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More “Post-Racist” Debate with Org Theory

Fabio continues to defend his position that ours is a post-racist society. As I say in my comments below, Fabio has a peculiar tension. He is trying to reconcile a claim of post-racism which, by definition, is dichotomous (something is either post or it is not) with an argument that appears to be most committed to the notion of measuring and rewarding racial progress. That would require a scale of racist to not-racist and it would not be compatible with a dichotomous declaration like “post-racism”. I may speak at some later time about how important this is to sociological inquiry. My comment at the post follows:

I continue to be confused by your argument. It appears to morph with every posting. In your original argument you put forth a bulleted list of premises from which you draw the conclusion that ours is a post-racist society. But, in every subsequent post you seem to only address one premise or change the premises altogether.

In this instance, the tool is quite cool but as an operationalization of racism the instance of racial slurs in books that have been scanned by google books strikes me as weak measure. First, is there some reason that we would expect that the occurrences of the word nigger (I’m black and choose not to censor the word; doing so leads to discussions of post-racial and post-racism) in printed text from corporate publishers correlates with the presence or extent of racism? Again, I think this is a problem of definitional statements, or the lack thereof. Just what counts as “racism” in your post-racial theory? To your racial slur measure used here I could argue any number of things. One, racial slurs change over time. In fact, there is good theoretical reason to interrogate the use of “ghetto” and “urban”, for example, to connote the same racist classism that functions similarly to nigger: to define black groups as non-normative and inferior in the allocation of resources, symbolic and material. I could also say that there is a profit motive attached to the corporate publication of printed books that would explain the decline of the use of racial slurs. There has also been massive changes in publishing and distribution over the past 20 years that makes a search of google books a very limited population that may not reflect the greater cultural discourse.

But those are measurement issues which are not the crux of my issue with the post-racist thesis. The real issue is that it is a big claim that would require some robust measurement and theoretical grounding for me to accept it. What counts as racism? Why would you choose some measures and not others? Why would inquiring about post-racism be a sociological inquiry? Those are fair questions, I think, that remain unanswered. I suspect the problem lies in the term itself. To be “post” something is a fixed state but you seem to be arguing for some kind of scale of racist progress. That does not reconcile well with nomenclature like post-racist which, by definition, would mean AFTER racism.


February 22, 2013 at 4:08 am


The original post-racist society discussion, Eric Grollman responds,Tressie McMillan responds,my response to Eric, McMillan part deux,Eric responds again

A few weeks ago, I argued that the era of overt racism is over. One commenter felt that I needed to operationalize the idea. There is no simple way to measure such a complex idea, but we can offer measurements of very specific processes. For example, I could hypothesize that it is no longer to legitimate to use in public words that have a clearly derogatory meaning, such as n—— or sp–.*

We can test that idea with word frequency data. Google has scanned over 4 million books from 1500 to the present and you can search that database. Above, I plotted the appearance of n—– and sp—, two words which are unambiguously slurs for two large American ethnic groups. I did not plot…

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4 comments on “More “Post-Racist” Debate with Org Theory

  1. Pingback: Conditionally Accepted | The Ongoing Sociological Blog Debate On “Post-Racism”

  2. Pingback: Brief: Advice To Current Graduate Students | my sociology

  3. Pingback: The Ongoing Sociological Blog Debate On Race, Racism, And “Post-Racism” | eGrollman

  4. chris
    February 22, 2013

    When I was a boy, growing up in the Catholic church there were three conditions that attached to a grave (mortal) sin, 1 The offense must be serious, 2. The sinner must be aware of its gravity, and 3. The sinner must freely choose to engage in the grave offense. This tends to be my take on racism. There’s certainly a plethora of racist events and occurrence in our society. But if social or financial pressures force behavioral change then where’s the rub? What’s in the heart may or may not change over time, but in the long run it is actions that become meaningful.

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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