by Lilia Yamakawa
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David R. Dietrich’s contention is that America is developing a complex “tri-racial” system of stratified classification that will be composed of whites at the top, honorary whites in the middle, and collective blacks at the bottom.
If we consider President Barack Obama, we can see that Americans still don’t really have that classification system. “The First Black President” of the U.S. had a white mother and a black father. He was raised entirely by his white mother and his white grandparents. Still, Americans see him as a black man. Why doesn’t he fall into the “honorary white” category which includes other multi-racial people?
Americans are still seeing race in terms of black and white. Other reasons for seeing him as black may be that he seems to self identify as black. Also, his wife is black. Finally, many Americans may tend to fall into one of two groups. They may be very proud of having a black president or they may feel uncomfortable or actually not like having a black president. Either way, we’re classifying him as black and stressing his blackness. Of course, because of his position as President of the U.S, Obama is not typical and is not viewed as typical. Still, it’s interesting to think of him in terms of the author’s thesis. We can see that the biracial system is still going strong in people’s minds.
Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich also explain that the way we currently talk about race includes the idea that “We are all Americans – no matter what color we are.” This will create a tendency to ignore the fact that racism is a problem. Ignoring the problem, white supremacy will continue, and blacks and other minorities will continue to suffer inequality. They won’t have a clear starting point to argue against discrimination.
This is something like the Burakumin issue in Japan where people don’t want to give it a name or say there is a discrimination problem. If it doesn’t have a name, maybe it will go away. But is the problem being really solved this way? Do the Burakumin still face discrimination, just more of a “smiling discrimination” in the society?
Actually I think there is less discrimination against the Burakumin in my generation than in the one before. There is no pigmentocracy in the Burakumin discrimination issue. There is no racial difference. If the older generation continues hiding who the Burakumin are, or where the Burakumin area is, it will be very difficult to distinguish them. Eventually, the problem may disappear. But we have to find out whether or not discrimination still exists.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo and David R. Dietrich (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
The Burakumin: Japan’s invisible race . (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.tofugu.com/2011/11/18/the-burakumin-japans-invisible-race/
President Obama is widely seen, when considered narrowly along racial lines, as a black person because, objectively speaking, his skin pigmentation is seen as closer to black than to white. Both terms, black and white, fail to capture the subtleties of actual skin color.
As an individual who may well be wrong, I also don’t see Americans as falling neatly into the tri-racialism that is stated by Bonilla-Silvio and Dietrich. A more accurate view is that we, along with much of humanity, categorize in nearly every conceivable way and that in so doing we demonstrate great diversity in how and who we categorize.
Mr. Obama, as one might expect given his successful ascent to power, has carved out his own persona which consists, in my view, of successfully projecting a public image of himself as a leader. If he had portrayed himself in exclusively racial terms, that would have been a distortion of who he is and would likely have curtailed his chances for winning political power.