During slavery, it was commonly propounded that the whites were both smarter and stronger than blacks. There were even faux concerns that if slavery were abolished, the black race would die out, unable to survive on its own. Once slavery ended, however, things changed. The ‘happy docile slave stereotype’ (there were always multiple variants) was replaced by the predator/rapist, whose purported presence served to justify wave upon wave of lynching epidemics.
What these examples show is how fluid racist ideologies can be under pressure, and yet still fulfill their same basic function of justifying and naturalizing racially stratified outcomes. The book ‘Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression’ explains how stratified societies maintain themselves with a mixture of hierarchy-enhancing and hierarchy-attenuating ideas, values and ‘legitimating myths,’ which can vary over time, but still continued to produce stratified outcomes provided newer legitimating myths emerge to support hierarchy, as the older ones fall out of favor.
In America as a whole, perhaps the most useful framework for understanding this process in the so-called post-civil rights era is Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s concept of ‘colorblind racism,’ as explained in his 2003 book, ‘Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States.’ While the idea of a ‘colorblind’ social order was, in the 19th century, a relatively radical, emancipatory idea, more recently the notion has been turned upside down, with the claim that we are already colorblind, except, perhaps, for those who still see racial injustices. The concept of ‘colorblind racism’ neatly captures what’s involved in this shell game.
'The central component of any dominant racial ideology is its frames or set paths for interpreting information,' Bonilla-Silva explained, and he identified four such frames at the heart of colorblind racism: 1) Abstract Liberalism, using ideas associated with political liberalism (such as 'equal opportunity,' the idea that force should not be used to achieve social policy) and economic liberalism (choice, individualism) — in an abstract manner to explain racial matters. 2) Naturalization ('That’s just how things are.') 3) Cultural Racism (arguments like 'Mexicans don’t put much emphasis on education' or 'Blacks have too many babies'to explain the condition of minorities.) 4) Minimization of Racism, which simultaneously acknowledges and dismisses persistent racism ('It’s better now than in the past' or 'There is discrimination, but there are plenty of jobs out there').
With this framework as background, it’s not hard to understand the evolution of even more pernicious extremist variants in the right-wing media, which Boehlert sketched out. It began with Andrew Breitbart and his website announcing that ‘basically racism had been eradicated, and that anyone who talked about the topic was therefore a racist,’ especially ‘civil rights activists and civil libertarians … because by raising questions, or talking about it, or discussing it, they were trying to rip the country apart, because the country is already solved racism.’