Peter Zhang

Racecraft

Review

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life is written by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, a pair of academics and sisters. Their work traces the development of race and challenges its pervasiveness in American social life.

Here’s the paperback.

Utility: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Writing: ★★★★★ (5/5)

I first heard of this book on a Why Theory episode, which praised both the writing and substance of the book. The podcasters were spot on: the Fields sisters are eloquent, funny, precise, and utterly convincing. Karen and Barbara, as a sociologist and historian, respectively, bring rich historical context and personal experience to illuminate the concept of race.

Some highlights included the biography of their grandmother, their analysis of Barack Obama’s presidency (and the surrounding discourse), and an impassioned call to examine class inequality. I felt a deep connection and belief in humanity that demonstrated first-hand the fiction of racial barriers.

Notes

Here are brief takeaways:

  • Race has been thoroughly discredited as a scientific concept. There is no biological basis (beyond minute overlaps in genetics). Studies purporting to identify differences among races are circular because they must first arbitrarily sort people into races.
  • Racism is a social practice. It involves applying a double standard based on ancestry. Racism constitutively depends on race, which provides a seemingly objective basis for discrimination (even leftists/antiracists fall prey to this). Racecraft constructs and naturalizes the illusion of race, making it appear as reality.
  • Dispelling race as a reality doesn’t mean retreating to conservative colorblindness. Racecraft has a real and impactful history that has planted deep social inequities. The challenge is to rectify these inequalities while avoiding the trap of racecraft.

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