Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice & Sexual Health: Focus on Eduardo Bonilla-Silva


For Latino Heritage Month I’d like to try to expand our understanding and conversations about Latino sexuality during this month. Read my last post that highlighted Gloria Anzaldúa.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, PhD
Professor, Sociologist, Activist

 

In 2005 when I was pursuing a PhD in Women’s Studies I read a book in a graduate seminar I took at the University of Maryland with Dr. Patricia Hill Collins.  Dr. Collins had been appointed to the Sociology Department and our class was called Critical Race Theory and included 15 graduate students. It was a small intimate class that met for 3 hours once a week. It was in that class that I was introduced to the work of Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.

His book Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States
has been a book that I’ve gone back to again and again while doing work in sexual health and reproductive justice. Bonilla-Silva is an Afro-Puerto Rican scholar living in the US and focusing his work on racial stratification. His original goals for his research may not be centered in reproductive justice, but his findings have an impact on the work we are doing.

As a faculty member at Duke University, Bonilla-Silva has continued the work he has begun with Racism Without Racists and I remember vividly when I received his latest book, an anthology with Tukufu Zuberi, in the mail: White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology. This anthology is an amazing contribution to the field of qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods data collection. Not only does it provide a critical analysis of how methodology limits certain narratives and experiences from being examined and collected, it also highlights how scholars of Color are forging a space to make methodology work in ways that are more inclusive and less oppressive. I wonder how many, if any, researchers and writers at major inter/national reproductive and sexual health organizations have read this text prior to continuing to collect and examine data.

In Racism Without Racists, Bonilla-Silva conducts several interviews over a period of time about people’s thoughts regarding race and “race relations” in the US. One part of his research is devoted to talking with White people from various class backgrounds and geographic locations. What draws me to his work again and again are his findings on/with working class White women in the US. He writes:

“…[Y]oung, working-class women** are the most likely candidates to be racial progressives. This finding contradicts the claims of most of the media and scholars (from Theodore Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality onward), who contend “racists” are poor or working-class whites.  These commentators contend poor whites project their fears, their sense of losing out, and their concerns with demographic, civil, and political changes in America onto racial minorities” (p. 132).

I can’t recall where or who told me, but I do remember being told that working-class and working-poor White people were rarely on television or interviewed in the media because they do not have the knowledge or ability to mask their bias and racism. The stereotype that working-class and working-poor Whites are all racists regardless of geographic location is erroneous when utilizing a gendered lens, especially based on what Bonilla-Silva found. When I read Bonilla-Silva’s book I realized this stereotype is deep and still oppressive. He states, “[p]reliminary analysis of survey and interview data from these two projects suggest that younger, educated, middle-class people are more likely than older, less-educated, working-class people to make full use of the resources of color-blind racism***” (p. 71). This is a great example of how power is misused and affects us all.

If we recognize this in the work we are doing with White youth, how does our work shift with the conversations around reproductive justice and sexual health? Are we addressing the ideas of the “younger, educated, middle-class” people taking more advantage of race neutrality than their  “older, less-educated, working-class people”? This is a shift when “younger, educated, middle-class” White people were who helped push a Civil Rights and Human Rights agenda forward decades ago. What would a program dedicated to “older, less-educated, working-class” white people look like and how would it be received by a provider/doctor/practitioner/educator of Color? Would it be similar to how Dr. Woodrow Myers, a Black male doctor, was received in 1987 who discussed HIV and AIDS in the US on an Oprah in West Virginia?  What would happen if nationally supported comprehensive sexuality education curricula recognized class, ethnicity, race, immigration status, and how they intersect versus only focusing on sexual orientation and gender diversity?

Bonilla-Silva states that among respondents, most of them “admitted they had problems with interracial marriage in the interviews brandished a laissez-faire or color-blind view on love.” He discusses interracial marriage and dating in depth and states:

“Love was described as a matter of personal choice between two people and, thus, as no one else’s business because ‘love conquers all obstacles’… Yet, this endorsement of color blindness in romantic relationships cannot be interpreted in a straightforward manner. Most respondents qualified their support in such a way or lived such segregated lifestyles and their laissez-faire positions on this subject seem empty. Furthermore, too many whites express an aversion for blackness (‘negrophobia’) that casts doubt on their professed color blindness.” (p. 117, emphasis in original)

What assumptions do we as providers/educators/practitioners make about how and with whom our clients partner? One finding that Bonilla-Silva explores in depth after his interviews is the idea of working-class White women as committing “racial treason” because they are the most racially progressive of their cohorts.

“In this chapter I profiled white racial progressives…I found that young, working-class women are more likely than any other segment of the white community to be racially progressive. They were more likely to support affirmative action and interracial marriage, have close personal relations with minorities in general and blacks in particular, and understand that discrimination is a central factor shaping the life chances of minorities in this country. Most also admitted that being white is an advantage in this country” (p.144).

How have our experiences trying to build community and resources across race and ethnicity in the reproductive justice movement worked (or not worked)? I know I have very specific experiences which continue to this day, and I wonder how this ideology of racial treason, but in professionally and activist circles the practical part of this may get tangled. More so, how have some of us, people of Color, embraced a race neutral discourse in the movement? How do we begin to hold one another accountable while also building with one another at the same time?

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has given us information, frameworks, and tools to begin conversations to create and build change, how can we use them in our movement? How are we limited or limiting ourselves?

** Bonilla-Silva’s qualitative interviews included transgender women and their beliefs and values are included in these findings.

***I am not a fan of the ablest term “color-blind racism” as it positions people with disabilities as being the “same” as people who embrace a race neutral ideology, which is a form of racism. I use the term because it is a direct quote. Instead, I will use the term “race neutral/ality.”

foto credit: Afro Presencia

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  • starchild

    Although it has become unfortunately popular in the media to do so, dividing the world into two categories — people of European origin and everyone else — is in fact a racist practice, even if the intentions of those doing it are not racist.

     

    Just as no human being is “illegal”, every human being is a “person of color” — or none of us are. White is a color as surely as black is a color, and if you trace history back far enough, everyone’s ancestors came from eastern Africa anyway.

     

    Throw into the mix the growing number of mixed-race persons who have some Caucasian background (what would they be called under this system – “partially colored persons”?) and it becomes clear how ridiculous it is to apply such dualistic black/white thinking to the issue of race. “Racism without racists” is indeed an apt term to describe it.

     

    It’s tragic that many of those who study racism seem to use research methods that help to perpetuate it. One wishes they would remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that people be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, and realize how some of their use of language is pushing that dream further away.

     

    Has the field of racial studies fallen victim to its own financial incentives (i.e. the fact that if racism ceased to exist, many of these folks might find their careers in jeopardy, which gives them an interest in keeping it alive)? Hopefully not.

     

    But as ordinary people who simply read this stuff, it is useful for us to think about how it makes us feel. Does what you are reading support you being recognized as an individual with your own personality and aspirations, or does it attempt to define you primarily by the color of your skin?

     

    After reading professor Bonilla-Silva, do you feel closer and more loving toward people of other ethnic backgrounds, or more alienated from them? Does the article encourage you to feel ghettoized in your own racial group, whether that be a relatively small group specific to one region, like Hutus, a large grouping like Hispanic, or a category so broad as to be almost meaningless, like “people of color”? What changes in the article’s language would make you feel more respected and honored as an individual human being who is a unique member of the race we all belong to, the *human* race?

     

     

  • colleen

    But as ordinary people who simply read this stuff, it is useful for us to think about how it makes us feel.

     

    I would rather talk aboiut how your response makes me feel: the degree of republican post-racisl bullshit in your response makes me feel sick to my stomach.

  • bikozak

    Interesting references to color blindness.  I was raised in Canada and never even gave thought to racial differences.  Interestingly though, I do suffer to a certain extent from color blindness http://offsetpressman.blogspot.com/2009/10/color-blindness-test-for-printers.html .  No matter what our skin color though, we are all the same and should learn to love one another.