Eduardo Bonilla-Silva said he fundamentally disagrees with an earlier speaker in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion’s “Pursuing Racial Justice series in defining racism.
“He’s taking us back to the individual notion of ‘racism is prejudice,’” said Bonilla-Silva, an Afro-Puerto Rican professor of sociology at Duke University who Purdue invited to speak Wednesday. “Yes, prejudice happens, and we all have versions of that, but systemic domination is not fundamentally organized at the individual level.”
Racism is a cultural system of automatic behaviors that everyone engages in, Bonilla-Silva argued. There are not just a small number of racists confined to the margins, he said, but white people and people of color alike perpetuate the current racial order by following norms — perhaps unwittingly.
“This is like the whack-a-mole game,” Bonilla-Silva said. “If you want to attack racism, you have to address issues systemically. You have to literally close all the holes in the whack-a-mole game at the same time, so that the mole of racism cannot come up.”
Moderator Linda Renzulli, head of Purdue’s Department of Sociology, said Bonilla-Silva has done research on and written about what he calls HWCUs, or historically white colleges and universities.
“HWCUs are colleges that embody, unify, and reproduce whiteness,” he said. “We at best are treated as guests in this academic white house. Being non-white in a white space means one will always look out of place.”
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva spoke directly to university administrations about how to change racial attitudes on campus.
“You need to put your money where your mouth is,” he said. “It is not enough for you to talk nicely. You have to deliver.”
He directed this at Purdue and Duke, specifically, as well as other Big Ten universities. But his advice applies to all HWCUs, he said He called on administrators to heed the advice of their colleges of interdisciplinary studies to transform their universities into beacons of hope.
He said he is “pess-optimistic” racism will end in the foreseeable future. Progress is possible, he added, but the “monster” of racism must be fought through disruptive social action.
“For fundamental race change or class change or gender change, you need movements,” Bonilla-Silva said. “Movements are the ones that produce deep ruptures that open the space for change and possibilities.
“That said, electoral politics are potentially part of a movement’s strategy, and in this particular election you better bet that we should all vote. I hope that all of you in the audience vote.”