Josh Bassett, Wayne County Community College District| Conference Presentation: “The Central Frames of Post-Racialism” | National Coalition on School Diversity #2017 | 10/19-20/2017
I. Color-Blind Racism:
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has originally defined “color-blind racism” through what in communications and cognitive neuro-science theories has been defined as “frames,” or “framing,” that is, “set paths for interpreting information.” His work in this area has been influential across disciplines, including Critical Race Theory (CRT) in education, and is one of the foundational critical studies of race that extends beyond the field’s traditional focus on binary black/white racial dynamics to one wholly located in a multi-racial framework. He defines what he has now famously theorized as “the central frames of color-blind racism” as follows: (1) “Abstract Liberalism”; (2) “Naturalization”; (3) “Cultural Racism”; (4) “Minimization.” Bonilla-Silva notes that of these four frames of color-blind ideology, “abstract liberalism” is the most significant because of its direct link to liberal and nationalist ideas of democracy and freedom, which through this frame function to rationalize race-conscious civil rights programs such as integration, affirmative action, employment contracting, (etc.), as anti-American and/or direct violations of “individualism” and “choice”: “The frame of abstract liberalism involves using ideas associated with political liberalism (e.g., ‘equal opportunity,’ the idea that force should not be used to achieve social policy) and economic liberalism (e.g., choice, individualism) in an abstract manner to explain racial matters..[that allow] whites [to] appear ‘reasonable’ and even ‘moral’ while opposing all practical approaches to deal with de facto racial inequality.” Bonilla-Silva specifically notes this frame directly applies to integration and public education and is anchored on the entirely false premise that structural racial inequalities no longer operate in the U.S. “Naturalization”: “[This] frame…allows whites to explain away racial phenomena by suggesting that they are natural occurrences…for example, whites can claim ‘segregation’ is natural because people from all backgrounds ‘gravitate towards likeness.” Bonilla-Silva notes this frame directly relates to natural and biological views of racial identity, which predominated centuries of religious and scientific institutional discourses of race. “Cultural Racism”: [This] frame…relies on culturally based arguments such as ‘Mexicans do not put much emphasis on education’ or ‘blacks have too many babies’ to explain the standing of minorities in society.” Bonilla-Silva argues that this frame has supplanted natural/biological views of race, while, however, retaining essential threads of their discourse. “Minimization of Racism”: “[This] frame…suggests that discrimination is no longer a central factor affecting minorities’ life chances…and involves regarding discrimination exclusively as all-out racist behavior,” which Bonilla-Silva argues occludes major forms of discrimination as they operate via structural racism (e.g., in education, employment, politics, etc.): Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the U.S. (Rowman&Littlefield: 2006): 25-52.
Post-Racialism marks a new era of what scholars have defined as “racial consciousness” (or awareness) and can be seen as a logical consequence of preceding decades of color-blind ideology that is critical to its own discursive formations. The term post-racialism first gained critical significance in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President in U.S. history, but the concept has been more substantially theorized during the recent presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and is importantly related to analyses of how racial discourse functioned in both Trump’s campaign and his subsequent political policies.
What my own work here considers is how we may theorize, following the work of Bonilla-Silva and noted CRT scholars in education, the “central frames of post-racialism” and their influence on dominant socio-political ideas of race. The attached graphic outlines the central frames of post-racialism in contrast to Bonilla-Silva’s frames of color-blind ideology and briefly references key court cases defining integration via the lens of “color-conscious”/legal segregation (pre-Brown v. Board), “color-blind” (post-Brown), and post-racial paradigms.