Duke sociology professor discusses race rights and justice

Published: March 10th, 2014

Category: News

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Duke University Sociology Professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva spoke during a panel Feb. 13 at UF Law. (Photo by Kelly Logan)

By Andrew Steadman (2L)

Almost two years after Trayvon Martin’s death, questions about the racial implications of the case still hang heavy in the air.

Duke University Sociology Professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, speaking before a packed Chesterfield Smith Memorial Classroom on Feb. 13, said racism hasn’t gone anywhere. Rather, it has simply taken a different form.

Bonilla-Silva said this is apparent in both sides of the debate over the racial component of the Trayvon Martin case. Martin, Bonilla-Silva said, looked “suspicious and out of place” – a justification used by some to shroud their own prejudiced views. However, he said, many of those defending Martin took an equally simplistic approach in simply attributing Trayvon Martin’s death to George Zimmerman’s racist beliefs.

The “Trayvon Martin: Race Rights and Justice” presentation featured Bonilla-Silva’s keynote lecture, a response lecture by UF Anthropology and African-American Studies Professor Faye Harrison, and a panel discussion with questions from the audience.

Bonilla-Silva said many people in post-Civil Rights America believe racism is a thing of the past. However, he argued, racism as it was understood in the middle of the 20th century has been replaced by a different and more insidious “New Racism.”

“The problem as I see it is that we are allowing whites to define racism in a very narrow way,” Bonilla-Silva said, adding that many people view racism as being confined to groups like the KKK, neo-Nazis, southerners and tea party members.

However, Bonilla-Silva argued that racial stratification in contemporary American society is perpetuated by those who are unwilling to accept that racism is still prevalent.

“I believe that the most dangerous folks out there, if you still want to look at the racists, is dealing with regular ‘I don’t see color, just people’ white folks,” Bonilla-Silva said.

“The normative climate of what can be said in public has shifted,” Bonilla-Silva said. “In truth, we are almost as segregated as we were in the past. We don’t even have the metric to capture new forms of segregation. The nasty racial discourse of the past has been replaced by a more seemingly civilized racism.”