Photo by torbakhopper via Flickr.
Photo by torbakhopper via Flickr.

Despite popular notions that the U.S. is now “post-racial,” numerous recent events (such as the Rachel Dolezal kerfuffle and the Emmanuel AME Church shooting) have clearly showcased how race and racism continue to play a central role in the functioning of contemporary American society. But why is it that public rhetoric is at such odds with social reality?

A qualitative research study by Natasha K. Warikoo and Janine de Novais provides insights. By conducting interviews with 47 white students at two elite US universities, Warikoo and de Novais explore the “lenses through which individuals understand the role of race in society.” Described as race frames, Warikoo and de Novais articulate the manner in which their respondents rely on particular cultural frames in making sense of race and race relations in the U.S.

They label the first of these the colour-blind frame*, a perspective held by respondents that suggests that the U.S. is now a “post-racial” society where race has little social meaning or consequence.

The colour-blind frame is challenged by what Warikoo and de Novais identify as the diversity frame, or the view that race is a “positive cultural identity” and that the incorporation of a multitude of perspectives (also referred to as multiculturalism) is beneficial to all those involved.

Integral to Warikoo and de Novais’ study is the finding that about half of their student respondents simultaneously house both the colour-blind and diversity frames. Of 24 students who held a colour-blind frame, 23 also promoted a diversity frame. Warikoo and de Novais explain this discursive discordance as a product of the environments in which respondents reside: a pre-college environment where race is typically de-emphasized and a college environment that amplifies the importance of diversity and multiculturalism.

Importantly, Warikoo and de Novais argue that the salience of these two co-occurring race frames is significant not only because of their seeming contradictions, but because they share conceptions of race that largely ignore the structural basis of racism and racial inequality in the U.S. Ultimately, Warikoo and de Novais’ findings illustrate the general ambivalence that their white respondents share about race and race-based issues—undoubtedly reflective of the discrepancies concerning race in broader society.

*Spelling from original article.