SOLUTION: SYD 3700 FAU Radicalization Experiences Black and Native Americans Paper

SREXXX10.1177/2332649216632242Sociology of Race and EthnicityGolash-Boza
Feature Review
A Critical and Comprehensive
Sociological Theory of Race
and Racism
Sociology of Race and Ethnicity
2016, Vol. 2(2) 129­–141
© American Sociological Association 2016
DOI: 10.1177/2332649216632242
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
the United States agree on one thing: sociology
lacks a sound theoretical approach to the study of
race and racism. In his 1997 American Sociological
Review article, sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
stated, “The area of race and ethnic studies lacks a
sound theoretical apparatus” (p. 465). Shortly thereafter, another prominent sociologist of race, Howard
Winant (2000:178) agreed, when he stated in his
Annual Review article on race and race theory, “The
inadequacy of the range of theoretical approaches to
race available in sociology at the turn of the twentyfirst century is striking.” One year later, sociologist
Joe Feagin (2001:5), in Racist America, posited “in
the case of racist oppression, . . . we do not as yet
have as strongly agreed-upon concepts and welldeveloped theoretical traditions as we have for class
and gender oppression.” Notably, that line stayed
intact in the 2014 edition of Racist America. And, in
the third edition of Racial Formation, Michael Omi
and Howard Winant (2015:4) wrote, “Despite the
enormous legacy and volume of racial theory, the
concept of race remains poorly understood and
inadequately explained.”
In this essay, I contest this assertion that theories
in the sociology of race and racism are underdeveloped. Instead, I argue we can bring together the
work of the scholars cited above along with other
critical work on race and racism, inside and outside
of sociology, and conclude that sociologists do have
a comprehensive and critical sociological theory of
race and racism. This essay thus contests the bold
claim made by Mustafa Emirbayer and Matthew
Desmond (2015:1) that “there has never been a comprehensive and systematic theory of race.” The goal
of this essay is to outline a critical sociological theory of race and racism, drawing from the work of
key scholars in and around the field.
The purpose of a critical theory of race and racism is to move forward our understanding of racial
and racist dynamics in ways that bring us closer to
the eradication of racial oppression. Legal scholar
Dorothy Roberts (2012:5) explains that race is a
“political category” and a “political system,” which
means we “must use political means to end its harmful impact on our society.” Roberts cautions that this
does not mean we should discard the idea of race;
instead she posits we should use a politicized lens to
University of California, Merced, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Tanya Golash-Boza, University of California, Merced,
5200 North Lake Road, Merced, CA 95340, USA.
understand the pernicious impacts of race as a political system. Roberts’ position stands in contrast to
Emirbayer and Desmond’s (2015:42) distinction
between political and intellectual motivations for
scholarship and their preference for the latter.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of Emirbayer and
Desmond (2015:43), I agree that “reflexivity
requires not only exposing one’s intellectual biases
but also being honest about how one’s political allegiances and moral convictions influence one’s scientific pursuits” and thus contend that the study of race
must be political and politicized because there is no
good reason to study race other than working toward
the elimination of racial oppression.
Furthermore, in the spirit of reflexivity, it is also
crucial to consider one’s positionality when doing
race scholarship. I write this piece as a tenured professor and a white woman. My position as a tenured
professor provides me with the academic freedom to
write what I think without the fear of losing my job.
As a white woman, I can be critical of racism without
being labeled “angry” in the same way that people of
color may be. I also write as a committed antiracist. I
work to end racial oppression even though I reap the
material and psychological benefits of white privilege for two main reasons: (1) the system of white
supremacy materially and psychologically damages
people I love more than I love myself, and (2) racial
oppression suppresses human potential by holding
back amazing people of color while pushing forward
mediocre white people. In this sense, racism has pernicious societal effects for all.
Critical race scholarship in sociology also needs
a framework flexible enough to be applied across
settings. Theoretical knowledge undergirds empirical work as it helps us to know which questions to
ask and how to interpret our findings. At the same
time, empirical work helps push theory forward
and can reveal the limitations of current theories.
Whereas Emirbayer and Desmond (2015:3) contend that the abundance of empirical work in the
field of race has led to “theoretical atrophy,” I
explain how rich empirical work constantly pushes
the boundaries of race theory and renders it clear
which direction the field should move in.
This essay pulls theories of race and racism
together into one theoretical framework. Recently,
Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer (2009)
have attempted to do the same. However, whereas
they contend research in the sociology of race “has
produced . . . few insights that apply more generally to racial life” (Emirbayer and Desmond
2015:334), I argue that the sociology of race has a
well-established foundation with many profound
insights. In addition, I contend that the claim that
Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)
race theory is inadequate requires an empirical
example that reveals its inadequacy, which
Emirbayer and Desmond (2015) do not provide.
Figure 1 presents a visualization of the comprehensive theory of race and racisms I lay out in this
essay. This foundation provides an ample starting
point for scholarship on race and racism. Empirical
and theoretical work by race scholars is constantly
pushing at the boundaries of this framework; however, I have yet to see an empirical study of race
and racism that justifies the claim that we need to
upend this framework and start anew.
Defining Race
The idea of “race” includes the socially constructed
belief that the human race can be divided into biologically discrete and exclusive groups based on
physical and cultural traits (Morning 2011). This
idea of race is inextricably linked to notions of
white or European superiority that became concretized during the colonization of the Americas and
the concomitant enslavement of Africans. Race is a
modern concept and a product of colonial encounters (Mills 1997). The way we understand the idea
of race today is distinct from previous ways of
thinking about human difference. Before the conquest of the Americas, there was no worldview that
separated all of humanity into distinct races
(Montagu 1997; Quijano 2000; Smedley 1999).
The idea that some people are white and others are
black, for example, emerged in the seventeenth
century when European settlers in North America
gradually transitioned from referring to themselves
as Christians to calling themselves whites and
enslaved Africans, Negroes (Jordan 1968).
In the current context of globalization, every corner of the earth has been affected by “global white
supremacy” (Mills 1997:3). However, that does not
mean that every form of social differentiation is necessarily connected to race or racism. For example, the
skin color distinctions between Chinese people that
Desmond and Emirbayer (2009) reference are not
racial distinctions but another form of social classification that predates colonialism. Moreover, colorism
prior to colonialism did not involve the biological
conceptualization of race that emerged after European
colonial domination of non-European populations.
Scholars who focus on Asia (Rondilla and Spickard
2007; Saraswati 2010, 2012) attribute the preference
for light skin in some parts of Asia to precolonial
ideas that equated leisure with light skin and work
with dark skin. As early as the late ninth century, the
ancient Sanskrit text Ramayana featured light skin as
ideal (Saraswati 2010). These precolonial modes of
Figure 1. A comprehensive sociological theory of race and racism.
social differentiation involve evaluations of skin color
but do not constitute a racial hierarchy insofar as they
are unrelated to the history of the idea of race, do not
derive from a biological theory of superior and inferior groups with innate differences, and are not part of
a racial worldview.
It is imperative to trace the genealogy of the idea
of race as it helps us to perceive what is “race” and
what is not. Racial categories and ideologies change
over time, but race as a worldview can be traced back
to ideas European scientists promulgated in the eighteenth century. One of the earliest examples of racial
pseudoscience is the work of Swedish botanist
Carolus Linnaeus (Eze 1997). In 1735, Linnaeus proposed that all human beings could be divided into four
groups. These four groups are consistent with the
modern idea of race in two ways: the four categories
continue to be meaningful today; and Linnaeus connected physical traits, such as skin color, with cultural
and moral traits, such as “indolent.” Carolus Linnaeus
described these four groups, which correspond to four
of the continents, in Systemae Naturae in 1735:
Americanus: reddish, choleric, and erect; . . .
obstinate, merry, free; . . . regulated by customs.
Asiaticus: sallow, melancholy, . . . black hair,
dark eyes, . . . haughty, . . . ruled by opinions.
Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; women
without shame, . . . crafty, indolent, negligent;
governed by caprice.
Europaenus: white, sanguine, muscular;
inventive; governed by laws. (cited in GolashBoza 2015b:24)
These racial categories were invented by Europeans
in the context of European colonization, slavery,
and genocide, and they form the basis for racial
thinking today. Any theory of race and racism must
take into account this brutal history.
A Sociological Theory of
Race and Racism
Sociological scholarship tends to focus primarily on
race (Cornell and Hartmann 2007; Omi and Winant
2015) or on racism (Feagin 2014; Bonilla-Silva
1997, 2014), thereby separating out these dialectically related concepts. Whereas Omi and Winant
(2015) argue we need a more refined understanding
of the concept of race, Bonilla-Silva (1997) contends we need a better understanding of the structures of racial oppression, and Feagin (2014)
maintains that racial formation theory does not
adequately account for the deep entrenchment of
systemic racism as a core function of U.S. society. A
comprehensive theory of race and racism should
bring race and racism together into the same analytical framework because we cannot separate the
construction of race from the reproduction of racism. This framework further needs to articulate the
connections between racist ideologies and racist
structures. Racism refers to both (1) the ideology
that races are populations of people whose physical
differences are linked to significant cultural and
social differences and that these innate hierarchical
differences can be measured and judged and (2) the
micro- and macrolevel practices that subordinate those
races believed to be inferior (Golash-Boza 2015a).
Individual, Institutional, and
Structural Racism
Although it is evident that racial categories were
created using pseudoscience, we continue to use
these categories today. Moreover, these categories
are used in ways that are psychologically and materially harmful. For example, individual acts of bigotry, such as using racial slurs or committing hate
crimes, continue to be prevalent in the United
States (Feagin 2014). In addition, microaggressions—daily, commonplace insults and racial
slights that cumulatively affect the psychological
well-being of people of color—abound (Solorzano,
Ceja, and Yosso 2000). Studies consistently find
that individual acts of bigotry are commonplace,
even in places such as college campuses, which
one might presume to be more accepting than most
other places (Chou, Lee, and Ho 2015; Harper and
Hurtado 2007). A recent study of African Americans
on college campuses found that white students and
professors consistently doubted the academic
potential of African Americans (Solorzano et al.
2000). Derald Wing Sue and his colleagues (2007)
found that Asian Americans experienced a wide
variety of microaggressions, ranging from the
assumption of foreign-ness to exoticization of
Asian women to invisibility.
Individual acts of bigotry sustain racism and are
harmful to people of color. However, race-neutral
acts can also serve the same function. For example,
my white colleagues have told me that they give hiring preference to people with whom they get along.
These same colleagues often have social circles that
are almost exclusively white. Although they may be
unaware of these biases, it is harder for them to imagine “getting along” with nonwhites. Psychologists
have labeled this phenomenon “aversive racism,”
understood as “a subtle, often unintentional, form of
bias that characterizes many White Americans who
possess strong egalitarian values and who believe
that they are nonprejudiced” (Dovidio et al. 2002).
Similarly, admissions committees that take into
account biased tests, such as the SAT or the Graduate
Record Examinations (GRE), limit access to higher
education through this allegedly race-neutral act. A
recent article in Nature reported that the practice of
relying on GRE scores is a poor method of “selecting
the most capable students and severely restricts the
flow of women and minorities into the sciences”
(Miller and Stassun 2014:303). This practice is so
widespread, however, that it has become part of institutional racism, to which I will now turn.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, sociological thinking on racism moved away from a focus solely on
prejudice and individual acts of racism toward an
institutional or structural approach. Carmichael and
Hamilton (1967) introduced the idea of institutional
racism in their book, Black Power, when they
explained that the high rates of black infant
Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2(2)
mortality in Birmingham and the prevalence of
black families in slums are best understood through
an analytic of institutional racism. Two years later,
Samuel Robert Friedman (1969:20) defined “structural racism” as a “pattern of action in which one or
more of the 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 on-going
In an essay published in 1979, Carol Camp
Yeakey posited that research on institutional racism
in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s represented a marked departure from previous research,
which had not focused on “the attributes of the
majority group and the institutional mechanisms by
which majority and minority relations are created,
sustained, and changed” (Yeakey 1979:200).
Yeakey then argued that racism operates on both a
covert and an overt level and takes two related
forms: “The first is on an individual level. The second is on an institutional level where racism as a
normative, societal ideology operates within and
among the organizations, institutions, and processes of the larger society. And the overt acts of
individual racism and the more covert acts of institutional racism have a mutually reinforcing effect”
(Yeakey 1979:200).
The arguments and concepts Yeakey (1979) laid
out in her essay continue to be relevant today. She
wrote about “the interrelated and cumulative nature
of systemic or institutional discrimination and racism,” the way racism works in “social systems,”
and explained,
The resource allocation of city schools;
residential segregation and housing quality; the
location, structure, and placement of transport
systems; hiring and promotion practices;
academic underachievement of racial and ethnic
minority youth; availability of decent health
care; behavior of policemen and judges; a legal
order that incarcerates more minorities than
majorities; stereotypical images prevalent in the
media and school curricula; price gouging in
ghetto stores; morbidity, mortality, and
longevity rates; lack of political clout and
effective legislative representation—these and a
myriad of other forms of social, political, and
economic discrimination concurrently interlock
to determine the status, welfare, and income of
the racial and ethnic minorities of color. (Yeakey
Unfortunately, nearly 40 years later, we can make
the same assessment with regard to systemic
racism. Fortunately, scholars of race and racism
continue to refine these theories and approaches.
The work of Joe Feagin and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
has been at the center of macrolevel theories of racism in sociology. Joe Feagin (2001:16) builds on the
concept of “systemic racism,” which he defines 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.”
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (1997:469) builds upon
the concept of “racialized social systems,” which
he defines as “societies in which economic, political, social, and ideological levels are partially
structured by the placement of actors in racial categories.” Bonilla-Silva places particular emphasis
on racial hierarchies and points to how these hierarchies influence all social relations. Societies that
have racialized social systems differentially allocate “economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines”
(Bonilla-Silva 1997:442).
In Beneath the Surface of White Supremacy,
sociologist Moon-Kie Jung (2015) contends that
Bonilla-Silva’s structural theory of racism is one of
the “most compelling and influential reconceptualizations” of racism insofar as it moves racial theories beyond the realm of ideology. However, Jung
contends that race theory requires a more complex
understanding of structure and a clearer articulation of how dominant racial ideology articulates
with structures of racial inequality. To address this
concern, Jung redefines racism as “structures of
inequality and domination based on race” and
argues that the structure of racism refers to the
“reiterative articulation of schemas and resources
through practice” (Jung 2015:49). In this way,
Jung’s redefinition helps us to see how racist ideologies and racist structures are mutually constitutive of one another.
Racist Ideologies
In his 1997 article, Bonilla-Silva explains how
racialized social systems develop racial ideologies
and contends that racial ideologies have a str …
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