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Eduardo Bonilla-Silva Award Statement

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Professor of Sociology at Duke University, is the 2011 recipient of the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award.  This award -- named for Oliver Cromwell Cox, Charles S. Johnson, and E. Franklin Frazier – recognizes outstanding scholarship and activity focused on racial issues, especially those affecting “African American or similarly disadvantaged racial/ethnic populations” (quoted from the ASA description of the award).   Like the award’s namesakes, the award also recognizes individuals (and groups) whose work seeks to improve conditions globally, to address directly issues of social justice.   And a final consideration has evolved from previous CJF committee deliberations – mentoring.  Scholarship, issues related to social justice, and mentoring (especially students of color) form the primary criteria for candidates for the CJF Award.  Given these parameters, the CJF Award Committee felt that Eduardo Bonilla-Silva was an ideal candidate; he embodied all of the very best qualities of Cox, Johnson and Frazier. 
After completing his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin, Eduardo had academic appointments at the University of Michigan, Texas A&M, and now Duke.  No matter where he has been physically, mentally his head and heart have always focused on issues related to race – whether in his courses, his research, his public speeches or in his everyday encounters with students and colleagues.  It would be fair to say that for Eduardo, Mills’ admonition to develop a “sociological imagination” was fully embraced.   Indeed, the intersection of Eduardo’s biography and history have compelled his work, infusing it with not just intellectual curiosity but intellectual passion. 

Here is a short sampler of these titles.   “Rethinking Racism” (his first major article published in the American Sociological Review) followed by a reply to a comment, with his response titled “The Essential Social Fact of Race”.  Other works included in their titles such phrases as “This Is a White Country”; “I’m Not a Racist but . . . “; “Racialized Social System Approach to Racism”; “Color-Blind Racism”; “Fight the Power!”;  “How to Talk Nasty about Blacks without Sounding Racist”; “Anything but Racism”; “When Whites Flock Together”; “Every Place has a Ghetto”.  This is a just a sampling of titles in Eduardo’s journal articles.  The impression one gets from this list of fusing intellectual curiosity and passion is underscored when looking at his book titles:  White Supremacy and Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era; Racism without Racist:  Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America; White Out:  The Continuing Significance of Racism; White Logic, White Methods:  Race and Social Science; and forthcoming Anything but Racism:  How Social Scientists Minimize the Significance of Race. 

Eduardo does not hide behind the canons of science to stop there once his theorized, empirically buttressed story is told, instead he often goes on and out – into the public eye – to preach it.  In this sense, he has become a public intellectual, doing his own kind of public sociology – not simply trying to understand the world but also to change it.  Nowhere has this been more apparent than in sociology itself.  For almost his entire career, sociology’s annual meetings – whether national or regional – have become venues for Eduardo to challenge our discipline.  For Eduardo, advancing knowledge is never enough.  Here again, phrases from the titles of his talks are informative:  “The Invisible Weight of Whiteness”; “When Whites LOVE a Black Leader:  Race Matters in Obamerica”;  “You Guys are Hyper-Sensitive!” “Look, a Negro!”; “We are All Americans!”; We Ain’t Beyond Race”; “We’d Love to Hire Them but . . . “; “Was Blind but Now I See!”    For Eduardo, exclamations points are normative!  There is a passion to his work and the important implications he wishes to convey.  

Eduardo has also not been afraid of getting outside of sociology to spread the word, to argue for the importance to his work.  This, of course, is the more obvious form of public sociology – using intellectualized arguments to prod long-standing norms or challenge sacred cows of one kind or another.  A wonderful title in this vein occurred when Eduardo was at Texas A&M, “Aggieland” as it is affectionately known in Texas and on campus.  Robert Gates was then the President.  In an attempt to facilitate racial and ethnic diversity on the campus, Gates proposed a new admission policy.  Finding it seriously flawed, Eduardo wrote a piece titled “Aggieland or Crackerland?”  I think we can figure out what he thought of the admissions policy!

The passion one finds in Eduardo’s work is equaled in the letters of support offered by his former and current students.  Eduardo has become an almost heroic figure to graduate students and young faculty colleagues.  Every letter supporting his nomination for the CJF Award cites his tireless work on behalf of students of color.  He has become an important bridge for students moving from undergraduate to graduate studies.  He has served as a counselor to these students far beyond simply being another faculty member or, for that matter, being a faculty “mentor.”  As one letter says, “He has engulfed my family as if it were his own.”  He understands well the risk of living at the edge of larger social systems, not only in society at large but especially in academe.  It is there, in particular, that he has helped to bring students of color in; to make them feel that they have an important, legitimate voice; that they are not simply to be tolerated but rather to be embraced.  As a former student, now assistant professor, says in his letter:  “The example he sets with his voracious intellectual appetite and tireless work ethic, pushes me every day to be a better scholar, mentor, and teacher who seeks to engage the Ivory Tower and the Public at Large in . . . debates around inequality.” 

Above all else, Eduardo has urged us to see that no matter how it is papered over, whether with words or deeds, racism continues to exist.   The evolution of our social norms has often masked how something like racism persists, reproducing inequalities in forms old and new.  Eduardo has made it his job to keep poking and probing to find these inequities and shine a light on them – to include in the academy, even, lord helps us, in sociology itself! 

As one of his nominating letters says, “I hope that you see in him, as I do, the embodiment of the dreams of those who are names are upon this award.”  Indeed, we do.  It’s a great pleasure and honor to present Eduardo Bonilla-Silva the American Sociological Association’s 2011 Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award.