Researching Race and Racism

By Martin Bulmer; John Solomos | Go to book overview
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The study of racist events

Hernán Vera and Joe R. Feagin


In our research we accent the importance of racist events, not just individual prejudices, stereotypes, and discriminatory acts that are the center of most studies of racial relations. In this article, we call on other researchers to focus on these complex and composite sets of human activity and relationships, and to get beyond the methodological individualism dominant in Western social science.

In our 1995 book, White Racism, we directed our attention toward what actually happens in situations usually narrated as involving 'race.' There, and subsequently, we have taken 'race' to be a peculiar, problematic, socially constructed type of human relationship. We have purposely neglected conventional categories and taxonomies on which most studies of 'race relations' rely. We have mostly bracketed issues of class, gender, income, occupational status, age, speech, and religion - those factors often considered correlates of or proxies for race. We have taken these factors to represent the general context of the particular racialized events that we wish to research.

Far too much research on 'race relations' neglects or downplays the realities of racist events. Even the term racism has disappeared from many mainstream analyses, scholarly and journalistic. One of the world's prominent African American journalists has told us that her newspaper, one of the most influential, has a policy of not using the 'r-word' wherever possible in reporting on racial matters.

In researching white racism, our methodological choices have followed an intent to theorize and explicate 'the racist event' in its many dimensions. We accept Max Weber's assumption that 'knowledge of cultural events is inconceivable except on the basis of the significance which the constellations of reality have for us in certain individual, concrete situations' (1949:80). We have not studied these racist events merely to construct causal sequences.

Here we chronicle the method followed in studying white racism in the USA, and certain methodological issues we have faced. (We argue elsewhere that much analysis of US racism applies to racism across the globe. See Batur-


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