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Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2003

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Summary and Study Guide


Racism Without Racists is a work of sociology written by the scholar-activist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a professor at Duke University. Based on research he did in the late 1990s, the book is a seminal work of racial studies and antiracist literature. First published in 2003, the book has been revised and reprinted five times, with most of the editions responding to monumental moments in racial history in the United States. For example, the fourth edition was published in response to the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. The most recent edition, the sixth, was published in 2022 and addresses issues that have arisen with the Trump presidency, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and other protests springing from the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. This study guide uses the Kindle edition of that sixth edition.


The book is divided into 11 chapters. It opens with a new Preface to the Sixth Edition that explains the events of the past few years as motivation for revising and reprinting the book. Bonilla-Silva notes that his central thesis has not changed since the first edition, though he has made changes to this edition of the book.

The first three chapters introduce Bonilla-Silva’s main points. Chapter 1 discusses the idea that few Americans these days say they are racists even while society as a whole is racist. Bonilla-Silva introduces the idea that most white Americans participate in what he calls “color-blind racism,” an ideology that allows Americans to be racist without sounding like racists. Chapter 2 discusses and defines systemic racism, offering many statistics to prove that Black people are still the victims of discrimination today. Chapter 3 outlines what he calls the “New Racism,” a system of discrimination that is not as overt as that of the Jim Crow era but every bit as pernicious.

Chapters 4 through 9 discuss the central frames of color-blind racism and features analysis of interviews with white and Black respondents in which they speak the language of color-blind racism. Bonilla-Silva argues that segregation and racism affect everybody, but white people dismiss both concepts because they do not see whiteness as a race. However, in Chapter 8, he looks at the features of white racial progressives and notes they are predominantly working-class women. Chapter 9 compares Black and white interviewees’ responses.

Chapter 10 discusses the way color-blind racism factored into the response to COVID-19 over the past couple of years. He notes that by calling frontline workers “heroes,” white people were able to ignore the larger societal issues that impact people of color while also dismissing their requests for improvements to their working conditions and realities.

Finally, the book ends with a conclusion that serves as a call to arms for white people to join in the cause of an antiracist society, with Bonilla-Silva noting that he is blurring the line between sociology and activism because the cause of fighting against racism is too important to limit himself to the conventions of academia.