Feeling Race: An Invitation to Explore Racialized Emotions
Racism is fundamentally about racial domination. It emerged in modernity as part of economic and political projects that led to the colonization, genocide, slavery, and conquest of various peoples in the so-called “New World.” To justify the inhumanity and pillage involved in these projects, Europeans defined the various non-European peoples they encountered as inferior races and themselves as the superior race. In doing so, racialized regimes were established all over the world and the invented races were suffused with cognitive and emotional content (races became socially and emotionally real).
With the theme, “Feeling Race: An Invitation to Explore Racialized Emotions,” we encourage sociologists to engage, study, and theorize the multiple ways in which emotions and feelings matter in racial affairs. We “feel race” in the streets, stores, and the workplace; we “feel race” in friendships and in romantic relations; we even “feel race” in events we do not code as racial such as playing video games or watching movies. Albeit we welcome creative ways of addressing the theme, we want to push the analysis of racialized emotions in two specific ways. First, to date most of the analysis on the feelings and emotions associated with racial dynamics has focused on negative emotions (i.e., anger, hate, anxiety, and fear). Hence, we ask analysts to also examine positive racialized emotions such as pride, happiness, comfort, empathy, solidarity, and pleasure. Second, because racialized emotions are relational, sociologists should address the emotions of all actors, dominant as well as subordinated, in racialized settings, situations, and interactions.
Potential subjects that could be addressed under the theme “Feeling Race” include the following:
- Race and emotions in the measurement of categories, demography, and methodology: How one “feels race” determines how one marks one’s race, or is assigned a race by an “independent” observer, in a census form or survey.
- Race, health, and emotion: Differential health outcomes among racial groups, net of SES. or gender, are deeply shaped by racialized emotions. For instance, work on microaggressions shows that small slights produce negative cumulative health effects for people of color. Do these microaggressions (e.g., acts of racial domination) produce positive health outcomes for the perpetrators?
- Race and friendship, love, and attraction: How does race, and the emotions it produces, fracture friendship and limits (or enhances) love? How do we interpret and account for the emotions that transpire in these special racial relations? How do we comprehend that even when people engage in inter-racial relations, they still “feel race”?
- Race, the economy, and emotions: Homo Economicus is not independent from race and emotions. Analysis of the economy, markets, market transactions, and economic organizations ought to delve into how racialized emotions affect presumably “rational” economic actors and the institutions they create.
- The intersectional affective bond: No one is just black, white, Latino, or Asian as we are all intersectional subjects. Accordingly, sociologists need to address how specific categorical intersections (race/class, race/gender, etc.) produce particular emotional structures. For example, can we understand the rise of Trump without examining the racialized/gendered emotions he has generated among working class white men?
- Race, emotions, and racial attitudes: How do racial anxieties, anger, and resentment drive racial attitudes? How do we measure the impact of racialized emotions on actors’ support for social policies? Do racial solidarity and pride, and conversely, shame and guilt, produce specific racial attitudes and behavior?
- Race, crime, and emotion: Can we examine criminal justice matters without appreciating the centrality of racialized emotions in how races are policed, judged, and punished? Black Lives Matter, for instance, is not simply a reflection of current police brutality, but a response to the history of surveillance and vigilantism of blacks by regular white folks.
- Racialized emotions and schooling: School segregation, tracking, and differential treatment in schools by race are still part of our reality despite the presumably good intentions of federal, state, and local officers and parents in school districts. Are racialized emotions central factors behind this reality?
- Racialized emotions and networks: If we believe races are socio-political constructions, how do we account for racial homophily? Are the networks we develop early in life charged with racialized emotions in such way that later on, net of real possibilities for inter-racial interaction, actors continue bonding with their “own kind”?
- Racialized emotions and social movements: The defense and challenge of the racial order of things has always been emotionally charged. Slogans embody the emotions of different racial groups.
- Race, emotions, and families: Racialized emotions are generated and reproduced in families. When we train our children to navigate the racialized world, we reify racial hierarchies. Families of color, tend to reify the existing racial hierarchy by apportioning affection and resources based on color. In contrast, white families reproduce racial hierarchy by raising their children in the white habitus thus training them to develop “white feelings.”
- Race and altruism/helping behavior: Researchers have amply documented the connection between race and helping behavior, but they have not done much work exploring the emotional substratum that produces this state of affairs. What are the racialized emotions that hinder or foster cross-racial altruism?
- Race, emotions, and the body: The body reflects all of our social cleavages. Do racialized emotions matter in how bodies are viewed, policed, commodified, sexualized, or stigmatized?
These are but a few possibilities of addressing the theme “Feeling Race,” however, the theme is truly an invitation to explore the broad subject of race, emotions, and feelings. Please join us in Philadelphia in 2018 for an exciting program where we will take emotions seriously and try clarify the nexus between material and emotional racialized processes. Our objective in tackling “Feeling Race” is to stimulate research that analytically, theoretically, and politically helps advance the struggle for racial justice in America and the world.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, ASA President and Chair of the 2018 Program Committee, Duke University