Conventional wisdom holds that racism has disappeared from the American landscape. The eradication of Jim Crow now symbolizes the defeat of the so-called race problem. However, this line of reasoning overburdens legislation with meaning and transformative power. Racial inequality has not vanished – it has simply been repackaged. In Racism Without Racists, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2014) argues that the overt discrimination of Jim Crow was replaced by a new racial ideology called color-blind racism.
What Is Color-blind Racism?
The notion of color-blindness explains the contradiction between persistent racial injustice and white claims that race is no longer relevant. Bonilla-Silva states that color-blindness frames “contemporary racial inequality as the outcome of nonracial dynamics”. Whereas during slavery and Jim Crow racial inequality was explained in overt biological terms, whites now reference markets and cultural shortcomings as causal mechanisms. Racism is now expressed in more socially acceptable ways. In doing so, color-blindness provides whites with a set of ready-made rationalizations to deny or deflect racial inequality.
The Four Frames of Color-blind Racism
There are four central frames of color-blind racism. Each of these frames determines the ways racial information will be interpreted.
- Abstract liberalism refers to the attempt of whites to appear reasonable and moral while opposing practical measures to alleviate racial inequality. When applying this frame, whites can beckon to the language of ‘individuals’ with ‘choices’ to justify living in segregated areas.
- Naturalization is the frame that allows whites to dismiss racial phenomena as a natural fact. This frame enables whites to advance the argument that all racial groups prefer to live among their own ‘kind.’ In short, racial inequality is dismissed as ‘the way it is’.
- Cultural racism allows whites to frame the social position of minorities in terms of culture. For example, the low standing of blacks in society is linked to arguments about out of wedlock pregnancies and deadbeat fathers.
- Minimization of racism is the frame that allows whites to dilute the importance of racial inequality. More pointedly, racism is reduced to a matter of aberrant individuals and events; thus, exonerating the system of white supremacy.
After conducting several interviews with college students, the data shows that the most utilized frame is abstract liberalism. For Bonilla-Silva, when this frame is combined with naturalization, the results are “ideologically deadly”.
Black respondents were significantly less likely to be influenced by these frames. Interestingly, blacks used every frame except minimization of racism. The implication here is that ideology is only partial, and that developing a counter-ideology to color-blind racism is possible.
Color-blind racism has an intellectual monopoly over discussions of race. Under this new racial ideology, claims of racial inequality are scandalized. Specifically, people of color are demonized as being ‘racist’ for drawing attention to their own victimization. White people, who directly or indirectly perpetuate white supremacy, can make claims of ‘reverse discrimination’. Therefore, color-blind racism eliminates opportunities to debate racial inequality, while simultaneously perpetuating racism.
Color-blind racism is a problem that presents itself as the solution.