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post-racist, not post-racial

You’ll often hear people describe America as a “post-racial” society. That irks a lot people, myself included. The term “post-racial” implies that we are somehow “beyond race.” Of course, that’s not true. Also, people use the term “post-racial” when they are trying to evade difficult discussions of race. Or as a way of avoiding blame for their own tasteless actions.

That doesn’t mean that America hasn’t changed. Contemporary America needs a name because the post-Civil Rights world is much, much different than what came before. Overall, America is a much more humane place for many its residents, though we still treat immigrants poorly. So what do we these days? I’d venture the following:

  • Racial discrimination is no longer legitimate.
  • Most people don’t sit around and just hate people from other groups.
  • People, though, still enjoy racial advantages.
  • Race is still a big factor in our social lives. E.g., people overwhelming marry in group.
  • It’s ok to talk about race. We can even poke fun at others.
  • Some people are still “classically racist” in that they actually do sit around and hate others, but this, for the most part, has to be done underground.

I suggest the term post-racist because while race still exists, we don’t build racism into our laws and culture. We definitely past a time where a law can simply say “Blacks can’t do X.” But race is still around and it’s all over the place. At least we can talk about.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 18, 2013 at 12:03 am

Posted in uncategorized

15 Responses

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  1. Race will always exist as long as there are social categories. I don’t see a problem with that. And I don’t see that people have stopped believing statistical fallacies about other groups based on biased reasoning-from-exemplar. There is just a new batch of irrational bigotry, like say, “rich white guys are ruining the environment because they don’t care about anyone else.” I think what’s important is that we not try to eradicate social categorizing and heuristic logic, because these are largely functional and usually benign (“middle aged black women on the south side of Chicago will appreciate being called ma’am, so I will call them ma’am”). I think we ought to just promote a heuristic that says categorical heuristics should always be taken with salt. Post-race seems like you say to undermine that effort.

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    Graham Peterson

    January 18, 2013 at 12:49 am

  2. Umm…”Rich white guys are ruining the environment because they don’t care about anyone else” isn’t so much bigotry as basically a truism here in the US. Though I’d add the caveat “Rich right-wing white guys” – at least Warren Buffett actually seems to care what happens to the huddled masses (so to speak)

    If you want to come up with good examples of bigotry, you’d better look elsewhere than the places you seem to be looking – and you’ll find very little sympathy if you try to the make the case that, say, rich right-wing white guys face more bigotry than Latino or African-American males.

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    Andrew B. Lee

    January 18, 2013 at 12:58 am

  3. Or, that rich right-wing white guys face an equivalent level or *type* of bigotry as Latino or African-American males. Bigotry against racial/ethnic groups is based on irrational hatred and prejudice – rich right-wing white guys give others PLENTY of rational reasons to dislike them, and it has nothing to do with categorical heuristics

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    Andrew B. Lee

    January 18, 2013 at 12:59 am

  4. This argument hinges on a very narrow, implicit understanding of racism. If you construct it is the ever-popular perversions of individual social interactions then, perhaps, you could talk about a post-racist society. But, then the examples given are structural — the dismantling of legal segregation and the like. If you are using structural examples of evidence of post-racist then you are wading in the wrong waters. Because that would suggest you’re employing a structural definition of racism. And I am unaware of but a few scholars who acquiesce that both structural racism is a thing and that we are post-racism. If the absence of apartheid is evidence of post-racist then I would argue that we are defining racist very, very differently. This is one of many instances in discussions of race where clear, explicit operationalization of the terms being used would help tremendously.

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    TMC22

    January 18, 2013 at 1:48 am

  5. “isn’t so much bigotry as basically a truism here in the US . . . Bigotry against racial/ethnic groups is based on irrational hatred and prejudice – rich right-wing white guys give others PLENTY of rational reasons to dislike them, and it has nothing to do with categorical heuristics.”

    This is the kind of argument I expect on Amazon.com or the comments roll at The Economist magazine, but ok. If one argues this way, one is allowed to say, “Minorities give people *plenty* of reason to dislike them, what with their crime rates and all. After all, uhm, their crime rates are basically a truism here in the US.”

    I was posing an aside about how the environmental consequences of one’s business say very little about one’s psychological profile, but apparently that’s an unintelligible and indeed offensive question to pose when we’re dealing with sandbox economic and social theory. I apologize for suggesting that “rich white guys” isn’t itself a racist sentiment that ignores not just the economic determinants of class hierarchy and environmental consequences, but more importantly for this board, the abject naivete of sociological thinking involved. That is, unless knee-jerk picket-sign politics constitutes a nuanced sociological imagination.

    Did you miss entirely that I agreed with Fabio?

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    Graham Peterson

    January 18, 2013 at 2:43 am

  6. Simply eradication of racism from public (and even private) discourse will probably not be enough to get us to a post-racial/racist world. There is some pretty good evidence that getting rid of racial categories is not really enough in terms of racial discrimination.
    A relatively recent (2010) article by Villareal in ASR studied how skin tone influences perceptions of individuals even in absence of (discursive) social categories (http://www.jstor.org/stable/20799484).

    Americans (naturally?) discuss race issues very much from the American perspective and particularly the situation in big American cities. Racism appears to be a huge problem in China and Russia (from what I’ve heard from quite a few people) that nobody wants to even start tackling it really. I find it difficult to even elaborate the state of racism in Europe, because it is mixed very much with anti-islamic, immigration, and cultural issues.

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    henri

    January 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

  7. This set of ideas supposes that racism is only about hating, but there are many ways in which people still engage in racism that ARE seen as acceptable because they are based on stereotyping and over generalization rather than hate: providing poor customer service because you assume certain groups will not tip sufficiently, making assumptions about which sorts of social service programs to provide based on beliefs about what racial groups maintain strong emotional connections to their grandmothers, etc. We as a society may be smarter about not writing these actions into law, but if stereotypes still shape social action in ways that lead to disparate treatment for different groups, I do not think we could call our society post-racist.

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    Mikaila

    January 18, 2013 at 6:09 pm

  8. I would argue that the United States has been ushered into an era of “racial correctness” but racism is very much rooted in the veins of Americans, if not worse. Probably the effects of race on our life outcomes are not so much strong as they were decades ago, but still quite significant and probably has plateaued temporally. Poke race jokes? You have to be very careful.

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    John

    January 18, 2013 at 6:09 pm

  9. John,

    I don’t think racial correctness is a mere lamina. And it’s an open question to what degree racial prejudice is path dependent. Any social convention of course follows a path dependency or network extrrnality, but these *do* genuinely turn over. It’s really an empirical question of the magnitude of racial hatred left. I think (hope?) it has gotten much smaller. But I don’t have a precise measurement to reference.

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    Graham Peterson

    January 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

  10. Its worth mentioning that whites are increasingly seeing themselves as victims of “reverse racism” and older and politically conservative whites believe that racism against them is WORSE than racism against ethnic and racial minorities. There has been limited research in this area and I think more sociologists should try to tackle it. IMO, this is probably one of the more significant changes in race relations in the last several decades and needs much more study.

    see: http://www.theroot.com/buzz/white-people-face-worst-racism

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    Silly Wabbit

    January 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm

  11. I checked the work to see what definition of racism the survey was dealing in, because I thought whites may be rating public anti-white sentiment higher than anti-black. Nope — the survey asked about material discrimination: “we asked a large national sample of Black and White Americans . . . to indicate the extent to which they felt both Blacks and Whites were the target of discrimination in each decade from the 1950s to the 2000s.” The charge that blacks face less institutional/material discrimination than whites is of course ridiculous. It would be interesting to see though how responses change when the difference between sentiments and material effects are teased apart.

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    Graham Peterson

    January 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm

  12. Bobo and Smith (1988) and subsequent papers/books on the decline of overt racism and the perpetuation of symbolic or “cultural” racism seems relevant here. Graham, they tease out trends in public opinion in the way I think you’re suggesting.

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    krippendorf

    January 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm

  13. […] Though I have a tenure-track job in hand for the Fall, my graduate student status prevents me from sharing too much from my own personal experience regarding race and racism in the academy.  But, I can speak about one “safe” example, given its public nature.  One professor in my department, who generally does work outside of race and racism but has done such work in the past, recently blogged to clarify the misguided discourse about a “post-racial” America.  He suggests, instead, that we live in a “post-racist” America: […]

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  14. […] I did talk about race in the academy.  In fact, I felt comfortable enough to call attention to a blog post on race by Fabio Rojas, a professor in my department at Indiana University.  But, I have only started the […]

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  15. […] about the persistence of racism in America, or the possibility that we are in living in a “post-racist” era. In addition, blogging can function as a space to mentor other scholars, or simply offer […]

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