2 different homework’s (one is 400 words) ( second is 2 paragraphs,

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1. In many communities, police are viewed with suspicion, perhaps hatred. How much of that is based on personal experience and how much is related to depictions in the media, both in the news and drama (especially television) Write 400 words about the reputation of police – good and bad – the causes and what can police executives do to mitigate the negatives?

2.I would like to further delve on the cultural critique theme and connect this with Foucault’s idea of power. Please read the articles located in the Week 4 reading section on BB. The two scholarly articles assigned for this week engage with culture as a part of a knowledge project that is situated within specific dynamics of power. Both articles reflect on the manner in which anthropology as a discipline in itself reproduces ideas of “us” and the “other”.  The article “Raciontologies: Rethinking anthropological accounts of institutional racism and enactments of White supremacy in the United States “ is authored by Vanessa Diaz  and Jonathan Rosa. Vanessa Diaz is Assistant Professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies | Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies at Loyla Marymount University. Dr. Vanessa Díaz is an interdisciplinary ethnographer, filmmaker, and journalist. Díaz’s first book, Manufacturing Celebrity: How Latino Paparazzi and Women Reporters Build the Hollywood Industrial Complex, was recently published with Duke University Press. Jonathan Rosa is Associate Professor at Stanford and is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist, His research examines the interplay between youth socialization, raciolinguistic formations, and structural inequity in urban contexts. The article “Deprovincializing Trump, decolonizing diversity, and unsettling anthropology” is authored by Jonathan Rosa and Yarimar Bonilla. Yarimar Bonilla is a Puerto Rican political anthropologist, author, columnist, and professor of anthropology and Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Stanford University

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Deprovincializing Trump, decolonizing
diversity, and unsettling anthropology
After Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US
presidential election, there was widespread public
and scholarly outcry that particularized this
historical moment. But the tendency to
exceptionalize Trump obscures how his rise reflects
long-standing political and economic currents, both
domestically and globally. By contrast, the effort to
deprovincialize Trump effectively locates his
electoral win within broader historical, political, and
economic assemblages of which it is but one part.
This entails examining how colonial and racial
legacies shaped perceptions of the 2016 election, as
well as the role of anthropology in the contemporary
political landscape. [race, colonialism, diversity,
liberalism, anthropology, Donald Trump, United

fter the 2016 US presidential election, many of those who op-
posed Donald Trump’s candidacy felt shocked, betrayed, and
depressed by the news of his victory. Political commentators
suggested that large swaths of the population were experienc-
ing “collective trauma” and suffering from “Trump traumatic

stress disorder.”1 Widespread protests denounced the rhetoric of Trump
and his supporters, and there were calls for members of the Electoral Col-
lege to use their position to challenge his victory. While we share the gen-
eral concern over the impact of his win, and believe that anthropology can
and should play a critical role in examining the importance of this mo-
ment, we contend that there is just as much to be learned from the reac-
tions to the election as there is from the results.

If taken at face value, these reactions suggest that the election marks
an important shift. From some perspectives, Trump seems to be moving
the United States into an uncharted future while also sending it back in
time to an era of overt racism and sexism that many people thought had
been superseded.2 Concerns about these haunting pasts and potential fu-
tures intensified in the wake of the election as authorities registered a dra-
matic rise in hate crimes and displays of overt racism, which were thought
to be relics of the nation’s past.3

But not everyone interpreted the election as surprising or novel.
Indeed, Trump’s victory unfolded in an era when anti-Black violence had
gone “viral,” when videos of police brutality and civilian hate crimes ap-
peared to be playing on a loop, when Native American activists were being
hosed down in frigid temperatures for protecting their land and water, and
when ritual miscarriages of justice—the George Zimmerman not-guilty
verdict following the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Darren Wilson non-
indictment following the killing of Michael Brown, the Baltimore mistrials
and acquittals following Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody,
etc.—made it difficult for many to believe in the “safeguards” of the US
democratic system. This is not to say that the news is met with numbness,
but rather that for many, the election was felt not as a punch in the gut but
as a forceful, sequential blow to an already-bruised political body.

These two alternative perspectives—that Trump’s political ascen-
dance marks a new moment or that it rearticulates existing power
relations—were parodied on the late-night comedy show Saturday Night

AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 201–208, ISSN 0094-0496, online
ISSN 1548-1425. C© 2017 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved.
DOI: 10.1111/amet.12468

American Ethnologist � Volume 44 Number 2 May 2017

Live in a sketch that aired a few days after the election (see
Figure 1).4 The sketch features an election-night party at
an apartment with Hillary Clinton posters decorating the
walls. There are four white and two Black attendees (the
latter portrayed by guest host Dave Chappelle and special
guest Chris Rock). The white attendees, citing polling data,
anticipate a “historic night” in which the United States will
elect its first woman president. But Chappelle’s character
remains skeptical and suggests that while it might be a
“historic night,” they should remember that “it’s a big
country.” As the evening wears on, and it becomes clear
that Trump will win the election, the white attendees dis-
play shock, dismay, and anxiety. The sketch ends with one
of the white characters saying that Trump’s election “is the
most shameful thing America has ever done,” in response
to which Chappelle and Rock share a knowing glance and
double over with laughter. Although the sketch is farcical,
its humor lies in its effective parody of liberal white Amer-
icans’ shock and dismay upon discovering the nation’s
capacity to elect a candidate as distasteful as Trump.

Sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom has noted the
wrongheaded thinking of scholars and others who over-
looked the racist foundations of the United States in their
dismissal of her suggestion, more than nine months be-
fore the election, that “this nation could absolutely elect
Donald Trump.”5 Similarly, Melissa Harris-Perry, a politi-
cal scientist and keynote speaker at the 2016 American An-
thropological Association meetings, asked, “Since when are
racism and sexism disqualifiers for president?”6 From in-
tersectional feminist perspectives, racism and sexism are
significant contemporary challenges rather than retrograde
modes of discrimination. Thus, it is important to consider
differing views on power structures that characterize the
past and present United States, and the ways that these van-
tage points lead some subjects to interpret the 2016 elec-
tion as consistent and logical as opposed to shocking and

What ethical principles have been upheld, reconfig-
ured, or violated in the 2016 election? On what grounds is
this election a breach of justice versus a logical outcome of
the forms of racial democracy and racial capitalism that are
fundamental to the US nation-state project? Although we
do not minimize the devastating impact that this adminis-
tration’s policies will have, or the new president’s ominous
behavior, we are wary of exceptionalizing the current mo-
ment. Our goal is thus to deprovincialize Trump, that is, to
locate his election within broader historical, political, and
economic assemblages of which it is but one part.7

In addition, we question anthropology’s role in the
broader political landscape that produced Trump. Follow-
ing the election there was a swift critique of how pollsters
had gotten it “wrong” and a suggestion that ethnogra-
phers could provide a more useful account of the nation’s
political climate by attending to what people do and not

simply what they say.8 In addition to overlooking the
linguistic anthropological insight that language is itself a
crucial form of social action, this perspective elides an-
thropology’s complicity in reproducing the broader socio-
cultural and intellectual climate that enabled the rise of and
the reactions to Trump.9 Given the suggestion that Trump’s
election requires us to rethink the modes of social science
that got us here, what does this imply for anthropology?
How has anthropology’s engagement with questions of race,
diversity, coloniality, intersectionality, and US society con-
tributed to the current bewilderment over Trump’s election?
To what extent should this moment serve as an occasion
for thinking not just about where anthropology should go
from here but also about how we got here in the first place?

Rethinking conceptualizations of race, diversity,
and racism

Many commentators have noted that this election is pro-
found evidence of how far removed the United States is
from the mythical postracial society that was allegedly ush-
ered in and secured with the two-term presidency of Barack
Obama (Bonilla-Silva 2014). Postracial ideology reduces an-
tiracism to a rejection of biological racial inferiority rather
than calling for the dismantling of the colonial institutions
and power relations through which race is (re)produced.
This ideology thus contributes to a paradoxical invest-
ment in racial difference so long as it is institutionally
domesticated as diversity and inclusion (Ahmed 2012).
The presence of racialized bodies in strategic, often highly
visible, positions is presented as evidence that racism has
been eradicated and racial equality achieved, even while
underlying institutional structures remain fundamentally
unchanged. In this context, racial “diversity” becomes a
highly valuable commodity and a powerfully legitimizing
institutional force (Shankar 2015; Urciuoli 2016). This logic
constructs racism in relation to unequal access to existing
institutions and forecloses considerations of how some
institutions need to be comprehensively reconstituted
or abolished altogether rather than simply “diversified.”
“Diversity” can thus participate in reproducing power
relations and exacerbating their effects. This is perhaps
best evidenced by how the first US president of color did
not destabilize but in fact legitimized—and in many ways
amplified—perpetual imperial war, mass deportation, and
mass incarceration.

Rather than pursuing inclusion-oriented and body-
based diversity projects, we might seek to decolonize di-
versity by locating the origins of race in coloniality rather
than bodies. This implies understanding that “race is not
in the eye of the beholder or on the body of the objecti-
fied,” but instead “an inherited western, modern-colonial
practice of violence, assemblage, superordination, exploita-
tion, and segregation . . . demarcating the colonial rule


Deprovincializing Trump � American Ethnologist

Figure 1. A screenshot of Saturday Night Live’s “Election Night” sketch, which aired November 12, 2016, featuring (from left) Aidy Bryant, Dave Chappelle,
Chris Rock, Beck Bennett, Cecily Strong, and Vanessa Bayer. [Color figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]

of Europe over non-Europe” (Hesse 2016, viii). Efforts to
understand and eradicate racism must thus grapple with
both how racial difference is historically constituted and
how it is institutionally reproduced and rearticulated in the
present. Focusing merely on present-day forms of racism,
such as those that have gained attention in the wake of the
2016 election, does not allow us to see how contemporary
US race relations articulate long-standing forms of colonial-
ity, and how US racial dynamics are linked to broader racial
formations worldwide (Pierre 2013).

The characterization of Trump’s election, as well as re-
lated global events such as Brexit, as exceptional effectively
delinks present-day racism from colonial histories of power,
disavows US settler colonialism, and silences critiques of
global coloniality. This decoupling of race and colonial-
ism is evident in many calls to eradicate white supremacy
following the election. Whereas previous invocations of
white supremacy often called attention to the fundamen-
tally racist orientation of the United States (Smith 2012), the
term is now increasingly being deployed to refer to new and
emerging threats to US political stability rather than foun-
dational orienting structures of US society. It is thus im-
portant to distinguish between quotidian and exceptional
forms of white supremacy. After all, white supremacy is
not reducible to Donald Trump, his supporters, and the Ku
Klux Klan. The composition of liberal universities, as well as
the methodological practices and epistemic foundations of
progressive academic disciplines, also evidence pervasive
forms of white supremacy.

In the case of anthropology, the discipline’s methods
and forms of inquiry emerged from the mission of study-
ing nonliterate peoples, thereby anchoring its intellectual
project in racialized colonial distinctions between modern
and premodern societies (Trouillot 2003). This history is

replicated in contemporary anthropological conversations
that continue to be predicated on the absence of Black and
Indigenous theorists as scholarly interlocutors. Despite ef-
forts to create a more “collaborative” anthropological praxis
(Atalay 2012; Lassiter 2005), most anthropological debates
carry on without engaging critiques made by non-Western
scholars or scholars of color. In other words, although there
is room for native voices, there is rarely room for native
theory (Bonilla 2015).

We have been troubled by collective conversations
about what anthropologists can and should do in response
to the rise of Trump. We believe the more important ques-
tions are, What have anthropologists already done? And
why have past critical interventions in the discipline failed
to gain broader traction? Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s (1991)
critique of anthropology’s “savage slot,” and Faye Harrison’s
(1997) call to decolonize the discipline, long ago demon-
strated that anthropology is co-constitutive of the very
hierarchies that are positioned as somehow outside it.10

For Harrison, anthropology’s colonial foundations produce
disciplinary insights that are often “complicit if not in fact
collusive with the prevailing forces of neocolonial domi-
nation” (1997, 1). Considering that Trouillot and Harrison
made these arguments more than 25 years ago, the fact
that the era of Trump is heralded as a brand-new challenge
deeply reflects the problem. It is evident that anthropolo-
gical practice in the era of Trump must remain attentive to
the epistemic grounds of our academic traditions and to
the enduring coloniality of the US nation-state project.

Making America liberal again?

Liberal performances of vulnerability, suffering, and
anxiety in the aftermath of the election include the


American Ethnologist � Volume 44 Number 2 May 2017

Figure 2. Demonstrators in Wisconsin show solidarity with the Standing Rock water protectors, October 30, 2016. (Joe Brusky/http://
overpasslightbrigade.org) [Color figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]

discursive claim that Trump poses a threat to fundamental
US democratic institutions, as well as calls to secure these
institutions’ integrity—the Janus face of Trump’s slogan,
Make America Great Again. Based on this formulation,
which US democratic institutions’ purported integrity
is endangered? When exactly were the criminal justice
system, public education, the military, and the CIA not fun-
damentally rooted in and reproductive of racial democracy
and racial capitalism?

After the election some hoped that the judiciary and
legislature would provide checks and balances or that the
Electoral College might operate as a fail-safe. This view ig-
nores the fact that certain governmental structures like the
Electoral College were put in place not to ensure a progres-
sive government but to secure the power of slave-holding
states and to uphold state-level sovereignty. The US com-
mitment to federalism, within the context of an imperial
state formation, has always overshadowed the commitment
to democracy. This is why US citizen-subjects outside the
federation, in places such as Puerto Rico and Guam, re-
main disenfranchised: they belong to an empire, not a state
(Burnett et al. 2001).11

The framing of Trump as an exception to, rather than
an indictment of, liberal democracy presents this moment
as one of recuperation and rescue rather than of reimagi-
nation. The discursive investment in securing the nation’s
fundamental democratic institutions involves erasing their
role in constituting the violent settler-colonial history of the
United States and its ongoing manifestations (De Genova

2007; Goldstein 2014; Jung 2015; Simpson 2016). Instead of
focusing on defending the “traditions” of US democracy,
we should ask what alternative political and economic
orders are possible, indeed necessary. What populations
and communities have long been imagining and enacting
these alternatives, and how might we take our cue from
them? From creating local parallel institutions to reimag-
ining alternatives to the nation-state, what alter-political
possibilities might we consider (Hage 2015)? Rather than
waxing romantic in simplistic ways about the comforting
liberal optics and civility of the Obama era, we should
turn our attention to the many social movements that
emerged during the Obama administration, such as Black
Lives Matter and the movement to block the construction
of an oil pipeline through the Standing Rock reservation
in North Dakota (see Figure 2).12 What forms of enduring
structural inequity and contradictions of liberal rule do
these movements evidence? We should examine how
these communities have long been contesting the political
formations that preceded and made possible the rise of
Trump while enacting new alternatives that seek to decol-
onize liberal institutions, rather than simply “diversifying”

There are reasons why decoloniality has recently
emerged as a watchword, particularly within the academy.
Movements such as Rhodes Must Fall and the recent
protests at Yale University have tried to tackle the in-
sidious colonial logics and forms of institutional racism
within institutions of higher education.13 Beyond simply


Deprovincializing Trump � American Ethnologist

Figure 3. Yale students show their solidarity with the Rhodes Must Fall movement and its objective of decolonizing education, March 31, 2015. (Houriiyah
Tegally/Yale African Students Association) [Color figure can be viewed at wileyonlinelibrary.com]

calling for cosmetic diversity, these movements suggest
that it is inadequate to merely include people of color in
untransformed institutions; instead, they call for a compre-
hensive unsettling of colonial logics and institutions (see
Figure 3).

Anthropology would do well to take a page from these
movements. Once the “study of savages” fell out of fashion,
there were stirrings within the discipline for greater change
as evidenced by the writers of the “decolonizing gener-
ation” (Allen and Jobson 2016). As Jafari Allen and Ryan
Jobson assert, scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot,
Faith Harrison, and Leith Mullings (to whom we would
add Talal Asad, Vine Deloria Jr., and Renato Rosaldo) laid
the groundwork for precisely the kind of epistemic shifts
that our current moment is begging for. Yet the “post-
modern turn” in the discipline shifted the conversation
away from what could have been a radical reassessment of
anthropology’s underpinnings and assumptions.14 As the
discipline failed to reinvent itself and find a new purpose
beyond the “savage slot,” it also failed to find relevance
in public debates. The contemporary rearticulation of
the “savage slot” into the “suffering slot” (Robbins 2013)
has been an inadequate response to this quandary, often
reproducing the same long-standing tropes and racialized
hierarchies that have characterized the discipline since its

Current calls to make anthropology “matter” are cer-
tainly welcome, but they must be accompanied by a critical
assessment of our disciplinary orientation, epistemic

ground, and collective purpose. The study of human diver-
sity makes little sense unless it can explain how difference
and diversity are produced, why diversity is imagined as a
hierarchy, and how that hierarchy is replicated and main-
tained. In the case of Trump, rather than chastising the
pollsters and assuming that thick description would have
done a better job, we need to ask what kind of qualitative
analysis would have yielded better insights. Has anthro-
pology produced the kind of knowledge about the United
States as a settler state that is required to understand the
current moment?

Unsettling anthropology

In theory, anthropology should be uniquely equipped to de-
naturalize the idea of American values and attend to how
they form part of long-standing histories of domination—
histories in relation to which Trump’s election must be
understood. Our questioning of Trump’s exceptionalism,
which we frame as an effort to deprovincialize Trump, is
not simply an abstract anthropological exercise in making
the strangeness of Trump’s election familiar. Indeed, many
commentators have warned against the dangers of normal-
izing Trump and the forms of bigotry he has fomented.16 In
contrast, our interest in deprovincializing Trump by con-
necting his election to long-standing histories of domi-
nation involves viewing power structures such as white
supremacy as ordinary, not in their inherent legitimacy
but in their pervasiveness, longevity, and nonexceptional


American Ethnologist � Volume 44 Number 2 May 2017

nature.17 But just as we must avoid reproducing revision-
ist narratives by seeking to recuperate an inclusive United
States that never was, we must also question the capacity of
anthropology to develop ways of seeing beyond its contin-
ued investment in colonial logics.

Anthropology has long staked a claim to being able to
explain how “strange” cultural patterns could be conceived
as “familiar” and vice versa. The classic anthropological
strange-familiar dictum presumes a unique ability to
understand multiple cultural perspectives simultane-
ously. Interestingly, this position has not been examined
in relation to W. E. B. Du Bois’s (1903) theorization of
racialized double consciousness. Du Bois conceptualized
double consciousness as the experience of racialized
subjects—specifically African Americans—“always looking
at one’s self through the eyes of others” (1903, 351). This
racially conditioned experience of “twoness” contrasts with
normative subjects’ hegemonic modes of perception. Du
Bois did not formulate double consciousness as a way of
understanding racial diversity for its own sake. Rather, he
sought to interrogate the power relations that oblige racially
marked subjects to perceive themselves from both in- and
out-group perspectives, as well as those that prevent
racially unmarked subjects from perceiving social reality
in alternative ways. These power relations are often lost in
the anthropological familiar-strange dynamic because the
discipline generally tends to valorize different worldviews
instead of interrogating the fraught relations through which
they are co-constituted.

To unsettle the discipline, we must be willing to ques-
tion the primacy of anthropological epistemologies and the
discipline’s claims to unique capacities for seeing multiply,
particularly since the latter all too often remain unrealized.
Unsettling anthropology might thus require recognizing
its limits and accepting that other ways of knowing—
particularly those coming of out Black studies, ethnic
studies, and Indigenous studies—can at times more power-
fully assess power dynamics that make the familiar strange
and the strange familiar within the United States. This is
not to say that anthropology has no role to play, for indeed
ethnic studies also frequently fall into the seductive trap of
American exceptionalism. Rather, we believe that de-
provincializing contemporary US articulations of power,
decolonizing diversity, and unsettling the colonial logics of
the academy might help us connect two crucial tasks: in-
terrogating long-standing power formations and imagining
new worlds.


Acknowledgments. We are grateful to Angelique Haugerud and
Jeanette Edwards for the invitation to contribute to this AE Forum,
as well as to Shanti Parikh for co-organizing the 2016 American An-
thropological Association session out of which the Forum emerged.

Harvey Neptune and Barnor Hesse provided generous commen-
tary on initial drafts of this manuscript. The manuscript also ben-
efited tremendously from the feedback of Niko Besnier and Pablo
Morales, as well as the anonymous reviewers.

1. Neil Gross, “Are Americans Experiencing Collective
Trauma?,” New York Times, December 16, 2016, accessed January
22, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/opinion/sunday/
are-americans-experiencing-collective-trauma.html?&_r=0; Sarah
Jones, “American Women Are Suffering from Trump Trau-
matic Stress Disorder,” PoliticusUSA, November 10, 2016,
accessed January 27, 2017, http://www.politicususa.com/2016/11/

2. We have explored similar chronotopic dynamics, or narratives
of space-time, in interpretations of racialized extrajudicial violence
as an emergent versus long-standing US problem (Bonilla and Rosa

3. Alexis Okeowo, “Hate on the Rise after Trump’s Elec-
tion,” New Yorker, November 17, 2016, accessed January 27,
2017, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/hate-on-the-

4. “Election Night – SNL,” YouTube video, 5:36, posted by “Sat-
urday Night Live,” November 13, 2016, accessed January 23, 2017,


5. Tressie McMillan-Cottom, “Finding Love in a Hopeless
Place,” Tressiemc (blog), November 27, 2016, accessed January
22, 2017, https://tressiemc.com/uncategorized/finding-hope-in-

6. Erin Corbett, “Harris-Perry on Shock of Trump Win: ‘Since
When’ Are Racism and Sexism ‘Disqualifiers’ for President?,” Raw
Story, December 16, 2016, accessed January 22, 2017, http://www

7. This effort might include linking Trump’s election to the global
rise of authoritarian-populist (Hall 1985) figures in the United
Kingdom, France, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Russia, and
India (for more, see Radjy 2017). Alternately, we could take our
cue from a segment on the Daily Show in which host Trevor Noah
suggested that, from an African perspective, Trump’s xenopho-
bia, bombast, and cult of personality are reminiscent of leaders
in South Africa, Gambia, Uganda, Libya, and Zimbabwe. “Donald
Trump—America’s First African President: The Daily Show,”
YouTube video, 7:35, posted by “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,”
October 3, 2015, accessed January 24, 2017, https://www.youtube

We might, however, locate the United States within a
hemispheric postcolonial frame to understand Trump in rela-
tion to the legacies of Latin American and Caribbean caudil-
los such as Juan Perón, Rafael Trujillo, and François Duvalier
(Neptune 2015). Each of these frames resists viewing Trump
and the United States more broadly as exceptions, and instead
seeks to link this moment to broader political and historical

8. Huon Wardle, “The Polls Got It Wrong Again . . . the End
of ‘Social Science’? Time to Stop Predicting and Start Listening . . .,”
Open Anthropology Cooperative, November 9, 2016, accessed
January 24, 2017, http://openanthcoop.ning.com/forum/topics/

9. Trump is said to have minored in anthropology while major-
ing in economics as an undergraduate at the University of Penn-
sylvania. Whatever impact his exposure to anthropology might
have had, the fact remains that anthropology is part of the larger


Deprovincializing Trump � American Ethnologist

disciplinary landscape of higher education that produced him and
many of his college-educated supporters.

10. Following Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang (2012), we invoke “de-
colonization” not as a metaphor but as a way of raising questions
about repatriation, sovereignty, and the need for alternative politi-
cal and economic orders.

11. Although most residents of US territories are US citizens they
are not allowed to vote in presidential elections and do not have
voting members in Congress.

12. Efforts to document and learn from the knowledge that
activists and organizers have generated, as well as to disrupt
canonical modes of Western knowledge production, are reflected
in #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus (http://www.blacklivesmattersylla
bus.com, accessed January 23, 2017), #StandingRockSyllabus
syllabus/, accessed January 23, 2017), and the #Syllabus movement
more broadly. (For more on the racial implications of digital
protest, see Bonilla and Rosa 2015.)

13. For more see Amit Chaudhuri, “The Real Meaning of
Rhodes Must Fall,” Guardian (London), March 16, 2016, ac-
cessed January 31, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/
2016/mar/16/the-real-meaning-of-rhodes-must-fall; and Conor
Friedersdorf, “A Dialogue on Race and Speech at Yale,” Atlantic,
March 24, 2016, accessed January 31, 2017, https://www.theat

14. Jafari Allen and Ryan Jobson speculate similarly about the
“ontological turn,” provocatively asking, “Why do movements such
as the ontological turn—like the postmodern turn before it—strive
to enforce the prescribed limits of Western science precisely at
moments in which it appears threatened by insurgent decolonial
practitioners?” (2016, 145).

15. Although Robbins (2013) borrows the term “savage slot” from
Trouillot, he does not engage with the original argument, which
centered on the relationship between what Trouillot called the
“geography of imagination” and “the geography of management.”
Trouillot’s argument was not that the discipline is predicated on the
study of objectively defined “savages,” but rather that it emerged
(and continues to replicate) a political landscape centered on civi-
lizational hierarchy. Robbins fails to see how the shift from a colo-
nial landscape to a postcolonial one—characterized by the rise of
NGO governance, IMF-led structural adjustment, and humanitar-
ian interventionism—is the foundational condition for the rise of
the suffering slot, which continues to perpetuate many of the intel-
lectual practices of the savage slot.

16. Clarence Page, “Don’t Normalize Trump, ‘Abnormalize,’”
Chicago Tribune, November 22, 2016, accessed January 27, 2017,

17. For more on the importance of questioning narratives of ex-
ceptionalism, see arguments by Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1990) and
Yarimar Bonilla (2013).


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eign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expan-
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United States.” New Centennial Review 7 (2): 231–77.

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Goldstein, Alyosha. 2014. “Toward a Genealogy of the U.S. Colo-
nial Present.” In Formations of United States Colonialism, edited
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tion: Introductory Comments and Queries.” In Decolonizing An-
thropology: Moving Further toward an Anthropology for Liber-
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American Anthropological Association.

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ceptual Aphasia: Displacing Racial Formation, edited by P. Khalil
Saucier and Tryon P. Woods, vii–x. Lanham, MD: Lexington

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naturalizing U.S. Racisms Past and Present. Stanford, CA: Stan-
ford University Press.

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raphy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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toriography: Daniel J. Boorstin and the Rediscovery of a U.S.
Archive of Decolonization.” American Historical Review 120 (3):

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Ghana and the Politics of Race. Chicago: University of Chicago

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view of Global Affairs, no. 24 (Winter). Accessed January
24, 2017. https://www.thecairoreview.com/q-a/the-modernity-

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thropology of the Good.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological In-
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Creation of Asian American Consumers. Durham, NC: Duke Uni-
versity Press.

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nial Studies 6 (4): 1–8.

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Supremacy.” In Racial Formation in the 21st Century, edited by


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Daniel Martinez HoSang, Oneka LaBennett, and Laura Pulido,
66–90. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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the Caribbean, and the World.” Cimarrón 2 (3): 3–12.

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Politics of Otherness.” In Recapturing Anthropology: Working
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Metaphor.” Decolonization 1 (1): 1–40.

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versity.” Language and Communication, no. 51 (November):

Jonathan Rosa
Graduate School of Education
Stanford University
485 Lasuen Mall
Stanford, CA 94305

[email protected]

Yarimar Bonilla
Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
Lucy Stone Hall, A267
54 Joyce Kilmer Avenue
Piscataway, NJ 08854

[email protected]



Raciontologies: Rethinking Anthropological Accounts

of Institutional Racism and Enactments of White Supremacy

in the United States

Jonathan Rosa and Vanessa Dı́az

ABSTRACT This article presents a theory of raciontologies—the fundamentally racialized grounding of various

states of being—that sheds light on complex forms of institutional racism and white supremacy. We are interested

in exploring not only how institutional contexts and processes function as sites or vehicles for the reproduction

of white supremacy but more specifically how institutions become endowed with the capacity to act in their own

right. This approach represents a raciontological perspective that attends to the central role that race plays in

constituting modern subjects and objects in relation to particular states of being. Raciolontologies powerfully shape

how entities become endowed with the capacity to engage in particular acts, while also conditioning perceptions,

experiences, and material groundings of reality. Our theorization of raciontologies combines anthropological analyses

of institutional racism and ontologies beyond the human. These analyses point to the role of institutions in the

reproduction of white supremacy and reimagine the range of entities capable of action, respectively. The broader

goal is to suggest how new ways of understanding the raciontological nature of institutional enactments of white

supremacy can inform antiracist theories of change. [race, ontology, institutional racism, white supremacy]

RESUMEN Este artı́culo presenta una teorı́a de raciontologı́as –la base fundamentalmente racializada de varios

estados del ser– que arroja luz sobre las formas complejas del racismo institucional y la supremacı́a blanca. Estamos

interesados en explorar no sólo las formas en que los contextos institucionales y los procesos funcionan como sitios

o vehı́culos para la reproducción de la supremacı́a blanca, sino más especı́ficamente cómo las instituciones llegan

a estar dotadas de la capacidad de actuar en su propio derecho. Esta aproximación representa una perspectiva

raciontológica que atiende al rol central que la raza juega en constituir sujetos modernos y objetos en relación a

estados particulares del ser. Las raciontologı́as poderosamente dan forma a cómo entidades llegan a estar dotadas

de la capacidad de involucrarse en actos particulares, mientras que también condicionando percepciones, experi-

encias y las bases materiales de la realidad. Nuestra teorización de raciontologı́as combina el análisis del racismo

institucional y las ontologı́as más allá de lo humano. Estos análisis señalan el rol de las instituciones en la repro-

ducción de la supremacı́a blanca y reimaginan el rango de entidades capaces de acción, respectivamente. La meta

más amplia es sugerir cómo nuevas formas de entendimiento de la naturaleza raciontológica de las actuaciones

institucionales de la supremacı́a blanca pueden informar teorı́as antirracistas de cambio. [raza, ontologı́a, racismo

institucional, supremacı́a blanca]

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, Vol. 122, No. 1, pp. 120–132, ISSN 0002-7294, online ISSN 1548-1433. C© 2019 by the American Anthropological
Association. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/aman.13353

Rosa and Dı́az • Raciontologies 121

If race is only epiphenomenal, how does it continue to ground
material reality?

–Visweswaran (1996, 73)

F rom extrajudicial killings and police brutality to migrantdetention and mass incarceration, widespread debates
about institutional racism and racial profiling are pressing
features of contemporary US and global public discourse.
Many of these discourses, and analyses thereof, consider
how institutions—and their related bureaucratic structures,
policies, and procedures—impact everyday life in significant
ways, yet institutions’ capacity to act often escapes analysis in
favor of examinations of the individuals who populate, orga-
nize, and animate them. This article approaches institutional
racism as a process that involves the construction, coordina-
tion, circulation, surveillance, and, frequently, overdeter-
mination of racialized models of personhood and broader
materialities. We are interested not only in how institu-
tions structure actions but also in the processes through
which institutions become actors in the reproduction of
white supremacy in their own right. We conceptualize racial
profiling as an institutionalized, semiotic process. Whereas
racial profiling is often understood as a problem involving
discriminatory behavior at the individual level, we focus on
the institutionalized processes that shape and often overde-
termine individual construals of profiled entities. Examining
various incidents that can or have come to be articulated
in relation to racial profiling, we show how the ontolog-
ical statuses of bodies, practices, and various materialities
are racially constituted in relation to the institutionalized
modes of perception through which they are apprehended.
Thus, apprehension in the context of racial profiling must
be conceptualized both at the level of individual perception
and institutional consequentiality. Our analysis points to the
role of institutions in the reproduction of white supremacy,
reconsiders the range of entities capable of action, and, cru-
cially, highlights how race (trans)forms ontologies.

To understand the central role of race in constituting
modern states of being, we propose the concept of raciontolo-
gies, which combines anthropological analyses of institutional
racism and ontologies beyond the human. By synthesizing
insights from these literatures, it becomes possible to un-
derstand institutions as actors, on the one hand, and various
ontologies’ fundamental anchoring in race, on the other.
That is, while institutional racism has emerged as a crucial
framework for conceptualizing racism as an endemic struc-
tural phenomenon and not simply a problem at the level of
interpersonal bigotry or discrimination, we emphasize the
ways that institutions operate not only as sites for but also
actors in the reproduction of white supremacy. Relatedly,
while anthropological engagements with the ontological turn
have attuned ethnographic attention to human and nonhu-
man actors, we point to the need to reconceptualize race as
a key element in constituting modern ontologies.

We examine instances of institutional racism and racial
profiling drawn from ethnographic research and popular

accounts to demonstrate the potential benefits and limita-
tions of various approaches to documenting and analyzing
these phenomena; we also point to examples situated in a
range of institutional and interactional settings to emphasize
that racism is an endemic modern antagonism rather than a
problem particular to any specific institution or individual.
We illustrate part of what is at stake here by pointing to a
particular instance of institutional racism tied to an example
that emerged in the context of Hollywood-based fieldwork
conducted by Dı́az that resulted in the death of one of her
research participants. Yet, we emphasize that it is not an un-
usual case. In fact, it represents the kinds of daily and deadly
state-sanctioned institutional racism and white supremacy
fundamental to the founding and continued reproduction of
the United States as a settler-colonial project.

Our analysis of raciontological phenomena interrogates
institutional processes that select what counts as evidence
to purportedly discover particular things about targets of
racial profiling and examines how these discoveries are often
legitimated by the notion that such processes are unbiased
or accidental in the conclusions they draw. We also con-
sider how members of broader publics come to discover
institutional racism and racial profiling as systematic rather
than accidental and how they respond to problems that are
(re)produced by institutions and not simply human actors—
or how institutions come to be understood as actors in their
own right. The broader goal is to suggest how new ways
of conceptualizing the raciontological nature of racial profil-
ing and institutional enactments of white supremacy, which
challenge empiricist assumptions about shared perspectives
on dramatically disparate racialized realities, can inform an-
tiracist theories of change.

Analyses of institutional racism within anthropology and
related disciplines have sought to disrupt Western liberal
ideologies that frame “racism merely as interpersonal prej-
udice or discrimination” (Page and Thomas 1994, 110).1

Such individualist framings suggest that racism is an ex-
ceptional, idiosyncratic phenomenon that can be eradicated
through behavior-oriented interventions. In the context of
racial profiling, this might look like antiracist police-training
efforts. However, from an institutional perspective, chang-
ing individual behaviors does little in terms of transforming
fundamental power structures. Indeed, institutions might
implement various trainings in “diversity, equity, and in-
clusion,” but this is often merely a mechanism for nominal
legal protection and the superficial cultivation of positive
affect rather than an effort toward transforming institutional
structures (Ahmed 2012). In contrast, Evelyn Barbee (1993,
349) argues that racism should be understood as a “system of
structural inequalities” and a “historical process.” Enoch Page
and Brooke Thomas (1994, 111) elaborate on this analysis
by suggesting that racism should be understood in relation to
“white public space” as a fundamental power structure that

122 American Anthropologist • Vol. 122, No. 1 • March 2020

was “created during colonial times” and “is still being cre-
ated today, in its postcolonial forms” (see also Hill 1998). For
Page and Thomas (1994, 111), US white public space, “in its
material or symbolic dimensions,” comprises “all the places
where racism is reproduced,” which “may entail particular
or generalized locations, sites, patterns, configurations, tac-
tics, or devices that routinely, discursively, and sometimes
coercively privilege Euro-Americans over non-whites.”

This spatial analysis emphasizes the totalizing nature of
white supremacy as well as its capacity to structure hierarchi-
cal relations across institutional contexts. However, there
is a slippage in the distinction between the institutional and
individual (re)production of racism and white supremacy.
At times, white public space is positioned as an inanimate
site—as the “places where racism is reproduced” (Page and
Thomas 1994, 111). In other instances, white public space
is an actor that is “transformative in its capacity to reshape
its racial control practices” (111). That is, while analyses
of institutional racism seek to challenge ideologies of in-
dividualism, there is variability in the ways that embodied
individuals are positioned as the locus of action within such

Bornstein’s (2015) examination of institutional racism in
the context of zero-tolerance policing in New York City fo-
cuses on “policies of administrative systems” rather than “cog-
nitive racial bias.” For Bornstein, whereas cognitive racial
bias highlights “conscious and unconscious associations, neg-
ative and positive, about things and people in the world” (52),
“institutional racism characterizes a system in which policies
that do not necessarily refer to race nevertheless reproduce
and sometimes intensify racial disparities and hierarchies”
(53). Bornstein also analyzes how purportedly colorblind
policies and technologies organize policing in relation to
the accumulation of statistics and crime mapping. These
policies, technologies, statistics, and maps work in concert
to naturalize the criminalization of racialized populations
and communities. Statistical crime measures, visual map-
pings of criminalized activity, and zero-tolerance policies
that criminalize particular populations co-articulate with re-
lated forms of marginalization (e.g., residential segregation,
socioeconomic structures) to enact white supremacist polic-
ing practices. In addition to examples of institutional racism
in the criminal justice system that disproportionately tar-
get African Americans and Latinxs,2 such as zero-tolerance
policing and disparate federal sentencing guidelines for crack
versus powdered cocaine, Bornstein identifies patterns in
housing policies that (re)produce segregation and socioeco-
nomic stratification, as well as education policies that struc-
ture school funding in relation to local property taxes and
impose high-stakes assessments. In all of these cases, “in-
stitutional policies operate with or without conscious or
unconscious bias, although there is a reinforcing connection
between the two” (54). This is similar to the suggestion that
“rules, regulations, and norms [can be] ‘set up in such a
way that they automatically operate to the disadvantage of
some racial groups’ despite the absence of deliberate intent”

(Harrison 1997, 395; quoting Drake 1987, 34), which is
characteristic of forms of “colorblind racism” (Bonilla-Silva
2014) and “racism without races” (Balibar and Wallerstein
1991; Harrison 1995) across institutional settings.3

The notion that institutional policies, rules, regulations,
and norms “operate” emphasizes the ways nonhuman enti-
ties’ capacities for action are not simply derivative of human
practices. Thus, rather than absolving or condemning in-
dividuals for the racist acts in which they engage, a focus
on institutional enactments of racism makes it possible to
understand not only the orchestration of such behaviors
but also how they co-articulate with forms of racism that
supersede the individual. The following section takes up
questions surrounding relationships between individuals and
institutions as actors, as well as broader conceptualizations
of entities endowed with the capacity to act, by turning
to a discussion of race and the ontological constitution of

In 1955, the Caribbean philosopher Aimé Césaire wrote,
“My turn to state an equation: colonization = thingification”
([1955], 2001, 42). Insofar as the emergence of modern
racism can be conceptualized as a justification for colonial-
ism, we must also analyze the relationship between racial-
ization and thingification. This relationship was illustrated
during the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman for the killing
of Trayvon Martin, a fifteen-year-old African American boy.
During his closing arguments, Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s
defense attorney, disputed the prosecution’s claim that
Martin was an unarmed teenager. O’Mara carried a slab
of concrete into the courtroom and displayed it before the
jury. He suggested that Martin was in fact armed with the
sidewalk, which he allegedly used to bludgeon Zimmerman
during their altercation, thereby constituting Zimmerman’s
use of a firearm as a legitimate form of self-defense. Zim-
merman went on to be acquitted.

Seemingly objective things were fundamentally and
consequentially transformed in the encounter between
Zimmerman and Martin, as well as the legal recontextu-
alization thereof. Zimmerman perceived the can of juice and
pack of skittles Martin carried as potential weapons or drug
paraphernalia, his hooded sweatshirt as thug wear, his slight
stature as threatening; meanwhile, Zimmerman’s attorney
argued that Martin’s very presence weaponized the sidewalk.
Thus, things, including candy, soft drinks, sweatshirts, side-
walks, cellphones, and cameras are only constituted as such
when they are inhabited and animated by—that is, index-
ically grounded in—normative whiteness.4 It should come
as no surprise, then, that for those who perceive the world
through what Du Bois (1903) formulated as a racial veil
that produces experiences of double consciousness, there is
significant question as to whether they are experiencing the
same things as those who are not.5

Rosa and Dı́az • Raciontologies 123

Thinking back to Césaire’s equation of colonization with
thingification, it is crucial to reconsider the fundamental role
of racial domination in constituting the modern order of
things. In fact, we might examine the interplay between racial
thingification and anthropological empiricism—how white
supremacy constitutes things without being recognized as
functioning in such ways. Following Kamala Visweswaran
(1996, 73), we ask, “If race is only epiphenomenal, how
does it continue to ground material reality?” This is not
simply an important consideration for societies rooted in
histories of chattel slavery and Indigenous genocide, such
as the United States, but rather across a modern world
that has been profoundly shaped by the global imposition of
colonial distinctions and hierarchies. In her analysis of these
white supremacist configurations, and contestations thereof,
Christina Sharpe (2016, 21) notes that anti-Blackness is a
“total climate,” which she formulates as “the Weather.”

In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon (1967) established race
as a fundamentally ontological problem.6 He writes, “I came
into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in
things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source
of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the
midst of other objects” (109). Fanon articulates a theory of
race as ontological overdetermination. Building on Fanon’s
thinking, Afropessimist thought insists that the nature of
race, and Blackness in particular, must be understood not
in terms of a conflict that can be resolved by redistribut-
ing rights and resources in prevailing political and economic
orders but rather as an ontological problem that is the foun-
dation of modern governance and subjectivity (Sexton 2016;
Wilderson 2010). That is, modern governance is institutional

In some ways, this framing of institutions as actors can
be understood in relation to the move toward an anthro-
pology of the posthuman and the study of ontological logics
that differentiate human and nonhuman entities. However,
in our analysis of institutionalized forms of racial profiling,
we highlight the ironic avoidance of race, racism, and racial-
ization in recent anthropological accounts of ontology that
seek to examine and expand the range of entities understood
to be endowed with the capacity to act. Karen Brodkin,
Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson (2011) argue that this
race avoidance is endemic within anthropology. Indeed, a
statistical analysis of anthropological texts demonstrates that
anthropologists actively avoid the topic of race relative to
other forms of difference, such as gender and class (Ahearn
2013). While the “ontological turn” has received a great
deal of attention in anthropological literature over the last
decade (de la Cadena 2015; Kohn 2013), and while studies
in Indigenous contexts are often the reference point for al-
ternative ontological realities (Todd 2016), race has largely
been absent from these analyses. In fact, one of the most
central and compelling components of race is its capacity
to transform particular subjects into objects—or, in the
context of institutionalized modes of profiling, into targets
of surveillance, measurement, management, remediation,

expulsion, and extermination. How might the “ontological
turn” be disrupted if we understood that modern ontologies
are profoundly anchored in race?

More than twenty years ago, Sylvia Wynter (1994) theo-
rized the institutional transformation of particular racialized
persons into nonpersons. In the aftermath of the Rodney
King beating, the acquittal of the officers involved, and the
subsequent public rebellion, Wynter analyzed the use of
the category “No Human Involved” within the City of Los
Angeles’s criminal justice system to refer to alleged African
American and Latinx gang members who were shot or killed
by police. Wynter argued that the category “No Human
Involved” was part of broader institutional logics that sanc-
tioned police officers’ use of chokeholds that killed multiple
young Black men. At the time, Police Chief Darryl Gates
attributed these killings to Black men’s abnormal windpipes
(Wynter 1994).

In a more recent case, New York City police offi-
cer Daniel Pantaleo used a similar chokehold to kill Eric
Garner, an unarmed African American man who was selling
loose cigarettes.8 Video recordings of both the Rodney King
beating and the killing of Eric Garner prompted widespread
public outrage, yet none of the officers involved were con-
victed of criminal charges (in the case of Garner, no criminal
charges were filed; in the King case, two of the officers were
eventually found guilty of violating King’s civil rights). The
inability of these recordings to legally delegitimate police
officers’ actions reflects the need for a reconsideration of a
racialized semiotics of visibility. As Charles Goodwin (1994,
606) notes in his analysis of the institutionalized “professional
vision” through which the King recording was interpreted,
“the ability to see a meaningful event is not a transparent,
psychological process but instead a socially situated activity
accomplished through the deployment of a range of histori-
cally constituted discursive practices.9” It is now customary
for police officers to wear body cameras to document their
actions, and yet videos of police officers assaulting and killing
unarmed and compliant individuals continue to surface regu-
larly; thus, Goodwin’s insights help us to understand the lim-
itations of these body cameras as a check on police violence.

These cases demonstrate how institutionalized per-
ceptions of racialized persons transform their ontologies.
Rodney King was described as a “PCP-crazed giant,” even
though he never tested positive for consumption and was
huddled in a ball on the ground throughout the beating. This
is similar to Officer Darren Wilson’s description of Michael
Brown, the unarmed African American teenager he shot
and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. In the
grand jury hearing, Wilson referred to Brown as “it,”
characterized him as a “demon,” and said that he “felt like
a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” even though he
and Brown were the same height (Bonilla and Rosa 2015).
Twelve-year-old African American Tamir Rice was illegible
as a child playing with a toy gun when Cleveland police
shot and killed him within two seconds of encountering
him.10 Institutionalized perceptions of racial difference can

124 American Anthropologist • Vol. 122, No. 1 • March 2020

overdetermine what kind of a thing one is and authorize
extreme, indeed existential, measures.11 The sections that
follow demonstrate the implications of the co-constitution
of race and ontology—raciontologies—across a range of
interactional and institutional contexts.

Analyses of institutional racism and white supremacy must
grapple with the ways various institutions—even those
seemingly unrelated to one another—work in tandem to
reproduce formations of power. The concept of raciontolo-
gies can provide insight into this interinstitutional coordi-
nation by drawing connections among systematic, racialized
perceptions and attributions of deficiency and disposability
across contexts. Dı́az encountered these racialized percep-
tions and attributions in her fieldwork with celebrity pho-
tographers, centering on Hollywood as a major cultural and
institutional force that wields larger systemic power. Over
the last two decades, the demographics of the Los Angeles
paparazzi transitioned from a labor force predominated by
white men to men of color—mostly Latino. In the wake of
this shift, figures across Hollywood industries characterized
the new paparazzi as unprofessional and dangerous.12 This
critique was often framed in explicitly racialized terms, fo-
cused on whose bodies were producing this media content and
how that devalued the work and potential professionalism
inherent in the work itself (Dı́az 2014). It quickly spread
into public discourse, with news articles referring to pa-
parazzi as “untrained,” “corner-cutting” “foreigners working
on . . . questionable visas,”13 and online reader comments
calling them “bottom feeders”14 and “illegals”15 who should
“be deported.”16 The unique positions paparazzi occupy, de-
mographically and professionally, within the labor chain of
celebrity media production, have made them convenient, if
problematic, scapegoats for the current climate of celebrity
obsession in the United States.

In October 2012, Dı́az was introduced to Chris Guerra
by paparazzi photographer Galo Ramirez—one of the main
collaborators involved in Dı́az’s Los Angeles–based field-
work, which focused on race and gender in the produc-
tion of celebrity media, and specifically on the work of and
relationships between the predominantly Latino paparazzi
photographers and predominantly white women celebrity
reporters who produce content for celebrity magazines.
Guerra was an aspiring paparazzo who had only recently
begun working on a freelance basis for the same agency for
which Ramirez worked. Ramirez was instructed to mentor
Guerra, and Dı́az photographed one of their training sessions
as they waited near Heidi Klum’s Pacific Palisades mansion.
Guerra simultaneously practiced his photography using Dı́az
as a subject. Her photos of his training were shown during
his memorial service.

Guerra was struck by multiple cars and killed on New
Year’s Day in 2013 as he followed a California Highway
Patrol (CHP) officer’s orders to return to his car after trying

to photograph Justin Bieber’s Ferrari in Los Angeles. Guerra
was twenty-nine years old. According to witness testimony
and dashcam transcriptions,17 the Ferrari was pulled over for
speeding. When the passenger of the Ferrari told the officer
that Guerra was videotaping the stop, the officer focused his
attention on Guerra and let the car’s occupants go, despite
having stopped them for speeding and questioning them
about the scent of marijuana in the car.18 Mainstream news
outlets reported that when the officer ordered Guerra to
return to his car, he did not look both ways before crossing
and was therefore hit.19 In official statements, the officer and
investigator declared that Guerra’s death was his own fault.
The dashcam transcription tells a more complicated story.
After releasing the individuals stopped in the Ferrari, the
officer asked Guerra, “What the hell are you doing?” When
Guerra explained that he was a photographer and a member
of the press, the officer asked, “Do you have any credentials
other than you just standing there?” As the officer’s tone
became more aggressive, Guerra exclaimed, “OK, alright!
Relax!” The officer then scolded Guerra, explaining that
the paparazzi should not hassle people and demanded that
he return to his car, which was parked across four lanes
with no nearby crosswalk. Guerra’s last words were, “All
right, brother.” Guerra was hit by one SUV and then by
a second car as he attempted to return to his vehicle in
accordance with the officer’s command.20 The officer then
stopped traffic, eventually calling for help. There was no
attempt to revive Guerra, despite the CHP officer’s training
in CPR. The dashcam later recorded the officer talking to
his partner, “Dude I was just like, I just told him he couldn’t
stand there. Fucking idiot, man.”

Despite Guerra’s position as the victim in this situation,
the discourse surrounding his death—from the officer who
was present at the scene to celebrities and the public—
treated him as a nuisance and his death as a relief. Reacting
to the incident, Miley Cyrus posted a series of tweets in
which she called the paparazzi “fools,” also stating:

Hope this paparazzi/JB21 accident brings on some changes in ’13.
Paparazzi are dangerous! . . . It is unfair for anyone to put this
on to Justin’s conscious as well! This was bound to happen! Your
mom teaches u when your a child not to play in the street! The
chaos that comes with the paparazzi acting like fools makes it
impossible for anyone to make safe choices.

Comments from viewers of online video reports of
Guerra’s death echoed many of these sentiments, declar-
ing such things as: “It’s sad when people die. Paparazzi, not
so much”; “Paparazzi don’t count as human beings, so it’s ok
to laugh when one gets flattened”; “Poor Justin. I feel so bad
for him. Fuck you, paparazzi”; and “More paparazzi need to
die. If I see one on the road, I will swerve to hit the mother

As part of her online tirade against paparazzi in the
context of Guerra’s death, Cyrus tweeted at then E!
News correspondent Ken Baker: “@kenbakernow you can
have a big part in making that change if the photos stop

Rosa and Dı́az • Raciontologies 125

being made entertainment. There’s plenty of news without
paps!” Cyrus, a rich white celebrity whose career has bene-
fitted from the circulation of paparazzi images taken of her,
ridiculed and insulted a deceased working-class person of
color who lost his life doing the work that promotes and
sustains the celebrity culture that creates the platform for
Cyrus’s wealth. Baker, a white man who has also worked for
People magazine and Us Weekly, agreed with Cyrus and con-
demned paparazzi work, despite the dependency of main-
stream celebrity media outlets on this labor: “@MileyCyrus
honestly, I can’t believe this hasn’t happened before. So many
super sketchy street ambushes, all for stupid pics.”23 These
popular discourses are also invoked in scholarly accounts
that reference the male-dominated nature of paparazzi work
but do not reconcile the ways race, ethnicity, and perceived
migration status factor into the characterization of paparazzi
as “illegal,” “amateurs,” and “aggressive and frightening,”
among other highly stigmatizing and often racialized char-
acterizations (McNamara 2016, 1, 5, 42). Thus, the new
generation of paparazzi is often represented as unskilled de-
viants, echoing the problematic way they are frequently de-
professionalized and criminalized in the industry their labor
(re)produces (McNamara 2016).

Instead of being seen as an integral part of Hollywood
and broader media industries, paparazzi work is popularly
derided and framed as disposable. Still, Guerra’s position as
a photographer on whose labor the entertainment industry
relies, and yet ridicules, implicates him in fraught modes of
surveillance and the reproduction of hierarchies linked to this
monitoring of celebrity figures. Paparazzi photography tends
to focus on white celebrities, mostly women; it renders pre-
dominantly white celebrities vulnerable and worthy of em-
pathy and humanization while systematically erasing people
of color and dehumanizing the paparazzi of color whose
labor exploitation perpetuates this system (Dı́az, forthcom-
ing). The gendered and racialized media patterns that led
to Guerra’s death are intimately linked to broader dynam-
ics that problematically position particular victims of racial
profiling and institutional racism as more grievable than

Guerra’s story highlights the disparate treatment and
(im)mobilities of particular laborers within the Hollywood-
industrial complex, but such realities are not unique to these
laborers or this industry; rather, they are representative of
institutional structures that produce dramatically disparate
and highly consequential experiences based on the racial-
ized ways various entities come to be perceived and posi-
tioned. We are interested in exploring not only the ways
institutional contexts and processes such as mass media, the
criminal justice system, racialized labor (trans)formations,
and gentrification function as sites or vehicles for the re-
production of white supremacy but more specifically how
institutions become endowed with the capacity to act in
their own right—that is, institutions as subjects, profilers,
and even killers. This view of institutions as actors in (rather
than simply sites or vehicles for) the reproduction of white

supremacy represents a raciontological perspective that
attends to the central role that race plays in constituting
modern subjects and objects, including forms of embodi-
ment and broader material realities. Raciolontologies pow-
erfully shape how entities are endowed with the capacity
to engage in particular acts, while also conditioning percep-
tions, experiences, and material groundings of reality.

Guerra’s story illustrates how, from a raciontological per-
spective, we can understand the intertwined nature of var-
ious socio-historical, individual, material, and institutional
entities and processes. When institutional racism and white
supremacy are enacted, it is often presupposed that these
phenomena can only be produced by racist white individu-
als. This logic obviates institutional culpability and re-centers
interpersonal interaction and embodiment. In cases such as
the killing of unarmed African American Florida teenager
Trayvon Martin, the self-identified mixed-race Latino man
who killed him—George Zimmerman—was labeled by out-
lets like the New York Times and CNN as “white Hispanic”
to enhance the narrative of interpersonal racism.25 When
Philando Castile, an African American man, was killed in
Minnesota by a Latino police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, nu-
merous articles presupposing a mutual exclusivity between
Blackness and Latinidad pointed to Yanez as embodying anti-
Blackness among Latinxs. Indeed, anti-Blackness is endemic
in Latin America and the Caribbean, and their diasporas, as
it is in the United States, but also throughout the modern
world. However, narratives focused on interpersonal, as op-
posed to institutional, racism prevent us from understanding
cases such as the three Black officers who were involved in
the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Similarly complex
racial politics were at play in the death of Chris Guerra. We
suggest that the institutional position of these officers (and
those functioning as ad hoc police subsidiaries, as in the case
of Zimmerman), regardless of their race or interpersonal
prejudice, allows them to enact white supremacy as agents
of the state. Thus, simply diversifying an institution such as
the criminal justice system does not eliminate racism or the
broader raciontological realities through which it is enacted
and reproduced.

The CHP officer who policed Guerra to death was Black.
Guerra is the son of a Mexican father and an African Ameri-
can mother. In fact, Guerra’s mother, Vicky Guerra, ques-
tioned the racialized nature of her son’s encounter with
law enforcement, “It was a Black officer. And Chris looked
white. I’m Black and people don’t always see me as Black.
It was a class thing. Nobody cares about this because Chris
was poor.”26 Vicky Guerra’s emphasis on class rather than
race in efforts to understand her son’s killing aligns with her
valorization of Chris’s efforts toward upward socioeconomic
mobility. While race was not something that Vicky Guerra,
her husband, Juan Guerra, or their son could control, they
understood class as a variable, a particular circumstance that
she declared Chris was trying to get himself out of. She said

126 American Anthropologist • Vol. 122, No. 1 • March 2020

Chris was doing paparazzi work for the money, but “being a
paparazzi wasn’t going to be a full-time forever job. Eventu-
ally, he wanted to go back and do his own business. He had
his own landscaping business before. He wanted to maybe
open up a pizza place.” Vicky suggests that Chris was simply
attempting to fulfill the American dream—trying to pull
himself up by his paparazzi bootstraps to improve his life. In
her theorization of social death and accompanying attempts
to humanize those who are not positioned as such, Lisa Ca-
cho (2012) notes that tropes of the American Dream and the
“pull yourself up by the bootstraps” narrative are commonly
invoked in efforts to render racialized populations worthy
of empathy. However, Cacho suggests that such efforts run
up against racialized populations’ fundamental disposability.
Vicky Guerra pondered a similar logic in a dialogue with
Dı́az in which she reconsidered how Chris’s racialization
might have affected the way he was policed. She explained:

It never occurred to me how Chris looked. He usually didn’t wear
a hoodie on shoots, but it was January and cold. He had a baseball
cap under the hood also. The more I pictured what he must have
looked like, the more . . . it makes even more sense that this
officer thought Chris was a Hispanic nobody from the “hood,”
similar to Trayvon [Martin], who was perceived as trouble as he
was just innocently walking home from the store. But I do think it
was a power trip and rage also . . . [it] double hurts if that makes
sense. Almost like he had no chance to survive even if the cop
didn’t lose his temper because he thought Chris was just a lowly
Mexican. And that was why he never helped him in any way and
had so much hate for him even after he was hit.

Vicky Guerra sought to reconcile racialized perceptions
of Chris—including his position as a paparazzo, regardless
of physical characteristics, such as his perceived light skin—
with the notion that her son’s killing was the product of an
exceptional instance of police rage. Cacho’s analysis of this
interplay between individual characteristics and institutional
processes in her theorization of everyday life for people
of color, specifically Black and Latinx people, echoes Vicky
Guerra’s sentiment: “We learn that the ‘facts’ of people’s be-
haviors have little significance for determining whose deaths
are tragic and whose deaths are deserved” (Cacho 2012,
150). Even if in interpersonal encounters it was possible for
Guerra to be perceived as white, his racialized reality left
him in a state of being what Cacho characterizes as “perma-
nently criminalized,” “ineligible for personhood” and, thus,
experiencing social death (Cacho 2012, 6–7).

In previous cases, the race of agents of the state in
relation to those who are killed under their watch or by
them has been used to assert that racism was not a factor
in the targeting of particular individuals. For example, the
legal defense team of a Latino US Marine successfully ar-
gued that their client, who shot and killed a Latino teenager
on the teen’s family property in Texas, “could not have
possibly racially profiled” because the perpetrator and vic-
tim were both Latino and phenotypically similar (Márquez
2012, 498).27 As John Márquez argues in his theorization
of a racial state of expendability, examples like these serve
as reminders “of how expendability is not derived from

the perceptions and/or consent of white people and is also
not reducible to corporeal signifiers of racial difference”
(498).28 Thus, regardless of their racial identities, agents of
the state participate in the maintenance and reproduction
of white supremacy. The death of Chris Guerra reflects the
limitations of understanding race, racial profiling, and insti-
tutional racism exclusively in relation to the body; Guerra’s
body could be racially identified in different ways, but in
this particular encounter, he inhabited a racialized structural
position that rendered him disposable.

The importance of not limiting one’s analysis of race to
perceived bodily features is underscored by Barnor Hesse’s
(2016, viii) “colonial constitution of race thesis,” which holds
that “race is not in the eye of the beholder or on the body of
the objectified,” but instead “an inherited western, modern-
colonial practice of violence, assemblage, superordination,
exploitation, and segregation . . . demarcating the colonial
rule of Europe over non-Europe.” For Hesse, race must
be understood as a historically situated and institutional-
ized process that creates the conditions of possibility for
perceptions of bodies and the consequences thereof. These
structuring, institutionalized preconditions for perception
were reflected in the comments of paparazzi, who frequently
told Dı́az that when debating how to respond to someone
chastising or harassing them, how to defend themselves, or
how they might behave in a way that would appease others,
“We’re already hated, so it doesn’t matter.” When concep-
tualized in relation to raciontologies, it becomes clear that
overdetermined processes of mattering and non-mattering
are not unique to paparazzi.

This raciontological overdetermination is reflected in a
2016 story in The Guardian, titled “Death By Gentrification:
The Killing that Shamed San Francisco,” which recounts the
2014 police killing of Alex Nieto, the conditions of possibility
for this event, and the public response to it.29 On the evening
of March 21, 2014, Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, a twenty-eight-
year-old Latino man born and raised in the Bernal Heights
neighborhood of San Francisco, was eating dinner at Bernal
Hill Park before his scheduled shift as a bouncer at a local
nightclub. While eating, Nieto was aggressively approached
by an unleashed dog whose distracted owner stood approx-
imately forty feet away. After jumping onto a bench in an
effort to distance himself from the barking dog, Nieto called
to the dog’s owner and removed the Taser he was licensed
to carry for his job, pointing it at both the owner and the
dog. The dog’s owner, a white man who later testified that
he used a racial slur while yelling back and forth with Nieto,
sent a text message to a friend shortly after the incident
explaining, “in another state like Florida, I would have been
justified in shooting Mr. Nieto that night.” This is likely in
reference to Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which was
used to justify George Zimmerman’s aforementioned 2012
killing of Trayvon Martin.

Following this altercation, a couple passed by Nieto
while walking their dogs. They had not seen the incident be-
tween Nieto and the other dog or its owner, but they noticed

Rosa and Dı́az • Raciontologies 127

that he had his hand on the Taser, which they perceived as a
gun. One of the men in the couple called 911 and reported
that a Hispanic man was walking and eating and had his hand
on a gun on his hip. In contrast, other witnesses described
Nieto as “just sitting there eating a burrito.” Less than five
minutes later, as Nieto walked down the trail toward the
entrance of the park, San Francisco police arrived. They fired
fifty-nine gunshots at Nieto, fourteen of which struck and
killed him.

In a familiar pattern, police and eyewitness civilian ac-
counts regarding Nieto’s killing diverged sharply. Officers
identified Nieto as a “guy in a red shirt,” which “could be re-
lated to gang involvement” because “red is a Norteño [gang]
color.” They claimed that after officers ordered Nieto to
show his hands, he responded by telling them to show their
hands. Subsequently, Nieto purportedly drew his Taser and
tracked officers with the red laser dot used to aim it. Ac-
cording to the police account, officers feared for their lives
and began shooting at Nieto, who then fell to the ground
yet allegedly continued to tactically track the officers with
the red laser while they fired at him until he succumbed to
the gunshot wounds. In contrast, eyewitnesses claimed that
officers surrounded Nieto, ordered him to stop, and then
immediately began firing at him. These witnesses stated
that Nieto neither grabbed at any object nor pointed any-
thing at the officers and that the officers continued firing
at Nieto after he was incapacitated on the ground. In the
civil trial initiated by Nieto’s family, which took place two
years after the killing, the police account prevailed. The
eight jurors—five white and three Asian—decided unani-
mously in favor of the four police officers who shot and killed

The story in The Guardian referenced above poses
provocative questions about the broader processes that led
to the killing of Alex Nieto. Specifically, the author sug-
gests that, in addition to a discussion of police-based racial
profiling, it is crucial to consider the three recently arrived
white male San Francisco residents who perceived a life-
long Latino resident as a threat that evening, as well as the
powerful wave of tech-driven gentrification of which these
newcomers were a part. The journalist provocatively ques-
tions whether gentrification killed Alex Nieto. However,
the outcomes for Nieto, Guerra, and so many others are
not idiosyncratic products of isolated institutions, individ-
uals, or interactions. Guerra was obedient. He followed
directions, complied with officers, and was blamed for his
own death due to his alleged stupidity. Officers suggested
Nieto was aggressive and pointed a Taser at them. He was
executed. Guerra and Nieto were characterized as stupid
and aggressive, respectively; yet, in each case, these racial-
ized men were framed as culpable for the outcomes they
faced. Even when physical death is not the outcome of this
systematic policing, the disposability of the racialized under-
scores their social death.30 These racialized incidents reflect
the intimate interplay between social death as an existen-
tial phenomenon and disposability as realized interactionally

and institutionally. This dynamic interplay is enacted through
raciontologies that constitute statuses of being and regimes
of value across institutional contexts.

The ubiquity of cases such as those discussed in Dı́az’s ethno-
graphic data and throughout this article points to the short-
comings and problematic nature of demanding ethnography
first before theorizing everyday life regardless of whether one
is engaged formally in what typically constitutes fieldwork.
It is important to interrogate the tendency toward privileg-
ing anthropological empiricism, which presumes that ethno-
graphic data are the most reliable evidence of phenomena like
institutional racism, racial profiling, and white supremacy.
To the extent that these phenomena are often perceived in
dramatically disparate ways based on the racial positions of
the actors involved, we might reconsider the limits of an-
thropological empiricism in relation to alternative systems
of knowledge production. These include intersectional fem-
inist conceptions of theory in the flesh, which situate embod-
iment as a historically mediated process that can simultane-
ously facilitate particular insights and obscure others. Rather
than presuming that knowledge emerges primordially from
marginalized identities, theory in the flesh foregrounds em-
bodiment as one among many legitimate ways of knowing.
Moraga and Anzaldúa (1981, 23) suggest that “a theory in the
flesh means one where the physical realities of our lives—
our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our
sexual longings—all fuse to create a politic born out of ne-
cessity.” Relatedly, the ability of many racially minoritized
anthropologists to understand daily encounters with racism
in marginalized communities emerges from necessity rather
than simply ethnographic curiosity. Their lives quite literally
depend on the ability to understand these realities as scholars
and theorists of race, racism, and racialization regardless of
whether they are situated in a stint of fieldwork. Yet main-
stream disciplinary skepticism of theory in the flesh, coupled
with the privileging of anthropological empiricism, too of-
ten prevents scholars of color— particularly those writing
about communities close to home—from being viewed as
legitimate theorists or even legitimate anthropologists and
instead consistently relegates their conceptualizations to the
“savage slot” (Trouillot 2003).

Anthropological empiricism and ethnographic excep-
tionalism must also be interrogated in relation to hegemonic
notions of scholarly authority. Mainstream conceptions of
intellectual expertise are rooted in institutional racism and
white supremacy through which many academic institutions
are built and sustained. Any attempt to develop counter-
hegemonic approaches to the synthesis of theory and ethnog-
raphy must grapple with the anchoring of these forms of
knowledge production in white supremacist institutional
structures. Countless ethnographies reproduce exoticizing
and stigmatizing tropes that naturalize or obscure colonial
histories and racial hierarchies. More specifically, there is a

128 American Anthropologist • Vol. 122, No. 1 • March 2020

long and complex history of ethnographers working with and
on behalf of the state itself (e.g., Benedict 1946), contribut-
ing more directly to the reproduction of institutional and
structural inequalities. This history further underscores the
importance of challenging assumptions about ethnographic
authority and anthropological empiricism (Loperena,

As both the ethnographic and popularly mediatized ex-
amples of state-sanctioned violence against people of color
we have examined in this article demonstrate, these is-
sues do not reduce to single cases that we might observe
ethnographically. Ethnographic moments are part of larger
systemic patterns that are readily recognizable in sites be-
yond fieldwork encounters. That ethnography should inspire
theory is an anthropological given. That theory grounded
in everyday life experiences, particularly the lives of peo-
ple of color, might not require a two-year stint of field-
work is apparently, though should not be, a more radical

It is remarkable yet predictable that in anthropological dis-
cussions of thing theory, the posthuman, and the ontological
turn, questions of race have been largely avoided or ignored
altogether. However, those who study race and racialization
have always been confronted with the question of what it
means to be institutionally defined as a particular kind of
thing endowed with the capacity to act in particular kinds of
ways—faced not simply with the ontological turn as a con-
ceptual issue but rather the everyday consequences of having
one’s ontology twisted and turned, contorted in ways that
produce not only Du Boisian double consciousness but also
Batesonian double binds.

In an indictment of the failure to grapple with the
foundational ontological status of race in widespread schol-
arly invocations of concepts such as bare life and biopol-
itics, Alexander Weheliye (2014, 3) suggests that “race,
racialization, and racial identities,” should be construed

ongoing sets of political relations that require, through constant
perpetuation via institutions, discourses, practices, desires, infras-
tructures, languages, technologies, sciences, economies, dreams,
and cultural artifacts, the barring of nonwhite subjects from the
category of the human as it is performed in the modern west.

These experiences of being positioned outside the cat-
egory of the human necessitate strategies for institutionally
navigating racial disembodiment and reembodiment, as Uri
McMillan (2015) and Aimee Cox (2015) argue in their re-
spective analyses of Black women’s and girls’ performances
and presentations of self. Insofar as raciontologies involve
long-standing colonial distinctions that differentiate legiti-
mate human actors from nonhumans or subhumans, this line
of thinking and critique can also be applied to the universal-
izing indictment of humanity associated with the theoriza-
tion of the Anthropocene. This indictment neglects the fact

that very specific modern Western political and economic
lifeworlds, rather than humanity as a whole, produced this
geological period, such that it might be better framed as the

If, as Povinelli (2016) argues in her conceptualization
of geontologies, we must reconsider the institutional and
epistemological logics through which the life/nonlife divide
is constituted, we might take our cue from race theorists
who have long been grappling with such divides. This could
include James Baldwin’s (1963) celestial characterization of
white views of racial integration as “an upheaval in the uni-
verse” that “is out of the order of nature,” in which the “black
man,” who “has functioned in the white man’s world as a
fixed star” shakes heaven and earth to their foundations “as
he moves out of his place”; or Christina Sharpe’s (2016,
21) recent geological and meteorological theorization of
anti-Blackness as “the ground on which we stand,” “a total
climate,” “the weather,” and the target of “an insistent black
visualsonic resistance to that imposition of non/being”; or
Anzaldúa’s (1987, 86) ecopolitical analysis, in which abject
populations “count the days the weeks the years the centuries
the eons until the white laws and commerce and customs will
rot in the deserts they’ve created, lie bleached,” and in which
racialized populations will persist, “walk[ing] by the crum-
bling ashes as we go about our business.” Thus, the stakes of
raciontological and raciopocentric perspectives, which seek
to denaturalize hegemonic semiotic differentiations between
being and nonbeing, are nothing short of a reimagination of
alternative lifeworlds, forms of institutionality, and modes
of governance.

In the context of racial profiling and the institutions
implicated in it, intuitions of systemic processes, conspir-
acy theories, and so-called urban legends emerge from re-
peated institutional encounters that cumulatively point to
broader configurations of power. However, there are also
particular historical moments, modes of knowledge cir-
culation, and semiotic practices that render institutional
structures and patterns perceivable. These various phenom-
ena shape contemporary perspectives from which police-
based racial profiling and extrajudicial violence can be rec-
ognized as institutionally systemic rather than accidental

The criminal justice system is particularly deceptive in
that its nature and function is often discursively articulated
in relation to fairness and equality at the same time that it
plays a profound role in the (re)production of disparities.
However, these disparities are typically recognized as the
products of individual actors—whether those representing
or “served” by the institution—rather than the institution it-
self. Part of the ongoing struggle faced by social movements
that seek to question the nature of these institutions is the
difficulty of generating evidence that might create a broader
institutional legitimacy crisis and the demand for institu-
tional abolishment or comprehensive reconstitution rather
than modest reforms (e.g., better training, equipment, re-
sources). Following Povinelli, a critical anthropology of the

Rosa and Dı́az • Raciontologies 129

otherwise could aspire to contribute to the reimagination,
reconstitution, or abolishment of institutions like the crim-
inal justice system.

Many critiques of US-based racial profiling focus on the
need to ensure equal access to democratic processes and
secure the integrity of the nation’s fundamental institutions.
Rather than simply seeking to secure or recuperate these
institutions, we would be well served by a careful reconsid-
eration of what, exactly, they have been doing to people like
Chris Guerra, Alex Nieto, Stephen Clark, Philando Castile,
Sandra Bland, Vanessa Marquez, Trayvon Martin, Michael
Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Esequiel
Hernández, Freddie Gray, Rodney King, and millions of

Jonathan Rosa Graduate School of Education, Stanford University,

Stanford, CA, 94305 USA; [email protected]

Vanessa Dı́az Department of Chicana/o and Latina/o Stud-

ies Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA, 90045

USA; [email protected]

Acknowledgments. This article emerged out of presentations at
the last several American Anthropological Association annual meet-
ings, which provided us with the opportunity to think collaboratively
with one another as well as with close colleagues who are commit-
ted to centering questions surrounding race in their work. We are
especially grateful to Aisha Beliso-De Jesús and Jemima Pierre for
organizing and editing this special issue, inviting us to contribute to
it, and providing critical feedback at multiple stages. We are also
grateful to Hilary Dick for her discussant comments on Jonathan’s
paper at the 2016 AAA annual meeting, Shalini Shankar for her careful
engagement with these ideas based on her conceptualization of “racial
ontologics” and for her discussant comments on Vanessa’s paper at
the 2015 AAA annual meeting, Miyako Inoue and Kabir Tambar for
their feedback on an early draft, Christopher Loperena for his help
in conceptualizing a critique of anthropological empiricism, and col-
leagues at a Sawyer Seminar on Race and Indigeneity in the Americas
at Brown University for their comments on a later draft. Thank you
to Deborah Thomas and the anonymous reviewers for their careful,
constructive feedback. We wish to express our gratitude to the pa-
parazzi who collaborated on the ethnographic material featured in
this article, especially Chris Guerra, to whose memory we dedicate
this article. Finally, thank you to Vicky Guerra for her openness and
collaborative reflection as we analyzed these critical issues around
policing and white supremacy, even when that meant interrogating
her own son’s tragic death.

1. But there is also a need to explore the institutional racism
within anthropology. While Franz Boas, a founding figure in
American anthropology was a staunch antiracist, the discipline
was still firmly grounded in and reproductive of the exploitation
of people of color. It also systematically excluded people of
color from being seen as legitimate anthropologists, a pattern

that persists today. Even his own Black student, Zora Neale
Hurston, is often praised as a fiction writer, as her career in
anthropology is frequently overlooked, due in no small part
to the fact that she was a Black woman who studied Black

2. Throughout this article, we use the term “Latinx” as a gender
nonbinary alternative to Latina and Latino in reference to US-
based persons of Latin American descent. We use “Latino” and
“Latina” in direct quotations and when referring specifically to
self-identified men and women, respectively.

3. As we explore later, mainstream media outlets can also be
understood as sites in which racialized institutional, interper-
sonal, and intersectional dynamics are powerfully regimented
and enacted. For example, in the recent #MeToo movement,
mainstream media amplified stories of predominantly famous,
wealthy white women holding famous, wealthy white men to
account for sexual harassment and assault. These mediatized
figures illustrate the disparate gendered and racialized ways in
which vulnerability is popularly and institutionally attributed.
Mainstream media institutions feed racist ideologies taken up in-
terpersonally even if in distinctive ways depending on targeted
audiences. See: Michelle, Lecia. 2017. “Time Magazine Cen-
ters White Women With Its #MeToo Cover.” Medium, Decem-
ber 7. https://medium.com/@LeciaMichelle/time-magazine-

4. Relatedly, in our discussion of Chris Guerra’s position as a
racialized paparazzo later in this article, we show how his cam-
era became weaponized; the officer felt the need to protect
celebrities from both Chris and his camera at the expense of
Chris’s life. Indeed, promotional merchandise for one of the
main antipaparazzi lobbying groups, The Paparazzi Reform Ini-
tiative, includes a shirt with an image of a camera and the slogan
“Weapon of Mass Destruction.” This organization and other
related organizations also use language in their informational
materials that mimics anti-immigrant slogans by characterizing
the paparazzi as unwanted invaders.

5. These racially distinctive perspectives can be conceptualized in
relation to John Jackson’s (2008) notion of “racial paranoia” pro-
duced through the juxtaposition of alleged legal racial equality
with vastly disparate racialized realities. Racial paranoia circu-
lates widely across societal settings, including the contemporary
academy, in which diversity, equity, and inclusion discourses,
committees, and offices are presented as responses to emer-
gent challenges rather than recognition of endemic racism that
has characterized institutions of higher education since their in-
ception. This performative chagrin—a sort of Columbusing of
the ongoing significance of racism—perfectly illustrates Mill’s
(1997, 17–19) point that, “on matters of race, the Racial Con-
tract prescribes for its signatories an inverted epistemology, an
epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and
global cognitive dysfunctions . . . producing the ironic outcome
that whites will in general be unable to understand the world
they themselves have made. . . . Part of what it means to be
constructed as ‘white’ . . . is a cognitive model that precludes
self-transparency and genuine understanding of social realities.
. . . One could say then, as a general rule, that white mis-

130 American Anthropologist • Vol. 122, No. 1 • March 2020

understanding, misrepresentation, evasion, and self-deception
on matters related to race are among the most pervasive mental
phenomena of the past few hundred years, a cognitive and moral
economy psychically required for conquest, colonization, and

6. Anthropologists, too, have taken up questions about race and
ontology. Virginia Dominguez (1997, 93) suggests that “the on-
tology of ‘race’ refers to the claims, premises, habits of thought,
and other socially learned cognitive operations that support and
underwrite the objectification of ‘race,’ that is, the often uncon-
scious learned habit of treating ‘race’ as a thing in the world.”
Thus, Dominguez locates the objectified ontology of race in
people’s “socially learned cognitive operations.”

7. The implications of these insights have yet to unsettle prevail-
ing conceptions of race within anthropology. Too often, race
is framed as a historical accident, an unfortunate side effect of
the emergence of modern political economies, the exploits of
which are frequently positioned as the true universal barriers to
freedom, equality, and justice. Thus, we are led to believe that
race is a distraction or mystification that prevents the 99% from
coming together in a collective struggle against late modern
capitalism. However, as Frank Wilderson (2003, 230) notes in
his sweeping takedown of socialist theorizing that is ignorant or
dismissive of race, “the slave makes a demand, which is in excess
of the demand made by the worker. The worker demands that
productivity be fair and democratic (Gramsci’s new hegemony,
Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat), the slave, on the other
hand, demands that production stop; stop without recourse to its
ultimate democratization.” For Wilderson, racism and colonial-
ism are conditions of possibility for rather than epiphenomena
of the joint governance of markets and difference.

8. Goodman, J. David, and Michael Wilson. 2014. “Officer
Daniel Pantaleo Told Grand Jury He Meant No Harm to Eric
Garner.” New York Times website, December 3. https://www.

9. Perhaps more pointedly, Haraway (1988, 585) notes, “vision
is always a question of the power to see—and perhaps of the
violence implicit in our visualizing practices. With whose blood
were my eyes crafted?”

10. This police violence in the United States affects those beyond
US borders as well. In the numerous examples of extrajudicial
killings of Mexican adolescents and young adults at the US-
Mexico border by US Border Patrol Agents, the US Border
Patrol has justified these killings by arguing, without evidence,
that those killed were holding rocks. The director of the US
Border Patrol Agent union has argued that the alleged rocks in
these individuals’ hands qualify as “a deadly force encounter. .
. . One that justifies the use of deadly force” (Márquez 2012,

11. The author of a story in The Guardian analyzed later in this article
notes officers’ depiction of the racialized victim of a police killing
as a “superhuman or inhuman opponent, facing them off even
as they fired again and again, then dropping to a ‘tactical sniper
posture’ on the ground, still holding the Taser with its red laser
pointing at them.”

12. For more on this history, see Dı́az (2014).
13. Halbfinger, David M., and Allison H. Weiner. 2005. “As Pa-

parazzi Push Harder, Stars Try to Push Back.” New York Times,
June 9, 2005.

14. Pearson, Ryan. 2008. “‘Britney Beat’: Paparazzi Are
No Longer Faceless Pack Animals.” Associated Press,
April 3, 2008. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,

15. Winton, Richard, and Tonya Alanez. 2012. “Paparazzi
Flash New Audacity: As Competition Grows, Photogra-
phers Trailing L.A.’s Celebrities Become More Aggres-
sive.” Los Angeles Times, Nation, October 16, 2005. http://

16. See also: “Photographers Sue!: Bachelor Wedding Airs,
ABC Exploits Security’s Attack on Photographers.”
X17 online, March 8, 2010. http://www.x17online.
wedding_airs_abc.php#mjp52AAI935IRhkH.99. PE: Should
these be moved to the reference section?

17. Dashcam transcriptions were provided to Dı́az by Guerra’s fam-
ily, who hired a forensic specialist to analyze and transcribe the

18. Velasco, Juan. 2013. State of California, California Highway Pa-
trol Traffic Collision Report 13-08-04052. Los Angeles. January
1, 2013; Walton, Charles. 2013. State of California, California
Highway Patrol Narrative/ Supplemental Report 13-08-0452.
Los Angeles. May 2, 2013.

19. Brumfield, Ben, and K. J. Matthews. 2013. “Paparazzo
Killed by Oncoming Traffic after Photographing Justin
Bieber’s Ferrari.” CNN website, January 2. https://www.cnn.

20. The driver of the first car who hit Guerra was stopped, ques-
tioned, and sent on her way with no charges. In fact, per the
police report, the CHP officer told the driver that “the accident
was not her fault.” The second driver was a hit and run, which
is a felony, but no investigation followed.

21. “JB” refers to Justin Bieber.
22. Nicolini, Jill. 2013. “Celebrity Photographer Killed while Fol-

lowing Justin Bieber’s Car.” Fox News website, January 2.

23. Finn, Natalie. 2013. “Miley Cyrus: Justin Bieber Paparazzo
Death Was Bound to Happen, Encourages the Biebs to Get
Involved.” E! News, website, January 2. http://www.eonline.

24. There are countless examples of state-sanctioned violence
against people of color. Yet, only certain examples become me-
diatized to the point of humanizing victims of said violence. The
constant humanizing of and sympathizing with white celebrities
that celebrity media—and paparazzi work by extension—
promote contributes to the failure to humanize all victims of
state-sanctioned violence. For example, the extrajudicial killing
of Latina actress Vanessa Marquez in her own Los Angeles home
during a police wellness check was reported in an ambiguous

Rosa and Dı́az • Raciontologies 131

fashion that reflects racialized hierarchies of humanity and
vulnerability. The arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland,
a Black woman, under the watch of law enforcement was treated
in a similarly ambiguous fashion in media representations. Inter-
sectional power structures position women of color in ways that
deny their humanity, vulnerability, and worthiness of sympathy.

25. Bouie, Jamelle. 2014. “Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s
Whites?” Slate website, April 15. https://slate.com/news-

26. While Vicky Guerra initially suggested that Chris was profiled
based on his perceived socioeconomic class rather than race, she
also pointed to the racialization of Chris’s speech. She explained,
“I’m from Oakland, and Chris talked like that. If you talked to
him, I think Chris sounded Hispanic or ethnic.” Despite the po-
lice report classifying Guerra as Caucasian, there are many signs
of his racial markedness in this situation, including the racial-
ization of the paparazzi generally, a stereotypically Hispanicized
last name, and coded racialized language used in the police re-
port, including a note that “the man was wearing dark clothing
and a hoodie.” Following his death, the most widely circulated
photos of Guerra show him looking stern, wearing a backwards
cap and/or a hooded sweatshirt, paralleling the kinds of imagery
on social media during the emergence of the hashtag #IfThey-
GunnedMeDown, which included African American and Latinx
youth juxtaposed with stereotypically tough, intimidating, or
deviant pictures of themselves that might be misused in attempts
to justify their hypothetical killing (Bonilla and Rosa 2015).

27. US Marine Clemente Buñuelos, who killed teenager Esequiel
Hernández on Hernández’s family’s property, was not indicted
based on his defense’s argument that Hernández’s death could
not have been a result of racial profiling (Márquez 2012, 498).

28. Referencing recent extrajudicial killings in which the names of
US Border Patrol Agents who killed people have been kept
confidential by the state, Márquez asserts that “the namelessness
of the agent reflects how he is transformed from a person who
killed into a mechanism of the sovereign state, programmed to
perform a duty that has been normalized as routine, just, and
necessary” (492).

29. Solnit, Rebecca. 2016. “Death by Gentrification: The Killing
that Shamed San Francisco.” The Guardian website, March
21. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/21/

30. One recent example is the case of Puerto Rican Hector Medina-
Peña, whose head police kicked while Medina-Peña was on his
hands and knees, complying with officers in Allentown, PA. He
was then body-slammed and further assaulted. This resulted in
numerous injuries, including a fractured jaw and three dislodged
teeth. While one might conclude that he did not actually die, the
institutionalized nature of the police violence inflicted on him
reflects the broader structure of social death that conditioned
his experiences. See: Jacobo, Julia. 2016. “Pennsylvania Police
Officer Used Excessive Force when Kicking a Man During
Arrest: Lawsuit.” ABC News. October 21, 2016. https://

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