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SREXXX10.1177/2332649216632242Sociology of Race and EthnicityGolash-Boza

Feature Review

Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

A Critical and Comprehensive

2016, Vol. 2(2) 129141
American Sociological Association 2016
DOI: 10.1177/2332649216632242

Sociological Theory of Race

and Racism

Tanya Golash-Boza1

This article contests the contention that sociology lacks a sound theoretical approach to the study of race
and racism, instead arguing that a comprehensive and critical sociological theory of race and racism exists.
This article outlines this theory of race and racism, drawing from the work of key scholars in and around
the field. This consideration of the state of race theory in sociology leads to four contentions regarding
what a critical and comprehensive theory of race and racism should do: (1) bring race and racism together
into the same analytical framework; (2) articulate the connections between racist ideologies and racist
structures; (3) lead us towards the elimination of racial oppression; and (4) include an intersectional

theory, race, racism, racial theory, critical

Three of the most prominent sociologists of race in work of the scholars cited above along with other
the United States agree on one thing: sociology critical work on race and racism, inside and outside
lacks a sound theoretical approach to the study of of sociology, and conclude that sociologists do have
race and racism. In his 1997 American Sociological a comprehensive and critical sociological theory of
Review article, sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva race and racism. This essay thus contests the bold
stated, The area of race and ethnic studies lacks a claim made by Mustafa Emirbayer and Matthew
sound theoretical apparatus (p. 465). Shortly there- Desmond (2015:1) that there has never been a com-
after, another prominent sociologist of race, Howard prehensive and systematic theory of race. The goal
Winant (2000:178) agreed, when he stated in his of this essay is to outline a critical sociological the-
Annual Review article on race and race theory, The ory of race and racism, drawing from the work of
inadequacy of the range of theoretical approaches to key scholars in and around the field.
race available in sociology at the turn of the twenty- The purpose of a critical theory of race and rac-
first century is striking. One year later, sociologist ism is to move forward our understanding of racial
Joe Feagin (2001:5), in Racist America, posited in and racist dynamics in ways that bring us closer to
the case of racist oppression, ... we do not as yet the eradication of racial oppression. Legal scholar
have as strongly agreed-upon concepts and well- Dorothy Roberts (2012:5) explains that race is a
developed theoretical traditions as we have for class political category and a political system, which
and gender oppression. Notably, that line stayed means we must use political means to end its harm-
intact in the 2014 edition of Racist America. And, in ful impact on our society. Roberts cautions that this
the third edition of Racial Formation, Michael Omi does not mean we should discard the idea of race;
and Howard Winant (2015:4) wrote, Despite the instead she posits we should use a politicized lens to
enormous legacy and volume of racial theory, the
concept of race remains poorly understood and University of California, Merced, CA, USA
inadequately explained. Corresponding Author:
In this essay, I contest this assertion that theories Tanya Golash-Boza, University of California, Merced,
in the sociology of race and racism are underdevel- 5200 North Lake Road, Merced, CA 95340, USA.
oped. Instead, I argue we can bring together the Email:
130 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)

understand the pernicious impacts of race as a politi- race theory is inadequate requires an empirical
cal system. Roberts position stands in contrast to example that reveals its inadequacy, which
Emirbayer and Desmonds (2015:42) distinction Emirbayer and Desmond (2015) do not provide.
between political and intellectual motivations for Figure 1 presents a visualization of the compre-
scholarship and their preference for the latter. hensive theory of race and racisms I lay out in this
Nevertheless, in the spirit of Emirbayer and essay. This foundation provides an ample starting
Desmond (2015:43), I agree that reflexivity point for scholarship on race and racism. Empirical
requires not only exposing ones intellectual biases and theoretical work by race scholars is constantly
but also being honest about how ones political alle- pushing at the boundaries of this framework; how-
giances and moral convictions influence ones scien- ever, I have yet to see an empirical study of race
tific pursuits and thus contend that the study of race and racism that justifies the claim that we need to
must be political and politicized because there is no upend this framework and start anew.
good reason to study race other than working toward
the elimination of racial oppression. Defining Race
Furthermore, in the spirit of reflexivity, it is also
crucial to consider ones positionality when doing The idea of race includes the socially constructed
race scholarship. I write this piece as a tenured pro- belief that the human race can be divided into bio-
fessor and a white woman. My position as a tenured logically discrete and exclusive groups based on
professor provides me with the academic freedom to physical and cultural traits (Morning 2011). This
write what I think without the fear of losing my job. idea of race is inextricably linked to notions of
As a white woman, I can be critical of racism without white or European superiority that became concret-
being labeled angry in the same way that people of ized during the colonization of the Americas and
color may be. I also write as a committed antiracist. I the concomitant enslavement of Africans. Race is a
work to end racial oppression even though I reap the modern concept and a product of colonial encoun-
material and psychological benefits of white privi- ters (Mills 1997). The way we understand the idea
lege for two main reasons: (1) the system of white of race today is distinct from previous ways of
supremacy materially and psychologically damages thinking about human difference. Before the con-
people I love more than I love myself, and (2) racial quest of the Americas, there was no worldview that
oppression suppresses human potential by holding separated all of humanity into distinct races
back amazing people of color while pushing forward (Montagu 1997; Quijano 2000; Smedley 1999).
mediocre white people. In this sense, racism has per- The idea that some people are white and others are
nicious societal effects for all. black, for example, emerged in the seventeenth
Critical race scholarship in sociology also needs century when European settlers in North America
a framework flexible enough to be applied across gradually transitioned from referring to themselves
settings. Theoretical knowledge undergirds empiri- as Christians to calling themselves whites and
cal work as it helps us to know which questions to enslaved Africans, Negroes (Jordan 1968).
ask and how to interpret our findings. At the same In the current context of globalization, every cor-
time, empirical work helps push theory forward ner of the earth has been affected by global white
and can reveal the limitations of current theories. supremacy (Mills 1997:3). However, that does not
Whereas Emirbayer and Desmond (2015:3) con- mean that every form of social differentiation is nec-
tend that the abundance of empirical work in the essarily connected to race or racism. For example, the
field of race has led to theoretical atrophy, I skin color distinctions between Chinese people that
explain how rich empirical work constantly pushes Desmond and Emirbayer (2009) reference are not
the boundaries of race theory and renders it clear racial distinctions but another form of social classifi-
which direction the field should move in. cation that predates colonialism. Moreover, colorism
This essay pulls theories of race and racism prior to colonialism did not involve the biological
together into one theoretical framework. Recently, conceptualization of race that emerged after European
Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer (2009) colonial domination of non-European populations.
have attempted to do the same. However, whereas Scholars who focus on Asia (Rondilla and Spickard
they contend research in the sociology of race has 2007; Saraswati 2010, 2012) attribute the preference
produced ... few insights that apply more gener- for light skin in some parts of Asia to precolonial
ally to racial life (Emirbayer and Desmond ideas that equated leisure with light skin and work
2015:334), I argue that the sociology of race has a with dark skin. As early as the late ninth century, the
well-established foundation with many profound ancient Sanskrit text Ramayana featured light skin as
insights. In addition, I contend that the claim that ideal (Saraswati 2010). These precolonial modes of
Golash-Boza 131

Figure 1. A comprehensive sociological theory of race and racism.

social differentiation involve evaluations of skin color and genocide, and they form the basis for racial
but do not constitute a racial hierarchy insofar as they thinking today. Any theory of race and racism must
are unrelated to the history of the idea of race, do not take into account this brutal history.
derive from a biological theory of superior and infe-
rior groups with innate differences, and are not part of
a racial worldview. A Sociological Theory of
It is imperative to trace the genealogy of the idea Race and Racism
of race as it helps us to perceive what is race and Sociological scholarship tends to focus primarily on
what is not. Racial categories and ideologies change race (Cornell and Hartmann 2007; Omi and Winant
over time, but race as a worldview can be traced back 2015) or on racism (Feagin 2014; Bonilla-Silva
to ideas European scientists promulgated in the eigh- 1997, 2014), thereby separating out these dialecti-
teenth century. One of the earliest examples of racial cally related concepts. Whereas Omi and Winant
pseudoscience is the work of Swedish botanist (2015) argue we need a more refined understanding
Carolus Linnaeus (Eze 1997). In 1735, Linnaeus pro- of the concept of race, Bonilla-Silva (1997) con-
posed that all human beings could be divided into four tends we need a better understanding of the struc-
groups. These four groups are consistent with the tures of racial oppression, and Feagin (2014)
modern idea of race in two ways: the four categories maintains that racial formation theory does not
continue to be meaningful today; and Linnaeus con- adequately account for the deep entrenchment of
nected physical traits, such as skin color, with cultural systemic racism as a core function of U.S. society. A
and moral traits, such as indolent. Carolus Linnaeus comprehensive theory of race and racism should
described these four groups, which correspond to four bring race and racism together into the same ana-
of the continents, in Systemae Naturae in 1735: lytical framework because we cannot separate the
construction of race from the reproduction of rac-
Americanus: reddish, choleric, and erect; ... ism. This framework further needs to articulate the
obstinate, merry, free; ... regulated by customs. connections between racist ideologies and racist
structures. Racism refers to both (1) the ideology
Asiaticus: sallow, melancholy, ... black hair,
that races are populations of people whose physical
dark eyes, ... haughty, ... ruled by opinions.
differences are linked to significant cultural and
Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; women social differences and that these innate hierarchical
without shame, ... crafty, indolent, negligent; differences can be measured and judged and (2) the
governed by caprice. micro- and macrolevel practices that subordinate those
races believed to be inferior (Golash-Boza 2015a).
Europaenus: white, sanguine, muscular;
inventive; governed by laws. (cited in Golash-
Boza 2015b:24) Individual, Institutional, and
Structural Racism
These racial categories were invented by Europeans Although it is evident that racial categories were
in the context of European colonization, slavery, created using pseudoscience, we continue to use
132 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)

these categories today. Moreover, these categories mortality in Birmingham and the prevalence of
are used in ways that are psychologically and mate- black families in slums are best understood through
rially harmful. For example, individual acts of big- an analytic of institutional racism. Two years later,
otry, such as using racial slurs or committing hate Samuel Robert Friedman (1969:20) defined struc-
crimes, continue to be prevalent in the United tural racism as a pattern of action in which one or
States (Feagin 2014). In addition, microaggres- more of the institutions of society has the power to
sionsdaily, commonplace insults and racial throw on more burdens and give less benefits to the
slights that cumulatively affect the psychological members of one race than another on an on-going
well-being of people of colorabound (Solorzano, basis.
Ceja, and Yosso 2000). Studies consistently find In an essay published in 1979, Carol Camp
that individual acts of bigotry are commonplace, Yeakey posited that research on institutional racism
even in places such as college campuses, which in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s repre-
one might presume to be more accepting than most sented a marked departure from previous research,
other places (Chou, Lee, and Ho 2015; Harper and which had not focused on the attributes of the
Hurtado 2007). A recent study of African Americans majority group and the institutional mechanisms by
on college campuses found that white students and which majority and minority relations are created,
professors consistently doubted the academic sustained, and changed (Yeakey 1979:200).
potential of African Americans (Solorzano et al. Yeakey then argued that racism operates on both a
2000). Derald Wing Sue and his colleagues (2007) covert and an overt level and takes two related
found that Asian Americans experienced a wide forms: The first is on an individual level. The sec-
variety of microaggressions, ranging from the ond is on an institutional level where racism as a
assumption of foreign-ness to exoticization of normative, societal ideology operates within and
Asian women to invisibility. among the organizations, institutions, and pro-
Individual acts of bigotry sustain racism and are cesses of the larger society. And the overt acts of
harmful to people of color. However, race-neutral individual racism and the more covert acts of insti-
acts can also serve the same function. For example, tutional racism have a mutually reinforcing effect
my white colleagues have told me that they give hir- (Yeakey 1979:200).
ing preference to people with whom they get along. The arguments and concepts Yeakey (1979) laid
These same colleagues often have social circles that out in her essay continue to be relevant today. She
are almost exclusively white. Although they may be wrote about the interrelated and cumulative nature
unaware of these biases, it is harder for them to imag- of systemic or institutional discrimination and rac-
ine getting along with nonwhites. Psychologists ism, the way racism works in social systems,
have labeled this phenomenon aversive racism, and explained,
understood as a subtle, often unintentional, form of
bias that characterizes many White Americans who The resource allocation of city schools;
possess strong egalitarian values and who believe residential segregation and housing quality; the
that they are nonprejudiced (Dovidio et al. 2002). location, structure, and placement of transport
Similarly, admissions committees that take into systems; hiring and promotion practices;
account biased tests, such as the SAT or the Graduate academic underachievement of racial and ethnic
Record Examinations (GRE), limit access to higher minority youth; availability of decent health
education through this allegedly race-neutral act. A care; behavior of policemen and judges; a legal
recent article in Nature reported that the practice of order that incarcerates more minorities than
relying on GRE scores is a poor method of selecting majorities; stereotypical images prevalent in the
the most capable students and severely restricts the media and school curricula; price gouging in
flow of women and minorities into the sciences ghetto stores; morbidity, mortality, and
(Miller and Stassun 2014:303). This practice is so longevity rates; lack of political clout and
widespread, however, that it has become part of insti- effective legislative representationthese and a
tutional racism, to which I will now turn. myriad of other forms of social, political, and
In the late 1960s and 1970s, sociological think- economic discrimination concurrently interlock
ing on racism moved away from a focus solely on to determine the status, welfare, and income of
prejudice and individual acts of racism toward an the racial and ethnic minorities of color. (Yeakey
institutional or structural approach. Carmichael and 1979:203)
Hamilton (1967) introduced the idea of institutional
racism in their book, Black Power, when they Unfortunately, nearly 40 years later, we can make
explained that the high rates of black infant the same assessment with regard to systemic
Golash-Boza 133

racism. Fortunately, scholars of race and racism in The German Ideology, The ideas of the ruling
continue to refine these theories and approaches. class are in every epoch the ruling ideas. Both his-
The work of Joe Feagin and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva torically and today, the dominant racial group in
has been at the center of macrolevel theories of rac- the United States is white (Feagin 2014).
ism in sociology. Joe Feagin (2001:16) builds on the The work of philosopher Charles Mills (1997:3)
concept of systemic racism, which he defines as is helpful in terms of linking ideology and structure
a diverse assortment of racist practices; the as he explains that global white supremacy is ... a
unjustly gained economic and political power of particular power structure of formal or informal
whites, the continuing resource inequalities; and the rule, socioeconomic privilege and norms for the dif-
white-racist ideologies, attitudes, and institutions ferential distribution of material wealth and oppor-
created to preserve white advantage and power. tunities, benefits and burdens, rights and duties.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (1997:469) builds upon This set of formal and informal rules, norms, rights,
the concept of racialized social systems, which and duties is enforced by the prevailing racial ideol-
he defines as societies in which economic, politi- ogy. During the era of slavery in the United States,
cal, social, and ideological levels are partially de jure white supremacy (Mills 1997:73) pre-
structured by the placement of actors in racial cat- vailed. In contrast, the current period of de facto
egories. Bonilla-Silva places particular emphasis white supremacy is characterized by the pretence
on racial hierarchies and points to how these hierar- that formal, juridical equality is sufficient to remedy
chies influence all social relations. Societies that inequities created on a foundation of several hun-
have racialized social systems differentially allo- dred years of racial privilege (Mills 1997:73) and
cate economic, political, social, and even psycho- an illusory color blindness that actually entrenches
logical rewards to groups along racial lines white privilege (Mills 1997:77).
(Bonilla-Silva 1997:442). Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2014:25) elaborates on
In Beneath the Surface of White Supremacy, this notion that white supremacy in the United
sociologist Moon-Kie Jung (2015) contends that States has changed since the 1960s yet continues to
Bonilla-Silvas structural theory of racism is one of produce racial inequality. Bonilla-Silva lays out the
the most compelling and influential reconceptual- elements of the new racial structure, which he
izations of racism insofar as it moves racial theo- defines as the totality of social relations and prac-
ries beyond the realm of ideology. However, Jung tices that reinforce white privilege [italics in origi-
contends that race theory requires a more complex nal] (Bonilla-Silva 2014:9). These elements
understanding of structure and a clearer articula- include the increasingly covert [italics in original]
tion of how dominant racial ideology articulates nature of racial discourse and racial practices; the
with structures of racial inequality. To address this avoidance of racial terminology (Bonilla-Silva
concern, Jung redefines racism as structures of 2014:27) and other practices that make racism more
inequality and domination based on race and discrete yet nonetheless potent. He further posits
argues that the structure of racism refers to the that much as Jim Crow racism served as the glue
reiterative articulation of schemas and resources for defending a brutal and overt system of racial
through practice (Jung 2015:49). In this way, oppression in the pre-civil rights era, color-blind
Jungs redefinition helps us to see how racist ide- racism serves today as the ideological armor for a
ologies and racist structures are mutually constitu- covert and institutionalized system in the post-civil
tive of one another. rights era (Bonilla-Silva 2014:3).
Eduardo Bonilla-Silvas work on color-blind rac-
ism has been critical in efforts to understand how
Racist Ideologies racial ideologies work on the ground. Color-blind
In his 1997 article, Bonilla-Silva explains how racism is a racial ideology that explains contempo-
racialized social systems develop racial ideologies rary racial inequality as the outcome of nonracial
and contends that racial ideologies have a struc- factors, such as market dynamics, naturally occur-
tural foundation. A racial ideology is a set of prin- ring phenomena, and nonwhites supposed cultural
ciples and ideas that (1) divides people into limitations. However, color-blind ideology is not the
different racial groups and (2) serves the interests only racial ideology that operates today. Moon-Kie
of one group. Ideologies are created by the domi- Jung (2015:44) explains that schemas of color-
nant group and reflect the interests of that group. blindness operate at rather shallow depthsas
Racial ideologies change over time because the ideology. Jung contends that if we dig just a bit
needs and interests of the elite change. As Karl deeper, we find widespread and persistent antiblack
Marx and Frederick Engels ([1848] 1970:64) wrote schemas and discourses. Jung gives an example of
134 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)

hiring practices: employers do not use just color- of these facets of white supremacy renders it evident
blind discourses when they decide not to hire black that an understanding of racial ideology must be
men; they often use antiblack discourses, such as clearly articulated with other structures of domina-
that black men are unmotivated and have bad tion, such as capitalism and patriarchy.
There are many excellent examples of how the
understanding of racial ideologies is constantly Controlling Images
advancing. For example, sociologist Amanda Lewis Although the concept of hegemonic whiteness
(2004:632) proffers the notion of hegemonic that Lewis proposes is useful, the work of Collins
whiteness as an example of a discourse that under- (2004) helps us perceive that an understanding of
girds racial ideologies and justifies racial inequali- how racial ideologies are promulgated must be
ties. Lewis explains, intersectional. Hegemonic whiteness is not only
racialized; it is also classed and gendered. One of
For an ideology to gain hegemony, ... it must the most compelling sociological discussions of
successfully naturalize the status quo... . Racial racial discourses can be found in the work of soci-
ideologies in particular provide ways of ologist Patricia Hill Collins (2004:187), who
understanding the world that make sense of explains that hegemonic masculinity is the social
racial gaps in earnings, wealth, and health such idea of what real men are and is shaped by ide-
that whites do not see any connection between ologies of gender, age, class, sexuality, and race.
their gain and others loss. (Lewis 2004:63233) Collins contends that controlling images (Collins
2004:165)gendered depictions of African
The work of Patricia Hill Collins (2004:96) is Americans in the mediadefine hegemonic mas-
also useful here as she explains, When ideologies culinity in opposition, by showing what it is not.
that defend racism become taken-for-granted and Controlling images define what marginalized mas-
appear to be natural and inevitable, they become culinity and subordinated femininity are, thereby
hegemonic. Few question them and the social hierar- defining what hegemonic masculinity is not.
chies they defend. For Collins, new racism reflects Portrayals of people of color in the media are
sedimented or past-in-present racial formations from raced, gendered, and classedmeaning the repre-
prior historical periods (Collins 2004:55). sentations vary by race, class, and gender, and they
There is general agreement among race scholars influence how we think about racial groups in this
that the post-1965 era is distinct, and scholars use country. Patricia Hill Collins (2004:147) argues
different analytical techniques to describe the new that mass media has generated class-specific
forms of racism. Michael Omi and Howard Winant images of Black women that help justify and shape
(2015) use a Gramscian analogy of war of maneu- the new racism of desegregated, color-blind
ver and war of position to characterize the transi- America. In addition, Collins analysis can be
tion of the United States from a place where extended to other groups, as the idea of control-
nonwhites had no political voice to one where peo- ling images also can be applied to Latinos, Native
ple of color have achieved some political gains. Americans, Asians, and Arabs.
They explain that whereas the state could once be In Race and Racisms (Golash-Boza 2015b), I
overtly violent toward nonwhites, in the post-civil brought together a broad range of scholarship on
rights era, the racial state cannot merely dominate; it media stereotypes and used Patricia Hill Collins
must seek hegemony (italics in original) (Omi and concept of controlling images to develop a charac-
Winant 2015:147). Omi and Winant attribute this terization of prevalent gendered stereotypes of
shift primarily to the black movement and its nonwhites in contemporary U.S. media. Table 1
allies. Their emphasis here is on the fact that racial renders it evident that an understanding of racial-
dynamics only changed because of extreme political ized discourses must involve a consideration of
pressure from an antiracist movement. All of these gender. For example, when someone says terror-
scholars use Gramscian or Marxian understandings ist in the United States, the image of an Arab man
of hegemony and ideology, which permit us to comes to mind for many Americans. Likewise, the
develop a clear understanding of what racist ideolo- stereotypical welfare queen is a black woman.
gies are and how they articulate with structures of These stereotypical representations not only
racial domination. shape how people in the United States view one
Two important consequences of racist ideologies another; they also work to justify rampant inequali-
today are the prevalence of racialized identities and ties. Representations of Latinos as drug kingpins,
the proliferation of racial stereotypes. An examination gangbangers, and petty criminals work to justify
Golash-Boza 135

Table 1. Gendered and Racialized Controlling Images.

Group Men Women

Arabs Terrorist Veiled victim
Immoral billionaire Exotic seductress
Haggler Maiden
Native Americans Savage Squaw
Sidekick Princess
Wise elder Matriarch
Doomed warrior
Latinos/Latinas Latin lover Hot-blooded Latina
Greaser/bandito Maid
Gangbanger Abuela (Grandma)
Gardener Mexican spitfire
Asians Buddy Butterfly
Threatening foreigner Dragon lady
Martial artist
Corrupt businessman
African Americans Thug Mammy
Athlete Bitch
Rapist Welfare queen
Sidekick Video ho

Source: Adapted from Golash-Boza (2015b).

the disproportionate rates of imprisonment for Because media depictions shape our percep-
Latinos. Representations of Latinas as possessing tions, and portray white characters with more depth
uncontrolled sexuality serve to justify cuts in wel- and redeeming qualities, they work to justify the
fare and restrictions on immigration. And represen- fact that whites tend to do better on nearly any
tations of Latinas as maids reinforce the idea that social measure. In a similar fashion, the depiction
Latinas are destined for low-wage occupations. of Americans as the (white) saviors of the world
These stereotypes also work to justify foreign helps to shape our perception of the United States
interventions. Hollywood has played an important as the beacon of democracy, even as the military
role in portraying the Arab world as an exotic place wreaks havoc on the Middle East. These gendered
that requires white Westerners to civilize its people and racialized discourses reinforce prevalent ste-
and drag them into the twenty-first century. Shoba reotypes about people of color in the United States
Sharad Rajgopal (2010:145) argues that represen- and also work to define whites as morally superior.
tations of Arab women as veiled, traditional, and These ideologies articulate with structures that
oppressed work to reinforce the stereotype that reproduce inequality as explained in the work of
Western culture is dynamic, progressive, and Bonilla-Silva, Feagin, Collins, and Mills.
egalitarian, whereas Arab cultures are backward,
barbaric, and patriarchal. Rajgopal further con-
tends that these stereotypes reinforce the idea that Racialized Identities
Americans need to go to Iraq and Afghanistan and Although racial categories were created during the
rescue women from their brutal, oppressive Arab time of slavery, genocide, and colonialism, they
husbands. A consideration of these stereotypes have taken on their own meaning over time. We
helps us to see how ideologies articulate with struc- still use categories, such as white, black, Asian, and
tures: the controlling image of the black man as a Native American, to make meaning of our social
thug has been critical to the expansion of the crimi- world. In the United States, Arab and Latino/Latina
nal justice system. Racialized and gendered fears have emerged as meaningful racial categories. In
of crime have justified the development of the Latin America, mestizo (white/Indian) and mulato
prison-industrial complex. (white/black) as well as other racialized categories
136 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)

Figure 2. Racist ideologies and racial identities.

continue to shape social life. One key aspect of explore how concepts of race are created and
racial categories is that they are flexible and can changed and argue that concepts of race structure
accommodate distinct social realities. The emer- both state and civil society (Omi and Winant
gence of Arab and Latino as racialized categories in 1994:vii). They also say that race is the symbolic
the United States is an example of how racial ide- representation of social conflict expressed through
ologies can evolve and change the racial structure physical characteristics. And it is variable over time.
itself. The concept of racial formation blends an
Insofar as racialized categories have taken on understanding of social structures with cultural
deep meaning for many marginalized groups, it representations. Omi and Winant (1994: 56) use the
may seem problematic to trace all racialized identi- concept of a racial project, which they define as
ties to racist ideologies. However, if we think about being simultaneously an interpretation, represen-
the root of these unity struggles, it becomes clear tation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an
that these calls for unity come about because of effort to reorganize and redistribute resources
racist ideologies and structures. A recent example along particular racial lines. Racial projects give
of this is the emergence of #blacklivesmatter in meaning to racial categories through cultural repre-
response to police killings of black people. The sentations while also organizing our social world
schema in Figure 2 lays out this process, which on the basis of race through social structures.
acknowledges that positive and negative racial Cultural ideas and social structures work together
identities exist yet are rooted in racist ideologies in racial formation projects.
and related to a racial hierarchy. Racial Formation (Omi and Winant 2015) has
Many scholars of race would agree with this line served as the basis for a substantial body of scholarly
of argument. Charles Mills (1997:63) posits that the work on racial identities and meanings. It is useful
racial contract creates not only racial exploitation, for thinking about how race is a template for the
but race itself as a group identity. Amanda Lewis processes of marginalization that continue to shape
(2004:625) contends that race as a set of identities, social structures as well as collective and individual
discursive practices, cultural forms, and ideological psyches (Omi and Winant 2015:107). It is worth-
manifestations would not exist without racism. while to think about this concept of racial meanings
Michael Omi and Howard Winant (2015:138) sum alongside scholarship that deals specifically with
up the thinking on this succinctly: We make our identity as a concept. A useful starting point is
racial identities, both individually and collectively, Brubaker and Coopers (2000) clarification on the
but not under conditions of our own choosing. difference between identification and identity (not-
Omi and Winant further contend: The forging of withstanding the fact that they reject the concept of
new collective racial identities during the 1950s and identity). A person can be identified as a member of a
1960s has been the single most enduring contribu- racial group by the state, by himself or herself, or by
tion of the anti-racist movement (Omi and Winant other members of society. The state has the material
2015:153). and symbolic resources to impose the categories,
The work of Omi and Winant on racial forma- classificatory schemes, and modes of social counting
tion is particularly useful for an understanding of and accounting with which bureaucrats, judges,
racial identities. Omi and Winant (1994:56) define teachers, and doctors must work and to which non-
racial formation as the sociohistorical process by state actors must refer (Brubaker and Cooper
which racial categories are created, inhabited, trans- 2000:16). Whereas identification is a process
formed, and destroyed, and as a process or histori- whereby a person is identified or categorized, iden-
cally situated project. They argue that the state tity is a condition. Jenkins (1994:210) lends further
(national government) is the primary site where race clarity to this distinction as he explains that identity
is constructed and contested. Omi and Winant is produced and reproduced in the course of social
Golash-Boza 137

interaction. The persistent categorization of a per- a history of racial oppression work together to pro-
son as a member of a racial group often leads to inter- duce white institutional spaces in elite white
nalization of that label and the adoption of a racial schools (p. 27). For Moore, law schools are white
identity. institutional spaces both because of the fact that the
The (racial) state has produced racial categories, upper administration is (and has always been) pri-
and Clara Rodriguezs (2000) work sheds important marily white and because of how discourses about
light on how this happened and is a useful starting whiteness and the law are disseminated within the
point for thinking about how people can ignore, law school. Figure 3 is a visualization of how racist
resist, or accept ... the state-defined categories and ideologies articulate with racist structures.
the popular conventions concerning race (p. 18). I will use another example from my work on
Hispanic is a state-produced ethnic category that deportations to explore how these ideologies artic-
many people with roots in Latin America resist, pre- ulate with structures. In 1996, president Bill
ferring instead to identify with their national origin Clinton signed into law two pieces of legislation
(Rodriguez 2000). Nevertheless, about half of the that expanded the grounds on which a person could
self-identified Latino respondents to the 2002 be deported, narrowed the grounds on which they
National Latino Survey reported their race as could appeal, and dedicated increased funding to
Latino. Moreover, those with darker skin and who immigration law enforcement. These lawsthe
had experienced discrimination were more likely to Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
self-identify as Latino (Golash-Boza and Darity (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and
2008). It can be difficult for African Americans (or Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA)
other people identified as black) to reject a black led to the deportation of 5 million people between
identity given that it is harder for many people of 1997 and 2015 (Golash-Boza 2015a). Politicians
African descent to escape racialization as black. advocated for and implemented these extremely
However, embracing a black identity has positive punitive laws because of racialized and gendered
outcomes insofar as African Americans who iden- ideologies that painted Latino men as criminal and
tify closely with other blacks tend to have higher Latina women as breeders (Golash-Boza and
self-esteem and fewer depressive symptoms Hondagneu-Sotelo 2013). The racial ideologies
(Hughes et al. 2015). Research on Latino identity that lead many Americans to see Mexican immi-
also shows that a stronger group identity leads to grants as unfit to be citizens or as undesirable resi-
higher self-esteem (Phinney et al. 1997). In sum, dents have led to the implementation of a state
although racial categories are produced by the state apparatus designed to remove Latino immigrants.
and through daily interactions, and emerge from a In turn, this state apparatus, which criminalizes
brutal history of oppression, people have embraced Latinos as illegal aliens, reinforces ideologies of
these racial identities and transformed them into Latino criminality. This is one example among
positive group-based identities. In addition, people many possible examples of a clear articulation
have also contested these categories and made claims between racial ideologies and racial structures and
to the state for distinctive forms of recognitionfor allows us to see the material consequences of racial
example, the calls for the addition of multiracial ideologies as well as the dialectical relationship
and Middle Eastern as racial categories to the between ideologies and structures.
Census. This example, however, also makes it clear that
racial ideologies alone do not account for mass
deportation. To understand the implementation of
Racist Ideologies and mass deportation, we need to consider gendered,
Structures raced, and anti-immigrant discourses. We also need
Racist ideologies lead to controlling images, dis- to consider these discourses in light of broader
courses of hegemonic whiteness, and racialized structures of patriarchy, white supremacy, and
identities, which in turn lead to racist practices on global capitalism. This brings me back to a consid-
the micro- and macrolevel, which themselves rein- eration of intersectionality.
force racial identities and discourses. These struc-
tures and ideologies thus reproduce one another in
a dialectical manner. One clear empirical example Intersectionality
of the articulation between ideology and structure At a certain level of abstraction, we can talk about
comes from the work of Wendy Leo Moore (2008), racist ideologies and structures without mentioning
who argues that ideologies of white supremacy and class or gender. As Barbara Risman (2004:444)
138 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)

Figure 3. Racist ideologies and racist structures.

argues, Each structure of inequality exists on its In a similar vein, Priya Kandaswamy (2012)
own yet coexists with every other structure of contends that an intersectional perspective helps us
inequality. In this sense, we can think of Figure 1, understand welfare policies better. She argues that
which laid out the theoretical framework for this the perspectives of race scholars, Marxists, and
essay, as one pillar of oppression, with similar pillars feminists often look past one another. In contrast,
of gender and class oppression having their own she takes an intersectional perspective to shed light
frameworks yet working in conjunction with struc- on the 1996 welfare reforms. Ideas of gender, sexu-
tures and ideologies of racial oppression. This is ality, race, and class work together to create public
similar to arguments made by Omi and Winant understandings of who deserves state assistance and
(2015:106) that race is a master category and that who does not. The subtext of the welfare queen in
race, class, and gender oppression are produced in the successful passage of the 1996 welfare reform is
tandem. Nevertheless, once we move beyond due to the raced, class-based, gendered, and hetero-
abstractions and begin to think about lived experi- normative ideas surrounding the welfare queen. The
ences, an intersectional framework becomes neces- 1996 law explicitly embraced marriage, was based
sary. The racist discourses that circulate about black on a public discussion of family values and personal
men and black women are distinct and therefore lead responsibility, and was designed to reform the wel-
to distinct acts of individual and institutional racism. fare queen, a stereotype often imagined as a black
For example, the discourse of black men as danger- woman. Priya Kandaswamy explains how the idea
ous leads to white women crossing the street when that race is historically produced and constantly
they see a black man approaching and also leads to changing can complicate our understanding of
police officers shooting black boys, like Tamir Rice, intersectionality, as it forces us to look at how race
for holding a toy gun. The typical white reaction to and gender are constituted in and through each
black women is not marked by the same kind or other (Kandaswamy 2012:26). Kandaswamys and
level of fear. Similarly, the barriers that black women Crenshaws work are both exemplary of how
and black men face in employment are not the same, empirical analyses can question existing theoretical
and an examination of these barriers requires an frameworks and move them forward in exciting
intersectional framework (Wingfield 2012). ways.
Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) developed the con- Returning to the example of mass deportation, it
cept of intersectionality, using the example of black is also clear that a comprehensive understanding of
and Latina women in a battered womens shelter to mass deportation requires looking not only at race/
make her point. She contends we have to consider class/gender as many intersectionality scholars do
race, class, and gender oppression to understand but also at white supremacy/global capitalism/patri-
how they ended up in the shelter. The women faced archy as the structures that maintain and are justi-
abuse because of gender oppression, but their eco- fied by racist, sexist, and classist discourses. An
nomically vulnerable situation and racism also play understanding of mass deportation requires a con-
a role. If they had the economic resources, they sideration of the political economy of racialized and
likely would have gone elsewherenot to a shel- gendered state repression. Mass deportation is a
ter. If they were white, they would not face racial form of state repression based on stereotypes of
discrimination in employment, meaning they may criminal aliens that disproportionately target
have had more resources. Latino and Caribbean men. Controlling images
Golash-Boza 139

(Collins 2004) of black, Latino, and Arab men as racism forward. These examples, however, reveal
threatening have served as discursive fodder for the the need for an intersectional framework in most
implementation of state repression. Moreover, we areas of race scholarship. These and other exam-
have to consider deportation as part of a system of ples of empirical work constantly push the bound-
global apartheidwhere (mostly white) affluent aries of race theory and render it clear which
citizens of the world are free to travel to where they direction the field should move in.
like whereas the (mostly nonwhite) poor are forced Now that it has become clear that we do have a
to make do in places where there are fewer sociological theory of race and racism, where do
resources. Global apartheid depends on the possi- we go from here? Moving forward, I suggest we (1)
bility and reality of deportation. Finally, 98 percent design empirical studies that help move our field
of people deported are sent to Latin America and forward, (2) develop projects that draw from exist-
the Caribbean, and 90 percent of them are men even ing frameworks to delve deeper into these under-
though there is no raced or gendered language in the standings of how race and racism work on the
Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs ground, (3) imagine ways that theories of race and
immigration policy enforcement (Golash-Boza racism can become more conversant with feminist
2015a). theory and world systems theory, and (4) get
The work of Zulema Valdez (2011) is exemplary involved in movements to dismantle racism as the
here in terms of a consideration of global capital- best ideas often come through struggle.
ism, white supremacy, and patriarchy insofar as she The first two are relatively self-explanatory, so I
explains how these systems of oppression work in will use the remainder of this conclusion to specify
articulation with one another. She explains, [C]api- what I mean by the third point, which references
talism produces inequality that is based on a class intersectionality, and the fourth, which involves
hierarchy of privilege and oppression... . Patriarchy activism. In a recent essay, feminist scholar Kathy
justifies the maintenance and reproduction of mens Davis (2008:68) wrote, [I]t is unimaginable that a
power ... [and] White supremacy justifie[s] ... womens studies programme would only focus on
racial exploitation (Valdez 2011:33). She further gender. As race scholars we should hold ourselves
contends that the American social structure is con- to the same standard and incorporate political econ-
stituted by the interlocking systems of capitalism, omy and feminist theory into our analyses of race on
patriarchy, and White supremacy (Valdez 2011:32). a consistent basis. It is impossible to study black
We need more work in this line of thinking that identity, for example, and separate out the gender,
grapples with race, class, and gender not just as dis- sexuality, class, (dis)ability, and other aspects of
courses or ideologies but also as structures or sys- people who embody blackness. As for activism, race
tems of oppression. is not a topic that one should study only for its intel-
lectual interest. It should be studied to the end of
eradicating racial oppression. Knowledge is most
Discussion and useful when it is produced in community and
Conclusion through struggle. An understanding of racial oppres-
sion cannot be an armchair exercise. Instead, race
This essay pulls theories of race and racism
scholars have to start with empirical questions about
together into one theoretical framework by articu-
why things are the way they are and push forward
lating the connection between racist ideologies and
theoretical understandings that help us to explicate
racist structures. This analysis began with a discus-
and end racial oppression. Working toward disman-
sion of the genealogies of the idea of race and the
tling racism both helps us to understand it better and
sociological understanding of racism in order to
moves us toward its demise. In a conversation about
highlight the points of agreement among race
this essay, Sam Friedman reminded me that strug-
scholars. I then draw from the work of Eduardo
gles against racism tend to lead to creative and more
Bonilla-Silva, Joe Feagin, Charles Mills, Patricia
systemic thinking. I could not agree more.
Hill Collins, Carol Camp Yeakey, Zulema Valdez,
Amanda Lewis, Dorothy Roberts, Wendy Leo
Moore, and other scholars to argue that we have a Acknowledgments
solid understanding of racial ideologies and how The author thanks Crystal Fleming, Samuel Friedman,
they articulate with racial structures. I use a few Michael Omi, Marcus Shaw, Zulema Valdez, and the
key empirical examples to show how empirical Sociology of Race and Ethnicity editors for their useful
research has helped to move theories of race and and critical comments on this article.
140 Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)

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