White racial frame

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Sociologist Joe Feagin[1] coined the concept of the white racial frame after conducting extensive sociological research and writings on racial and ethnic oppression, exploitation, and inequality over the past several decades. A critical aspect of the societal reality of "systemic racism",[1] the white racial frame is a generic meaning system that has long been propagated and held by most white Americans—and even, at least in part, accepted by many people of color. Among whites in particular, this framing is deeply held, broad, and encompasses many pieces of racialized knowledge and understandings that in concert shape human action and behavior in a myriad of ways that are often automatic or unconscious. The white racial frame is more than cognitive; it is a deep racial framing that has racial images, interpretations, emotions, and action inclinations that are closely tied to racial cognitions and understandings therein.[2]

The dominant white racial frame generally has several levels of abstraction. At the most general level, the racial frame views whites as mostly superior in culture and achievement and views people of color as generally of less social, economic, and political consequence than whites—as inferior to whites in the making and keeping of the nation. At the next level of framing, whites view an array of social institutions as normally white-controlled and as unremarkable in the fact that whites therein are unjustly enriched and disproportionately privileged. At the lowest level of abstraction, negative stereotypes and images of the “inferior racial others” are constructed and accepted. This framing is so taken for granted that at no level is this white racial frame questioned or challenged by most whites. Relatively few whites ever think critically about its major contours and deep significance. Most whites collude tacitly in an agreement not to question it. The frame includes not only negative understandings of Americans of color, but also assertively positive understandings of whites and white institutions. White superiority is regularly coupled with ideas of inferiority of people of color.[3]

For most white Americans, the white racial frame is deeply held and extensive, with many stored aspects or “bits,” including stereotyped knowledge, racial understandings, and racial interpretations. In this sense, “bits” are pieces of cultural information that is collectively derived and passed along from one person and group to the next, and from one generation to the next. Specific bits of the white racial frame began to develop as early as the 1607 with the introduction of north Europeans, by means of invasion of North America, to Native Americans and, soon, Africans. In everyday practices, there are multiple variations of the frame and it is not always used in the same way by whites. But, by constantly using selected bits of the dominant white racial frame to interpret society, by integrating new items into it, and by applying learned stereotypes, images, and interpretations in discriminatory actions, whites imbed their racialized frame deeply in their minds. Particularly important in the white racial frame are intimate friendship and kinship groups, for in such settings essential racial “bits” become a common cultural currency [2].

Depending on the situation, whites typically combine racial stereotypes (the cognitive aspect), metaphors and concepts (the deeper cognitive aspect), images (the visual aspect), emotions (feelings like fear), or inclinations to take discriminatory action within a racist framing of society. This frame assists them in evaluating Americans of color in everyday situations, as well as in assessing white Americans and white institutions. While there are variations among white individuals and small groups in regard to the dominant racial framing across white America, and indeed other white areas of the globe, most such framing encompasses thousands of conventional racist bits webbed together. Some bits are subtly racist cognitions, images, emotions, and inclinations, while many others are more blatantly racist. Each person, and/or their immediate small group, draws from the larger frame.


  1. ^ Feagin, Joe R. 2006. Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression. New York, NY: Routledge
  2. ^ Joe Feagin. 2000. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, & Future Reparations. New York, NY: Routledge
  3. ^ Leslie Houts Picca and Joe Feagin. 2007. Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage. New York, NY: Routledge

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