Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Benevolent Racism: Upholding Racial Inequality in the Name of Black Empowerment

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Benevolent Racism: Upholding Racial Inequality in the Name of Black Empowerment

Article excerpt

Introduction

A large body of social scientific literature addresses different types of racisms that developed in the United States during the post-civil rights era. What recent writers have referred to as symbolic racism (Kinder & Sears, 1981; Hughes, 1997), laissez faire racism (Bobo, Kluegel & Smith, 1997), and color blind racism (Bonilla-Silva, 2003a; Bonilla-Silva, 2006) are all examples. While there are significant differences among these variants, none relies on the idea of innate racial hierarchies (e.g., White supremacy as a "biological fact"), nor are they manifested in the form of blatant prejudice and legal discrimination, as during the Jim Crow era. Instead, all the aforementioned strains of post-civil rights racism operate on the basis of liberal ideals such as meritocracy, egalitarianism, self-reliance, and free markets. Specifically, liberal values that are presumably racially neutral are invoked by members of the dominant group (i.e., Whites) to, among other things: (1) reject policies such as affirmative action that are designed to challenge racial inequality (e.g., Bobo and Kleuegel, 1993; Drake and Hollsworth, 1996; Schuman, Steeh, Bobo, & Krysan, 1997; Pierce, 2003; Augostinos, Tuffin, & Every, 2005); (2) assert the presumed moral or cultural deficiencies among those who demand such policies (Kinder & Sears, 1981; Kinder & Sanders, 1996; Hughes, 1997); and (3) normalize a system of White privilege (Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Brandt, 2007). Post-civil rights racism thus entails a constellation of assumptions, attitudes, and/or practices that defend, either deliberately or unintentionally, the prevailing racial order (and hence the prevailing system of White supremacy) as neutral and fair. As a result, existing racial inequalities in areas such as income and wealth (e.g., Wise, 2009), education (Orefield & Less, 2007; Blau, 2003), employment (Bertrand and Mullainathan, 2004; Pager, 2003), housing (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2013), and criminal justice (Alexander, 2010) are treated as outcomes related to non-racial categories such as age and class--e.g., see Gallagher's (2008) idea of "incidental racism"--or otherwise attributed to "personal" considerations such as a lack of proper values, a lack of moral character, or a reluctance to capitalize on available opportunities (e.g., Esposito, 2010).

Taking all this into account, there should be little doubt that, in one way or another, all forms of post-civil rights racism described in the literature operate through a process of de-racialization. That is, efforts to challenge or even address racial inequity or antipathy against people of color are typically framed as corrupt/ dishonest attempts to discredit an otherwise fair and decent society where race no longer has any significant impact on people's life chances. This process of deracialization involves, among other things, attempts to: (1) discourage treating Blacks and other racial minorities as a "special class" of people with a unique set of experiences and problems; (2) encourage racial minorities to see themselves as individuals responsible for their own positions/situations (as opposed to seeing themselves as members of a victimized racial group); and (3) urge Blacks and other racial/ethnic minorities to abandon any values or habits (typically associated with urban minority cultures) that might hinder integration and upward mobility within mainstream US society.

Our aim in this paper is to develop an alternative conceptualization of post-civil rights racism--one that is primarily, although not exclusively, directed against people socially defined as Black--that we refer to as "benevolent racism." Though the term "benevolent racism" has been previously utilized by Rasheed Araeen (2000) to describe the process by which Eurocentrism is perpetuated in the world of modern art, our use of this term differs markedly from Araeen's in the following way. …

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