The Invisible Weight of Whiteness: The Racial Grammar of Everyday Life in Contemporary America

I attended a lecture where Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (Duke) spoke on his concept of racial grammar. The following are my rough notes:

Racial grammar

  • sets the logic and rules of proper composition of ‘racial statements’ (and I add of what can be seen and ‘felt’)
  • grammar is mostly acquired through social interaction and communication
  • no grammar dominates completely any linguistic field as there are always breaks and challenges as well as alternative grammars

Discusses ‘Beauty and the Beast’ style misrepresentations and omissions of the media in terms of racial grammar. Specifically mentions cases where media shuns missing black girls and ccreates media circuses around missing white girls:

  • stories about whites as ‘universal’
  • casts white ‘beauty’ as all beauty
  • underrepresentation of minorities on TV and movies
  • minorities appear mostly in stereotypical fashion (cites Republicans who use the phrase ‘magic negros’, an apparent reference to Chip Saltsman’s infamous run for RNC Chairman)

Many of our cultural storylines:

  • Reinforce racial boundaries
  • bolster a ‘racial order of things’
  • present felicitous view of racial affairs

Cites CDC data from Tim Wise citing statistics that say white high schools students are seven times more likely than blacks to have used cocaine, twice as likely to binge drink and drive drunk, among other things. Claim: racial grammar is a tool to scapegoat blacks for the involvement and complicity of white people in these systems of crime.

Talks about oppressively white environments at colleges and universities, where the narrative of whiteness is so overwhelming that the culture and atmosphere remains unwelcoming and harsh. Talks about specific instances of racism towards black students on campuses.

Bonilla-Silva closed with some fragments from Langston Hughes’s poem, “Democracy“.


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