Debate: Are the Americas ‘sick with racism’ or is it a problem at the poles? A reply to Christina A. Sue

Debate: Are the Americas ‘sick with racism’ or is it a problem at the poles? A reply to Christina A. Sue

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 32, Issue 6 (July 2009)
Special Issue: Making Latino/a Identities in Contemporary America
pages 1071-1082
DOI: 10.1080/01419870902883536

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Professor of Sociology
Duke University

Christina A. Sue commented on my 2004 article in Ethnic and Racial Studies on the Latin Americanization of racial stratification in the USA. Almost all her observations hinge on the assumption that racial stratification in Latin American countries is fundamentally structured around ‘two racial poles’. I disagree with her and in my reply do three things. First, I address three major claims or issues in her comment. Second, I point out some methodological limitations of Americancentred race analysis in Latin America. Third, I conclude by discussing briefly the Obama phenomenon and suggest this event fits in many ways my Latin Americanization thesis.

The Americas are sick with racism, blind in both eyes from North to South.
(Eduardo Galeano 2000, p. 56)

Since I unveiled my Latin Americanization thesis in 2001, I have received plenty of critical feedback  some negative, but mostly positive. Accordingly, I welcome Christina Sue’s comment. Although we see race matters in both Americas quite differently  I believe the Americas are ‘sick with racism’ and Sue seems to believe racism is a problem at the ‘racial poles’  our exchange may stimulate further debate about the racial question in Latin America and the USA.

In this rejoinder I do three things. First, I address some of Sue’s criticisms. Second, I advance several methodological observations orthogonally related to Sue’s comments. Third, I briefly tackle the big elephant in the contemporary American racial room (the election of a black man as president) and suggest it fits my Latin Americanization thesis…

…First, Obama, like most politicians in the Americas, worked hard during the campaign at making a nationalist, post-racial appeal. Second, like some racially mixed leaders in the Americas, Obama was keen to signify the peculiar character of his ‘blackness’ (his half-white, half-black background) and the provenance of his blackness (his father hailed from Kenya and in the USA African blackness is perceived as less threatening). Obama has cultivated an outlook where his ‘blackness’ is more about style than political substance; Obama is the ‘cool’, exceptional black man not likely to rock the American racial boat. Third, Obama has exhibited an accommodationist stand on race (Street 2009). In a speech in Selma, Alabama, he stated the USA was ‘90% on the road to racial equality’ (Obama 2007) and continued this path in his so-called ‘race speech’ (Obama 2008). Fourth, whites see Obama as a ‘safe black’ who, unlike traditional black politicians, will not advocate race-based social policy. Fifth, Obama will formulate ‘universal’ (class-based) policies that are unlikely to remedy racial inequality (Obama 2004). Sixth, his election, in conjunction with other developments in the last decades, evinces the ascendance to political power (with a small ‘p’) of ‘neo-mulattos’ (Horton and Sykes 2004), will exacerbate the existing colour-class divide within the black community, and reinforce ‘multiculturalist white supremacy’ (Rodríguez 2008)…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,