Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva is a political sociologist and a self-proclaimed “proud black Puerto Rican.” He says both of those roles make him an expert on what he refers to as “new racism.”
“Rather than telling me, ‘Hey, black-looking person, get out of the store,’" Bonilla-Silva said, "I get the ‘May I help you?’ ‘Mm, no.’ ‘May I help you?’ ‘Still no.’ ‘May I help you?’ ‘Yes, I’m trying to steal this fancy coat, and I was wondering if you could give me some ideas.’ ‘I-I didn’t mean it like that!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, you did!’”
The joking manner in which Bonilla-Silva explained his experience landed well with the crowd of a few hundred FGCU students, staff and community members. They not only laughed out loud, but many emphatically nodded through each anecdote. Most of them were minorities themselves.
“People say, ‘You know, you’re just preaching to the choir,’ but we all can benefit from having these conversations," Dr. Ted Thornill said. "And, it’s not limited to one racial or ethnic group.”
Thornhill is the professor of the White Racism sociology course on campus where he says most of the students enrolled are minorities. He added that even if it’s “preaching to the choir,” choirs still need practice and guidance.
Bonilla-Silva’s audience was also populated mainly by people of color, and he spoke directly to them as the way to get past the racial divide many attribute to President Donald Trump taking office.
“If we’re in the business of trying to forge a new society, demonizing all whites as racists, beyond redemption, is highly problematic," Bonilla-Silva said.
Bonilla-Silva encouraged students to step across what he referred to as the "color line” that races and ethnicities draw around themselves.
The Duke University professor of sociology authored a book on the very subject. It’s called “Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America.”
The book, which is now in its fifth edition, was first published in 2003 – long before the Trump administration and before the Obama administration as well.
Dr. Ted Thornhill calls the book an industry standard on racial sociology, which he says is why it was an easy choice to be one of the required texts in the White Racism course.
Bonilla-Silva’s talk ended with a discussion where members of the crowd could submit questions anonymously on their phones. Others could then vote to decide which were the most important ones to be addressed.
One of the questions asked if it would be fair to add classes titled Asian Racism, Latino Racism, etc.
“We can all be prejudiced, yeah?" Bonilla-Silva said. "So, black people can be anti-white, but there is a big difference between having prejudiced views about other people and having a system that gives systemic privilege to some groups.”
A group of twenty-somethings toward the front enthusiastically snapped and “mhmmed” in response – and their notes rang out in the ballroom as the choir finished its practice.