Prominent sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva discusses racialized emotions in UCR Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture


Around 479 people filled the University Theatre to listen to the Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture presented by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. The lecture, held on Friday, Jan. 18, was co-sponsored by various departments of UCR including the Department of Sociology, the Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health, the Department of Psychology, the Department of Ethnic Studies and various ethnic and gender programs.

Bonilla-Silva, the James B. Duke Professor of Sociology at Duke University, has gained notoriety in the field for his work in the area of race. His work in the past has discussed racial theory, race and methodology, color-blind racism, Latin American stratification of race in the U.S., racial grammar, race in the university, race and human rights, race and citizenship, whiteness and the Obama phenomenon. He is known for his notable works the 1997 American Sociological Review article “Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpretation” and his 2003 book “Racism Without Racists.” Since 2017, he has served as president of the Southern Sociological Society and the American Sociological Association.

After a welcome by Chancellor Wilcox and an introduction by CHASS Dean Milagros Peña, Bonilla-Silva began the lecture to discuss and theorize on racialized emotions. Compared to universal emotions, racialized emotions are social emotions that emerge in specific racialized societies.

“Racialized emotions affected me even before I knew what race (was),” Bonilla-Silva said as he mentioned that he felt race since his upbringing in Puerto Rico. He provided examples to contemporary issues that showed how racialized emotions are part of the racial structure which included discussing Thomas Jefferson’s writings on slavery and Donald Trump’s tweets addressing undocumented immigrants.

Bonilla-Silva also claimed there are variations on how people express and relate to their identity which includes Latino variance in racialized emotions. Bonilla-Silva used the anti-Latino stance of a second-generation Latino who is a border patrol agent as an example of this variance.

“We all feel race, but our feelings are not equally validated,” Bonilla-Silva explained. He referenced the work of scholars like Bell Hooks, Gloria Anzaldua and Audre Lorde who have previously discussed how the emotions white women command concern. Yet, in contrast the emotions of people of color are generally not given the seriousness they deserve.

Bonilla-Silva explained the need for a political space based on legal scholar Janine Young Kim’s idea of “a feeling of equality.” To do this, Bonilla-Silva calls for de-radicalization of subjectivity, engagement with politics of recognition and an attempt to meet the paradigm of racial justice and explore anger, empathy and love. “Without anger, the oppressed cannot mobilize into action,” he explained. “Without empathy, whites cannot develop mutuality and respect towards racial others. Without love infused with justice, we cannot change the world but maintain our humanity.”

Bonilla-Silva also took a moment to address the racialized emotions found in historically white colleges and universities that are starting to see rising Hispanic enrollment. Bonilla-Silva has heard from other scholars of color and students about the racial issues in institutions; among these are scholars of color not being taken seriously and the emotional effects of campus racism. Bonilla-Silva advised that attendees listen to scholars of color with an open heart. “Like in therapy, admitting one’s issues is the first step to recovery, and I want everyone to recover from this racial nightmare,” closed Bonilla-Silva.

After a Q&A session led by Peña, a reception was held outside.

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