International Debate

In front of one’s nose

April 11, 2011 2675

With the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, many prominent public figures declared that America had “entered a ‘post-racial’ era.” But as sociologists Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David Dietrich argue in their March 2011 ANNALS article, “The Sweet Enchantment of Color-Blind Racism in Obamerica,” “racial oppression is still systematic in America.” Racist or “racial” practices today, though, are “subtle,” “apparently nonracial,” and “institutionalized.” Bonilla-Silva has termed this “new regime” of racism “color-blind racism.”  Color-blind racism no longer positions racism as individual-level prejudice but rather as whites’ “collective expression” of their “racial dominance.”

But how can color-blind racism pervade a country that has not too long ago elected a black man to the nation’s highest office? You may be asking yourself this very question. It is a question that Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich ask themselves, too, and one they answer. First, they write, Obama himself is a “cultural symbol” congruent with color-blind racism. Second, Obama’s personal political stance on race and how he has positioned himself therein are “in line with color-blind racism.” In regard to their second point in particular, Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich point to certain speeches that Obama gave while on the campaign trail as well excerpts from his book, The Audacity of Hope.  Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich conclude that the election of Barack Obama did not, in fact, send us merrily skipping into a post-racial era, but instead that, under Obama’s administration, “the tentacles of color-blind racism will [only] reach deeper into all the crevices of the American polity.”

If concerned citizens, particularly those of color who are entrenched in this “nationalist moment,” do not emerge from their slumber, Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich warn, “the color-blind racist drama will monopolize America.” For, as George Orwell wrote in 1946, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs constant struggle.”

The American Academy of Political and Social Science, one of the nation’s oldest learned societies, is dedicated to the use of social science to address important social problems. For over a century, our flagship journal, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, has brought together public officials and scholars from across the disciplines to tackle issues ranging from racial inequality and intractable poverty to the threat of nuclear terrorism. Today, through conferences and symposia, podcast interviews with leading social scientists, and the annual induction of Academy Fellows and presentation of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize, the Academy is dedicated to bridging the gap between academic research and the formation of public policy.

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