Notes on: Golash-Boza, T. (2016) A Critical and Comprehensive Sociological Theory of Race and Racism. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2). 10.1177/2332649216632242

Dave Harris

[Very simple Gramscianism ,not as good as Bonilla-Silva. Some useful definitions of institutional and systemic racism. Modern media stereotypes]

A sound sociological theory should bring race and racism together, articulate the connection between ideologies and structures, help us eliminate racial oppression and include intersectional analysis.

Lots of sociologists of race seem to agree there is no sound theoretical approach. For example Bonilla Silva says so, and so does Winant and Feagin. Even Omi and Winant said that '"the concept of race remains poorly understood and inadequately explained"' (2). This needs to be contested, if we add in the work of other scholars.

We start with understanding that race is a political category and requires political means to end its impact, therefore we should 'use a politicised lens' to understand it (3). At the same time, analysts should be honest about these allegiances and moral positions, but, 'there is no good reason to study race other than working towards the elimination of racial oppression'. Personal positionality is also important, and she is a tenured professor and white. Criticism means she does not risk being angry. She is antiracist although she reaps the benefits of white privilege in two senses: white supremacy 'materially and psychologically damages people I love more than I love myself'; 'racial oppression suppresses human potential by holding back amazing people of colour while pushing forward mediocre white people' (4) which has poor effects for everybody.

We need a flexible framework. The role of theory is to suggest questions to ask and interpret findings, while empirical work shows the limitations of current theories. Richer empirical work does not lead to atrophy as some have argued, but pushes the boundaries and indicates the direction to proceed. [The main opponents here appear to be Emirbayer and Desmond 2015]. There is no empirical example to demonstrate the inadequacy of race theory.

There is a possible foundation instead, indeed 'a comprehensive sociological theory' [indicated in a diagram on page 6 — not terribly illuminating in my view, but including both ideology and structure, breaking ideology down into stereotypes, discourses and identities, while structure is broken down into micro and macro each of which is further broken down into race neutral acts that reproduce inequality, individual acts of bigotry, and institutions that reproduce racial inequality, and laws policies and practices respectively. The whole thing assumes there is no inconsistency or incoherence as you switch levels?]

Race began as a socially constructed belief based on biological physical and cultural differences, 'inextricably linked to notions of white or European superiority' concretised in colonisation. There was no organised worldview before the conquest of the Americas [no Islamic one?] and significant distinctions between white and black 'emerged in the 17th century' after European settlement in North America. Globalisation has spread white supremacy. Other forms of differentiation are also present for example colourism between Chinese people that predated colonialism, although this was not biologically based. There are also preferences for light skin in ancient Sanskrit texts but these again do not 'constitute a racial hierarchy' because there is no systematic idea of race based on a biological theory of superior groups with innate differences [the examples seem actually to indicate differences in work, a kind of caste or class system]. [weaselly]

Race as an organised worldview is definitely 'traced back to ideas European scientists promulgated in the 18th century', 'racial pseudoscience' like that of Linnaeus (8) whose basic subdivisions were connected with skin, culture and cultural and moral traits, and were found in the different continents. There is obviously a context [slippery] of 'colonisation, slavery and genocide'and this 'brutal history' must be taken into account.

Sociologists tend to divide according to focusing either on race or racism although these concepts are dialectically related. There is also a difference in terms of whether we understand the concept of the structures of oppression. Feagin sees systemic racism 'as a core [underlying] function of US society'(9)  But for her, racism refers both to the ideology that races are different populations and to the practices that actually subordinate allegedly inferior races. [Creeping determinism that ideologies produce practices?].

We still use racial categories created using pseudoscience and these are still harmful for example in 'individual acts of bigotry'(10) there are also micro-aggressions. Both are commonplace even in college campuses and a recent study is quoted [Solorzano, Ceja and Yasso {sic} 2000] of low expectations by white people of black students. There is also Sue. Race neutral acts can also sustain racism, for example in hiring practices that are unaware of biases arising from having 'social circles that are almost exclusively white' (11). This is what has been called '"aversive racism"' another form of unintentional bias which can go along with a belief that there is no prejudice. Biased tests can also be falsely race neutral [and favour males].

There is also institutional racism, for example in analysing 'high rates of black infant mortality in Birmingham'. Structural racism has been defined [by Friedman in 1969] as 'a "pattern of action in which one or more institutions of society has the power to throw on more burdens and give less benefits to the members of one race than another on an ongoing basis"' (12) this led to a new direction for research and introduced the notion of racism operating on covert and overt levels, and on individual and institutional levels, with each level reinforcing the other. Yeakey (1979) identified the cumulative effect of allocation to schools, residential segregation and housing, transport systems hiring and promotion practices underachievement in schools healthcare the behaviour of policemen and judges stereotyped images in the media, pricing and ghetto stores, mortality lack of political power and others (12 – 13). Things have not changed.

Feagin and Bonilla Silva operate mostly at the macro level. Feagin operates with '"systemic racism", defined as '"a diverse assortment of racist practices: the unjustly gained economic and political power of whites, the continuing resource inequalities; and the white – racist ideologies, attitudes and institutions created to preserve white advantage and power"' (13) Bonilla Silva talks of racialised social systems, where societies' levels [EPI] are '"partially structured by the placement of actors in racial categories"' which influences all social relations. Another sociologist [Jung 2015] quite likes this but says that we need a better understanding of structure and how racial ideology actually articulates with structures of racial inequality': there is a need to emphasise practice and how that articulates various '"schemas and resources"'. (14).

Bonilla Silva sees ideologies having a structural foundation [a weaselly one via Hall]. She defies ideology as 'a set of principles and ideas' [which makes it easy to criticise for lacking practice] that divides people serves the interests of one group, are created by the dominant group and so on, and cites the passage in The German Ideology [not really Bonilla Silva then].

A certain philosopher, Mills (1997) sees white supremacy as a structure of rules, privileges and norms which distribute material wealth and opportunities and this is 'enforced by the prevailing racial ideology', de jure during slavery, de facto now, covered by '"the pretence that formal juridical equality is sufficient to remedy inequities"' (15). Back to Bonilla Silva who talks about the '"totality of social relations and practices"', including increasingly covert ones such as 'colourblind racism' (16). Young argues that this is actually rather superficial and beneath it we can find 'widespread and persistent antiblack schemas and discourses' such as those at work in actual hiring practices (17).

As other examples of advanced understanding, Lewis (2004) talks about '"hegemonic whiteness"' (17), which naturalises the status quo. Hill Collins talks about ideologies becoming taken for granted and thus hegemonic. There is agreement that things changed after 1965 requiring new analytic techniques. Omi and Winant like Gramsci and the war of manoeuvre and the like, and hegemony of course, and say the antiracist movement shifted the tactics.

Racist stereotypes and racial identities are also important these days. We must take an intersectional approach as in Hill Collins on '"hegemonic masculinity"' (19) which comes over in '"controlling images" in the media. POC are 'raced, gendered and classed'. She has done her own work on stereotypes of nonwhites and how they are often gendered (table on page 20 — not very illuminating, gender stereotypes for different groups such as Native Americans — savage or squaw, wise elder or matriarch and so on] Latinos are depicted as drug barons and petty criminals and these do 'work to justify the disproportionate rates of imprisonment' (21) [evidence?] They also seen as having uncontrolled sexuality this justifies cuts in welfare, and somehow naturally destined for domestic labour and low-wage occupations. The Arab world as exotic and requiring civilisation, sometimes to liberate women. [It is simply assumed that] 'media depictions shape perceptions, and portray white characters with more depth and redeeming qualities' (21).

Racialised identities are still common and can be adapted — for example we now use in the USA 'mestizo'. She wants to argue that they are all rooted in 'racist ideologies and structures' as indicated in the activities of BLM, even the positive ones – even those still reinforce '"race itself as a group identity"' (24). She likes Omi and Winant on how race is a 'symbolic representation of social conflict'[which seems to risk epiphenomenonalism?, Although they do seem to weasel].

She wants to distinguish between 'identification and identity' (25). The first one can be imposed including by oneself, but the second 'is a condition', produced through social interaction. The first can be internalised in the adoption of an identity. However, state defined categories and conventions can be resisted or ignored — '"Hispanic" is a state produced ethnic category that many people with roots in Latin America resist' (26). Similarly, 'many people of African descent'can embrace their black identity and gain 'higher self esteem'.

Racist ideologies lead to racist practices which 'reproduce one another in a dialectical manner'. Moore (2008) has found this in '"white institutional spaces" in elite white [law] schools: the upper administration is primarily white, there are discourses about whiteness and the law. Very unhelpful diagram on page 28 just has two blobs with ideologies and structures connected by arrows going in both directions. Her own work on deportations show articulation. New expansions of the grounds on which a person could be deported led to an extra deportation of '5 million people between 1997 and 2015'(28) often with racist undertones about Latinos or Mexicans. However there are also 'gendered, racist and anti-immigrant discourses'.

This brings us back to intersectionality. Racist ideology does exist on its own even though it coexists. Racism is 'one pillar of oppression', or a '"master category"' but in lived experience they intersect. Crenshaw developed the concept. We can understand welfare policies better , argues Kandaswamy 2012 because 'gender, sexuality race and class work together' to create a notion of who deserves assistance.

Overall she claims to have pulled everything together into one theoretical framework [to the extent there is one it is Gramscian]. She asks for more empirical studies and projects, links with feminist theory and activism.