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Debunking the Myth of the U.S. As a Colorblind/Post-Racial Society

Rich Egger
Essie Manuel Rutledge

The white racial frame is a sociological concept developed largely by sociologist Joe E. Feagin. It takes us beyond the more commonly applied concepts of racial "prejudice" and bias when examining race. It affords a deeper, broader analysis of systemic racism.

The white racial frame is traced back to its early development in the seventeenth century. The frame structures the thinking process and shapes people’s perceptions of what they see or do not see in societal settings in regard to race.

Because racism has often been examined at the individual level (micro level), this limits an understanding of the complex, systemic nature of racism (macro level).  Over time, the powerful racial frame is elaborated and embedded in the minds of most Americans through the socialization process, to the young and old as it takes place at home, in schools, in the workplace, the media, in courts.

Features of the white racial frame are learned and transmitted directly and indirectly through verbal instructions and behavior modeling by significant others. Some features of the white racial frame are racial stereotypes, prejudices, ideologies, and visual images.

Following the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s and the passage of civil right laws/policies, African Americans became optimistic about the possibility of achieving racial equality, that they, too, could achieve the American dream. However, none of the new laws/policies resulted in full racial equality between Blacks and whites. In fact, even Affirmative Action policies have benefitted white women more than African Americans or other people of color.

Many people assumed that the passage of equal opportunity laws and policies would automatically lead to equal opportunities for African Americans. Consequently, the image of the U.S. as a colorblind society evolved, suggesting racism was now dead or no longer relevant.

But to believe this, one would need to be physically blind and deaf. Evidence of racism is all around us. In fact, there has been a resurgence of racism since the election of President Obama.  It has been used to criticize President Obama in ways no other president has been criticized or disrespected.

But if and when African Americans respond in opposition to racism, white people accuse them of “playing the race card”.

My advice to those who have not walked in the shoes of the oppressed is to not discount their reality and to not deny the reality of your white privilege, because to deny it makes it more difficult to understand racial oppression.

For racial inequality to still exist at the level that it does today, as is evident in all of our social institutions, is disheartening and disappointing. Will we ever achieve racial equality and social justice in America as suggested by our social values?

Essie Manuel Rutledge is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.