Colorblind Racism: The New Norm

The GOP candidates don't see their racial rhetoric as offensive. You got a problem with that?

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Charles Dharapa-Pool/Getty Images

Colorblind racism is the new normal in American conservative political thought. Well after the election of the nation's first African-American president, in 2012 Republican candidates are using egregious signals and dog whistles to incite racial divisiveness as an effective tool for political gain. But when confronted about the nature of their offensive rhetoric, the answer is either an innocuous denial or dismissive retort.

It is curious that people bold enough to make outlandish racial claims never admit guilt or receive a proverbial trial and conviction by the greater populace. Paul Rosenberg, a political contributor to Al-Jazeera, recently explained that this curious phenomenon of "racism without racists" has become de facto in today's political discourse and is best described as "colorblind racism."

First explored in the book Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a professor of sociology at Duke University, the concept explains much of the Republican strategy to defeat Barack Obama, using race as a wedge issue. Bonilla-Silva defined colorblind racism as a racial ideology that expresses itself in seemingly nonracial terms. As such, it is most practiced by people who never see themselves outside their own myopic worldview.

Last week's Fox News debate prior to the South Carolina Republican primary was an excellent example of the hubris inherent in today's racially charged, conservative environment.

All the more offensive was the fact that this debate took place on the national holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. As Michael Keegan explained in the Huffington Post, "What could have been an opportunity for the candidates to express their support for the myriad advances of the civil rights movement and to address the real challenges that remain, instead turned into a mess of racially charged attacks on African Americans, immigrants and the poor."

Newt Gingrich -- the worst offender -- doubled down on his prior attacks. When asked by Juan Williams, the lone African-American Fox News moderator, about calling Barack Obama the greatest "food stamp president" and his insistence that he would "talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps," Gingrich played to the bloodthirsty audience.

"Can't you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?" Williams asked.

"No," Gingrich replied. "No, I don't see that at all."

The response? Roaring applause and a standing ovation.

Now confident, with the wind at his back, Gingrich went on to repeat his misguided call for poor, inner-city children to be forced to work as janitors.