Yale Professor Discusses Modern Racism in University of Pittsburgh Lecture

Mar 28, 2013

Ethnographer Elijah Anderson speaks at the University Of Pittsburgh on Modern Racism in the United States.
Credit Jared Adkins / 90.5 WESA

Racism isn’t gone — it has just changed form. That’s according to Yale sociology professor Elijah Anderson, who spoke at the University of Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

“It’s a civil society," he said. "People can be quite parochial, ethnocentric, even racist. But under the canopy they typically present themselves as civilly. They can be white; they can be black; they can be Native American. They can be of various ethnicities — you can be ethnic, without being ethnocentric.”

The canopy Anderson refers to is the cosmopolitan canopy, a term he uses to describe spaces in urban environments, such as parks or malls, which offer a break from racial and economic tensions.

In his speech, Anderson noted two types of people — those who are cosmopolitan, who search out diversity in their lives and surroundings, and those who are ethnocentric, who seek sameness in their lives. In areas of high diversity, such as Pittsburgh, Anderson said those who are ethnocentric disguise their feelings in order to get along with everyone.

He said this behavior brings about moments of “acute racism” from those who are faking their feelings toward minorities.

“Black people generally interpret these moments as deeply racist attempts to put [black people] back in their place, to show them that they don’t belong,” Anderson said. “These moments of acute disrespect based on race and the black ghetto as a concrete point of reference constitute the present day American color line.”

For Anderson, the color line represents the border between civil and racist behavior. These moments of racism are small slights that usually happen to middle class blacks, he said.

Anderson added that when such moments happen against poor blacks, the effects are much greater.

“You can be stopped and frisked much more often,” he said. “And when you get stopped and frisked, it messes up your day, your week. You could even be put in jail or written up. Or you could not even get hired because you come from the iconic ghetto, and you can’t say you don’t.”