolutionary action" imposed by the separation of powers, factions in his own party, the need to fundraise, and the resistance of an utterly obstructionist GOP.

EBS can't seem to credit that Obama just has a different worldview than he does (a similar problem for his interpretations of the interview subjects); he believes in working through the system, building coalitions with those who don't share all of your worldview, respecting and listening to opponents, and taking half a loaf. Obama didn't leave community organizing because he got tired of it or wanted more fame; he realized that there was a larger power structure that inhibited change at the local level and that people like him needed to be in that structure to push for change. This doesn't always work, but EBS thinks that the only way to achieve real change is through extra-systemic social protest movements. For example, EBS mentions only the social movements of the Civil Rights Era, failing to acknowledge the crucial role of politics: LBJ's alliance, the media, legislation, etc. It took both of these elements to achieve that massive success, but participation in electoral politics doesn't seem to satisfy EBS' desire for authenticity and revolutionary change (a fantasy, largely). As usual, King was much smarter and more strategic than most of those who claim his legacy today. All of Obama's accomplishments are dismissed for having not achieved systemic change, totally ignoring the context and the limitations on what political actors can achieve.

So for EBS, how do you become an antiracist and help address these problems? Essentially, as he says in his narrow-minded conclusion, you must become a progressive like him. In other words, his big plan for change is for everyone to go through antiracist therapy and emerge on the other side as a progressive activist. This kind of thinking will only lead to further stagnation for this incredibly important cause. Rather, scholars, activists, and others need to think of a way to build a big-tent antiracism that can encompass many worldviews and ideologies. For example, I am waiting for someone to spell out a modern, liberal anti-racism that is willing to work within and outside of electoral politics, that accepts multiple worldviews within an alliance for progress, that doesn't simply pathologize or dismiss those who disagree, and that doesn't think you can dismiss notions like civility, responsibility, and objectivity in the pursuit of justice. There have to be ways of building coalitions toward anti-racism that encompass liberals, centrists, progressives, and yes, even conservatives, as well as people who interpret the world primarily through a religious lens. Not everyone can be included in this, and at some point too much inclusion dilutes energy and action. But EBS' path is a path to marginalization and failure; it undermines both scholarship and action.

This is not a bad book; it is mixed. White Fragility is a bad book. After having read/listened to a number of these texts, here's what I think the big problem is: these scholars are not willing to listen to and converse with those who disagree with them. Accepting their ideology is the precondition for acceptance and action; if you disagree they seek to explain your disagreement as a product of power, privilege, ignorance, what-have-you. These factors may matter, but the world and issues like race are incredibly complex and even people of good faith are not going to converge on the same perspectives. So I think that's why so many people find this kind of scholarship and activism to be condescending, frustrating, and alienating. For me, a liberal anti-racism starts with listening to each other and trying to see the world as others see it. For all of this book's strengths, it fails in that essential task, and while its core concept may be part of the puzzle, this book is not a strong basis for building an anti-racism that would have any chance of integrating the very interviewees it is based on, the proxies for a country that needs to reexamine its commitment to simplistic colorblindness.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,551 reviews133 followers
February 27, 2018
sad to say i thought this book relied entirely too much on other people's work/writing... not that there is anything wrong with extensive footnotes/bibliographical notes, i found the constant referencing of other work to be incredibly distracting and dissonant... in a much longer tome this level of quoting, etc. would be fine, but this book rolls in at under 400 pages, and that just didn't work for me... maybe i expected more originality, or maybe i need the same facts told in ways that are novel and interesting, not just repeated from other sources... there isn't much that's "news" in this type of book, i guess, so lacking a different approach to bringing the information to the reader, this book just comes across as dull... i would recommend looking for books that are written in the Critical Race Theory area, since facts and figures about Jim Crow and The Great Migration , etc. have been done better elsewhere, as have analysis of the Obama Presidency, Black Lives Matter, and Donald Trump/Tea Party/Republican Racists... i think these involve more investment than "token" additions in a revised edition of a old book...
Profile Image for Drick.
816 reviews26 followers
April 27, 2010
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, professor of Sociology from Duke University, examines the linguistic patterns of whites in an age of "color-blindness" with regard to race. Interestingly this book was written pre-Obama, but reflects much of the "colorblind racism" in public discourse since his election. For Bonilla-Silva, racism is not personal (that is prejudice) but is the result of structural and political practices that isolate whites from people of color in residence, education, and social interaction. As a white person who grew up in an all white community, and who raised my family in a predominantly white community, this book is sobering. Racism will not be addressed simply by "trying to get along" (ala Rodney King) but by a concerted effort to change our social and political and economic discourse. Bonilla-Silva lays out the challenge for generations to come on this perniciously troubling concern. In his final chapters he charts what he sees as the course forward, but that would require a companion book, which I hope he and others will work on
Profile Image for Jason.
112 reviews2 followers
June 16, 2020
Was really disappointed in this as I really felt like there was an important element that is in this book around the premise itself. I think there could be great dialogue starting from this but it seemed to be so heavy-handed in the analysis or supposed conclusions/proofs that I struggled to keep reading. There was no nuance or appreciation for the complexity of the questions and how and why people would respond the way they did...instead it was boxed into why they were racist for not agreeing with his expected responses...those deemed progressives and the reader is left to either agree and continue or pull your hair out...and of course for having this opinion on the merits of the studies and his findings, I am certain I would be deemed a racist...because that opinion did not align with his conclusions.
Profile Image for Jasna.
149 reviews1 follower
June 4, 2020
The core of the book is excellent. The author's thesis is that we have moved away from what he calls "Jim Crow Racism" (what many white people associate racism with) to "Color-Blind Racism" (what many white people and our society are guilty of subscribing to). This new racism attempts to explain away non-white inferiority via weaker "morals" or "work ethic, or"cultural problems", with coded language like "most blacks are like This", rather than "all blacks are like This." Inferiority is not a biological problem but an individual one, though it happens to be that "most" individuals of a certain group share those inferior characteristics. :) The author also articulates his idea on why whites and blacks tend to be socially segregated due to the negative feelings between whites and blacks: generally that many whites are repulsed by blacks, while many blacks fear rejection or retaliation from whites (I would argue this feeling is shared among many other groups of color). These ideas are concluded from several interviews conducted with white and black participants.

The author emphasizes that many people of color definitely exhibit prejudice against other races. White people are not the only guilty party. However, the difference is that white prejudice against other races has *actual power*. Other countries' majority race also have power, but whites are special globally in that other countries hold whites to an equal or higher standard than themselves. This can be seen in global media and the skin whitening industry, which is especially strong in Asia.

The author also briefly touches on race problems with Latinx groups (some identifying as black themselves since they've been called the N word by whites and are darker; while others, especially Argentinian, Puerto Rican, and Cuban, identify with whites) and Asians (who are too diverse as a group and probably shouldn't even be referred to as one group). He ponders on which groups and subgroups have become or will become "honorary whites", namely the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, due to their lighter complexion and higher socio-economic status, but will likely always be "honorary" and therefore never equal. He thinks about the "global blacks", which, in addition to Africans, Jamaicans, Haitians, etc., include other "deplorables" such as Laotians.

Where the book is much weaker is when he steps away from his interview analysis and dives into analysis of the Obama and Trump administrations. A lot of his material here seems too opinionated and presumptuous. But the takeaway about prominent minority politicians such as Obama or Powell being more centrist or conservative (whether genuinely or as a strategy) in order to be taken more seriously or not be too "other", is salient.

The audiobook is especially hilarious during the interview recitation sections since the narrator has a deadpan voice. As he reads aloud a lot of the white interviewees' either outlandish or incredibly awkward responses (since they are struggling to articulate their racist thoughts without sounding racist), I can't help but laugh, but also be sad because I have heard a lot of these statements in real life. I have also once held some of those beliefs in the past.

The author ends with concrete, difficult advice on how white people can act on this newfound knowledge and understanding of color-blind racism in order to not just be quietly not racist, but loudly anti-racist, as well as a supportive ally for people of color. He also urges people of color, whom he hopes find much validation from the book, to become more active themselves in fighting racism via movements and organizations such as BLM.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,195 reviews
October 16, 2019
So this is required reading for a class, but one with which I wanted to engage a bit. I like Bonilla-Silva's arguments and explanations for how "color-blind" racism and the fear of being seen as racist can eliminate discussion or opportunity to combat racism. If we all agree that "hey, we have a black president (or did, sad alas, now we have a sub-human orange one) so racism doesn't exist" then we can no longer talk about how to fix racism.

However, I personally am opposed to the discussions of racism that focus exclusively on structural issues. I get it, there have been and continue to be lots of structural barriers that people of color in America face that whites do not. Yes, the playing field is unequal and has been unequal. BUT the hang up that most whites have is that there is in fact inequality in skills, effort and interest across all races. I understand that if we lived in a fair and just world, we we would expect to see an even distribution across all levels (low, middle, and high) according to the proportion of the race (so roughly 12% of upper class would be black, for example). And I agree that since this is not so, there must be "hidden" obstacles. But oftentimes these discussions of structural issues pretend that there is no individual choice or difference in ability AT ALL between individuals (regardless of race).

I understand and have read research evidencing different treatment of people with respect to housing, education, medicine (both in access to and in the ways that doctors view their patients), employment, and most especially the criminal justice system across the board. I get it and agree that as a white person my life is just easier and that is not fair and should be changed. However, I don't agree or expect equality of outcome for all people.

This book highlights a lot of ways in which we talk about race, segregate by race, and continue to enact racial injustice on a macro level all while pretending to have moved beyond race. Bonilla-Silva does a good job of illustrating the incoherence that occurs when people have to justify racist statements without resorting to race.

Unfortunately, though I am put off by some of his definitions of white supremacy. One of his qualifiers for racist behavior (for example) is a white person not having a close friend that was black. Again, blacks make up roughly 12% of the population and whites 65%. Most friendships are same sex (at least close ones among heterosexuals)...so just doing the rough math, this means that we are talking about 6% black women and 33% white women. In order for every white woman to have a close black friend, the black women would have to befriend 5! white women. This means that the poor black woman would a)not have any time for herself and b) not have any time for any black friendships. Yes, I am being slightly ridiculous here, but so is Bonilla-Silva by expecting or evaluating people based on these measures.

Overall there is a lot to learn and discuss and I found his illustrations of how racism is ignored and maintained to make a lot of sense. I understand and agree that if we pretend it is not there it won't go away and that the white hegemony benefits by such minimalist statements as "racism is over". The complete lack of discussion or acknowledgement in the role of individual factors, however, seems just as ridiculous to me as the white supremacy ignoring structural factors.
Profile Image for Rob.
431 reviews29 followers
April 12, 2010
Going into this I expected a fairly breezy mass market book, probably just from the presentation (being one of the few books at my school library not shelved as an intimidating blank hardcover helps.) But I was pleasantly surprised to see that this is actually an academic sociology book that's very meticulous about its research and evidence. It's definitely readable for anyone without a lot of that background, but you should know what you're getting into first. Bonilla-Silva gives a detailed description of the ideology of colour-blind racism and provides a lot of examples to back him up. A lot of his observations are very astute, and highlight things I've seen before but hadn't particularly paid attention to. In a lot of places this text challenges its audience to re-evaluate their view of racial issues. I'm also glad to see Bonilla-Silva isn't in the ranks of normally astute commentators madly in love with Obama.

The major problem with Bonilla-Silva's analysis is his narrow focus on issues like affirmative action and bussing as the be-all and end-all of peoples' racial beliefs. But even if you can be opposed to these things without being racist (and I think you can), the frames people use to argue against them are pretty suspect, and I think that's what this book is best at -- revealing the subconcious biases that shape the allegedly enlightened.

And if nothing else, it's great for pissing off white people, which is a plus in itself.
Profile Image for Giselle.
6 reviews3 followers
December 30, 2022
Beautiful work by Professor Bonilla-Silva! This book is a must-read for anyone currently living in the United States. Bonilla-Silva outlines contemporary racial matters in the United States and explains how racial inequality persists despite claims that racism no longer exists (e.g. we as a country can't be racist because we elected a Black president). If you are ready to reflect on systemic racism in the United States, this is a great start!
¡Un gran texto del profesor Bonilla-Silva! Este libro es una lectura necesaria para cualquier persona que viva actualmente en Estados Unidos. Bonilla-Silva describe las cuestiones raciales contemporáneas en Estados Unidos y explica cómo persiste la desigualdad racial a pesar de las afirmaciones de que el racismo ya no existe (por ejemplo, nosotros como país no podemos ser racistas ya que elegimos a un presidente afrodecendiente). Si estás list@ para reflexionar sobre el racismo sistémico en Estados Unidos, este libro es un gran comienzo.
Profile Image for Rori.
131 reviews2 followers
June 16, 2020
A thorough examination of colorblind racism.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,210 reviews111 followers
July 22, 2021

This is a pretty eye-opening book on the persistent racism that has plagued this nation for centuries. Racism has never went away,it’s just subtle and occasionally recorded. We are in 2021,yet we are still hearing about police brutality,discrimination,viral racist Karen’s and everything known to man.

I could go into detail what this book was about but the main talking points was being anti-racist,micro-aggressions and discrimination in every area of our life.

Amazing book that addresses racism in every area of life!
Profile Image for J.P..
200 reviews11 followers
February 9, 2015
Where to begin? This book thoroughly breaks down racism as it currently exists in the U.S. The first few chapters are dedicated to clearly define the various aspects of color blind racism, what it is centered around & how it came to be in the 60's & 70's after the Civil Rights Movement. After all this a given a clear structure, he begins with the language used in our society that gives lip service to being anti-racist but actually helps perpetuate racism itself. It is clearly demonstrated how one can "absolve" themselves of being racist, believing something racist & then say something racist all in the same breathe & not miss a beat. The language affects how everyone views society & the issues that minorities face. How liberal ideology plays into this is given much time throughout the book.

There are interviews & surveys that demonstrate painful truth of how people pay lip service to equality but oppose actual mechanisms & programs, such as Affirmative Action, to eradicate them. Too many want to be free of the problem without actually solving it. The significance of hyper-segregation in neighborhoods & schooling & how that affects ones social circles & advantages or disadvantages in life are detailed & show how people are truly blind to the effects due to liberal rhetoric & beliefs. The attitudes of black people & white people are given separate chapters on how color-blond racism affects their thinking. The results aren't surprising but they are sad. Racism is pervasive & we are all affected negatively by it & the two groups are polar opposites in regards to their perspectives on it. Black people do not have the luxury to be blind to say the least & the research demonstrates that very clearly.

Thankfully, this book lays to waste the tired argument about why blacks have had so little success in comparison to other ethnic groups. It has everything to do with their ability to pass or be accepted into being white. They are then used as a buffer & divider for darker minorities. According to Silva, this is reminiscent of the concept of race in Latin American & Caribbean countries & culture. It's absolutely brilliant & horrifying. It is clear that in these cultures there are significant issues regarding race & color but it is not built into the language of their politics. The problem is allowed to persist but never be addressed because there is limited space for opposition because it subtle & specifically spoken about rather than overt. This is seems to be the path the U.S. has taken & the author makes a very convincing case for it, backs it up with examples & demonstrates the damage that can be done, some of which has already occurred in the United States.

Another argument that is laid to waste is "How can race be an issue if we have a Black President?" He puts it plainly, so long as one is not talking about race & plays the game the way those in power want, there's a good chance you can have some success. Basically, don't challenge the status quo. You will never be treated as equals but you will be treated well enough so long as you serve their interests. The book closes with the author's suggestions on how to combat color blind racism & be active.

Silva, admittedly, was not very optimistic & neither am I in light of recent events or after reading this book. As angry & sad as this book has made me while reading, I love it. I learned a lot from it. It expanded my understanding of aspects of racism that I already recognized & gave me new concepts as well. I learned a lot about how I & others around me have been influenced by this country's perspective on race & I feel I have grown & am better off for it. People thought slavery would last forever. The same was said about Jim Crow. It would be easy to feel the same way now. Things need to change & obviously aren't the best but what else are people going to do, give up?
Profile Image for Ella.
736 reviews126 followers
January 31, 2018
Moving old notes from book discussions here. Originally posted elsewhere on September 19, 2013

This book, along with a few other recent ones on the subject, have really touched the depths of the systemic and personal racial bias and inequality in today's America. You don't have to look far these days to witness a "racial incident." I won't name them all here, but suffice it to say that the research and information in this book is hard to refute if you are even slightly open to the idea that one could have racial bias without being an outright/overt racist. In fact, one could feel strongly about racial equality and still have lurking racial bias. It would be foolish to think our entire country somehow just shook off the systemic inequality of the last few centuries and without any policy changes managed to "erase" color from our view. Worth a read. It may be tough on the psyche at times, but the value lies in the payoff of improved racial relations and policies in the US.
So I wrote that little note and then something happened that proved the point better than any review I wrote ever could:

There's a long reply to that note above from some man telling me to read Anne Coulter that starts off, "I disagree with you and so does a black man, Mr. Williams on you tube called Doctor of Common sense in which he says that Blacks are more racists than whites now."

Then he goes on a long diatribe that includes these exact words, "In the 60's you blacks wanted desegregation..." and tells me how someone called him "white boy" and how he's now suing. BTW, none of this has anything to do w/ the book. I stupidly tried to engage a bit with openness & generosity. I'm not sure how he knows my ethnicity, but I "look white" so I get all the benefits that come with whiteness most of the time. He clearly just wanted a fight & though he returned, I just ignored his recommendation about a critical thinking book & Thomas Sewell...

I have no idea what any of that was about, but it was clear to me that the book I noted is correct: we still have racism, even if nobody -- like a raging racist -- will admit to it.
41 reviews22 followers
May 23, 2018
For a book on a topic that I think is so important, I was surprised by how much I disliked this. Well, perhaps "disliked" is the wrong word. I think if I were reading this as an assignment, I'd praise it as being one of the most interesting and relevant books I've read. However, because I'm reading it just for my own edification and interest, it made me a bit crazy. As someone who has studied sociology, I think qualitative assessment is important; however, as a data scientist, I hungered for more than a sentence or two out of extensive interviews. The underlying point Bonilla-Silva is making is a critical one; however, I much preferred Ibram Kendi's "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America" and Ijeoma Oluo's "So You Want to Talk About Race." Yes, qualitative assessment - rather than survey - is critical to having a contextual understanding of the frames - and qualitative assessment is resource-intensive in terms of time and money - but it still made me roll my eyes when an N of 17 or even 4 was used to make arguments in some instances.

Furthermore, I don't think it's aged well. Bonilla-Silva's insistence on updating rather than re-evaluating was already beginning to stretch my credulity in his analysis of the person and personality of Barack Obama, but in the era of Trump, it was that much harder for me to go along with. Furthermore, despite the underlying, central argument that his definition of racism is not based on personal, moral failings, but rather on a system of prejudice, Bonilla-Silva seems to detach from that stance when convenient.

My single biggest issue, though, was the treatment of one interviewee respondent. Now, I could be completely off-base, and maybe this is the preferred pronouns... but Bonilla-Silva repeatedly refers to one of the interviewees as, "Henrietta, a transsexual school teacher in his fifties." There's all kinds of things I'd want to unpack there but primarily... are those really the preferred pronouns? For someone who is making such passionate arguments about the importance of social justice, that seems to be a fairly enormous oversight.
Profile Image for Bookworm.
1,820 reviews58 followers
September 4, 2017
Good for information but not for a general audience. In light of recent events this seemed like a good recommendation from the media. Author Bonilla-Silva takes the reader though how racism has changed in the post-Civil Rights era and how "color blindness" is actually not that at all. From the language to people use to the beliefs they hold he examines how racism still exists and how it continues to be perpetuated despite the perhaps optimistic views that these view will somehow fade away or die out.
So while perhaps we do not have slaves working on plantations or openly segregated areas of service, etc. many of the thoughts and words Bonilla-Silva writes about here are dog whistles you hear in the media, by talk/radio show hosts and maybe even by your family and friends. It's simply how things have been done. Electing Barack Obama meant racism was "over". And so on and so forth. Bonilla-Silva looks at various people in each chapter, records how they address particular topics and then breaks down their words and perhaps how and why they answered in that way.
There was a lot to chew on and the initial chapters were promising. But I agree with a lot of the negative reviews: sometimes he is too academic and generally just too "wordery" that might turn off a general audience. Much of what he wrote about was familiar to me so it felt a bit like beating a dead horse with far too many words. 
But it was still interesting and I don't regret reading it. That said, I'd recommend works like 'The New Jim Crow' and/or 'Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class' for texts that are more approachable and perhaps would work as introductory ones if you're not sure about tackling this one. Check it out at the library or at least flip through a few chapters if you're not sure if it's for you.
Recommended for anyone who wants to understand how racism has changed over time, but be prepared to be uncomfortable and even perhaps recognize yourself in these pages.
Profile Image for Emily.
30 reviews8 followers
October 18, 2009
This book looks at two different interview studies (one at three colleges that was conducted by the author, one of adults in Detroit that was not) centered on white people's attitudes toward black people, racism, and policies such as affirmative action. There is also one chapter that examines black people's views on the same. Bonilla-Silva's analysis is incisive and targets the underlying ideologies of color-blind racism, namely abstract liberalism ("everyone should be free to choose, therefore affirmative action is discriminative"), naturalization ("that's just how it is"), cultural racism ("blacks are culturally different [i.e. lazy:] and inferior"), and minimization ("discrimination doesn't exist anymore"). He also examines rhetorical and narrative strategies of color-blind racism. While this analysis is quite academic, Bonilla-Silva does not engage in rhetorical flourishes or packing the text with jargon designed to make him look smarter. He manages to convey his complex thesis briefly, and remains engaging throughout.

I would not recommend this book as a starter text for those interested in anti-racism. However, if you already have a good grasp of white privilege and a passing understanding of how racism operates today, this book would be an excellent choice. I found it easy to understand this text because I had already read a little about colorblind racism and had some real-life experience to compare the book's structures to. Like I said, this is not the best choice for an intro text, but it is definitely a good choice if you are interested in recognizing and combating color-blind racism.
171 reviews19 followers
September 5, 2019
I’m not a racist, so how can I possibly contribute to racism? This is the central question explored in “Racism without Racists.” The author demonstrates that our attempt to classify people cleanly into racists and non-racists is overly simplistic, and we should instead strive to be “anti-racists”, acknowledging that we make mistakes but still remain committed to the fight against racism. Specifically, he shows how when we [especially liberal-minded whites] attempt to label others as racist, distance ourselves ideologically from blatant examples of racial discrimination, or provide evidence that we are not racist (e.g. “But I have several black friends…”), we contribute to a new and increasingly prevalent form of “colorblind” racism. This new racism hinders progress by comforting us with the safe illusion of a post-racial society, and thus absolves us from any responsibility for defending and promoting true racial equality.

A well-written and worthwhile read. Somewhat academic, and thus a bit heavy at times, but still broadly accessible to someone like me without much background in sociology. The author means to challenge his readers, especially young whites, to examine themselves and their own behavior, but does so without pointing fingers or being judgmental. Readers who lean towards a more conservative philosophy will find the book more challenging and will likely disagree about the implementation of some of the author’s suggestions, but the discussion is primarily sociological rather than overtly political, his underlying argument is valuable for everyone.
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