The following is based mainly on chapter two of “Racism Without Racists” (2010) by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a professor of sociology at Duke University. He has studied colour-blind racism, the more subtle sort of racism that took the place of Jim Crow racism among White Americans after the 1960s.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva asked samples of White Americans, most of them born between 1940 and 1980, questions about race issues. He noticed that at least half of them used each of the following four frames:
- Abstract liberalism – the key word here is “abstract”. Unlike Jim Crow racists, most whites now agree that all Americans, regardless of race, should have equal rights and equal opportunities. But it is just lip service. When asked about government policies that could bring about such equality, like affirmative action or busing, most whites will find one reason or another to oppose them and fail to offer any other solid measure. Freedom, democracy and equality are not things to be achieved but just empty words to dress up the way things are in America – and to dress up the racism of white people.
- Minimization of racism – Most whites believe there is still discrimination against blacks, but it is not as bad as it used to be and it is no longer the main thing holding blacks back. Instead it is their culture:
- Cultural racism – Unlike Jim Crow racists, most whites no longer believe that there is anything wrong with blacks biologically. Instead it is cultural: mostly bad families, bad values and a bad work ethic. Blaming the victim. Some note that blacks use racism as an excuse and expect handouts.
- Naturalization of racism – racist practices in society, like highly segregated schools and neighbourhoods and low rates of interracial marriage, are seen as “natural”, as a part of human nature – not as the outcome of white racism. That means it is no one’s fault, that there is little that can be done to change it.
The frames are mixed and matched as required by the argument at hand. The frames help to support each other. For example, minimizing racism makes an abstract liberalism seem more acceptable. The frames can be used in a straightforward way (“Blacks are lazy”) or more subtly (“It is hard being a single mother”).
Whites think they are a better judge of racism than blacks, particularly since blacks tend to imagine racism when it is not there.
The truth is blacks imagine little. Discrimination in hiring, housing and education has been well documented. The government should take forceful action to end it as it goes against the American value of equal opportunity for all regardless of race.
Yet almost no white person talks like that. Instead they use the frames to avoid saying anything like that. At best they will admit to discrimination but then discount its effects. Or they will say they believe in equality of opportunity but then find reasons to oppose any policy with the teeth to achieve it.