I continue to work on a comparative case of organizational structures in higher education. T’is what I do. Central to my theorizing and empirical work is that organizations reproduce racial, gender, and class inequality. You would think that goes without saying but race is seriously under-theorized and researched in organizational studies. For a long time, the prevailing organizational theories assumed that organizations are rational, neutral organisms. Oddly enough, we have done a better job of theorizing gender in organizations. The work of feminist scholars like Acker and Kanter and today Dana Britton keeps an empirical focus on how organizations reproduce gender. Not so with race. I have a few theories about that for another time and place. Granted, org theory eventually discovered race but it is still not treated as a serious analytical framework. Now rather than explicitly assuming race neutrality in organizations, race is eraced mostly through implicit oversight of how race functions in and through organizations.
This sounds boring, I know. Let me see how I can help.
If you are raced as a minority in the U.S. you may get the feeling sometimes that, for instance, all the black TV shows are on non-descript (“bootleg”) TV networks. That’s an organizational process! There’s a long theoretical argument about how complicated TV syndication rules and the consolidation of media networks (i.e. organizations) made black programming a non-starter for TV executives. So that feeling you have is grounded in some organizational processes and in the reproduction of racialized norms.
Similarly, in my own work, I am explicit that there is a reason that so many of the ads you see for online colleges and for-profit colleges feature images like this:
Sure, it could be a coincidence but coincidence is not an analytical framework in social science. So, I invariably have to try to connect organizational theory that ignores race with the observational data that says race is salient to the organizations I study. It’s not…easy.
It is also lonely.
So, I’m always on the look-out for scholarship that can help. I follow orgtheory.net regularly. Of late, they’ve made a turn towards discussing race. It’s been illustrative of problems I think are endemic to organizational theory and research generally.
In his proposal that America may not be post-racial but is “post-racist”, Fabio Rojas is being audacious:
I suggest the term post-racist because while race still exists, we don’t build racism into our laws and culture. We definitely past a time where a law can simply say “Blacks can’t do X.” But race is still around and it’s all over the place. At least we can talk about.
As I said in a comment to the post, we could use some clarification of terms.
Racism has been reduced to some weird metaphysical experience of hurt feelings. If a person hurts your feelings and they are raced or you are raced or they once said the word race then, apparently, that exchange can be called racism in today’s parlance. If we accept that operationalization of racism then maybe this “post-racist” frame holds.
But in his own examples for our post-racist evolution, Rojas offers some very structural examples. The dismantling of legal segregation is the dismantling of a structural process of racism. So, is racism an individual perversion or a structural process? Are we post-racist at the individual level or at the structural level? If we’re understanding racism as a structure, per the example, then how we can ignore things like the incarceration rates of black men or the difference in criminalization between crack and cocaine or the criminalization of poor black children for school infractions (often called the school-to-prison pipeline)? How do we reconcile these clear examples of some kind of structural process that shapes organizational processes which feel awfully racist and that certainly have a differential effect on minority “raced” people?
There’s no resolution that I can see to that tension. But examining it could go a long way towards understanding how the organizations that rule our social life in a Weberian society are reproducing inequality and racism. By focusing on structure and individuals to the exclusion of organizations, we miss a key mechanism for understanding racism. That is how we find ourself with pronouncements about ours being a post-racist society.
I’d argue that nothing could be further from the truth. Not having the right framework to understand racism is not evidence of there being no racism.