Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

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Overview

Most people assume that racism grows from a perception of human difference: the fact of race gives rise to the practice of racism. Sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields argue otherwise: the practice of racism produces the illusion of race, through what they call “racecraft.” And this phenomenon is intimately entwined with other forms of inequality in American life. So pervasive are the devices of racecraft in American history, economic doctrine, politics, and everyday thinking that the ...

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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

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Overview

Most people assume that racism grows from a perception of human difference: the fact of race gives rise to the practice of racism. Sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields argue otherwise: the practice of racism produces the illusion of race, through what they call “racecraft.” And this phenomenon is intimately entwined with other forms of inequality in American life. So pervasive are the devices of racecraft in American history, economic doctrine, politics, and everyday thinking that the presence of racecraft itself goes unnoticed.

That the promised post-racial age has not dawned, the authors argue, reflects the failure of Americans to develop a legitimate language for thinking about and discussing inequality. That failure should worry everyone who cares about democratic institutions.

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Editorial Reviews

Robin Blackburn
“A most impressive work, tackling a demanding and important topic—the myth that we now live in a postracial society—in a novel, urgent, and compelling way. The authors dispel this myth by squarely addressing the paradox that racism is scientifically discredited but, like witchcraft before it, retains a social rationale in societies that remain highly unequal and averse to sufficiently critical engagement with their own history and traditions.”
From the Publisher
“It’s not just a challenge to racists, it’s a challenge to people like me, it’s a challenge to African-Americans who have accepted the fact of race and define themselves by the concept of race.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Demanding and intelligent.” —Jennifer Vega, PopMatters

“These essays are extraordinary. I love the forceful elegance with which they hammer home that race is a monstrous fiction, racism is a monstrous crime.”—Junot Díaz

Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields have undertaken a great untangling of how the chimerical concepts of race are pervasively and continuously reinvented and reemployed in this country.”—Maria Bustillos, Los Angeles Review of Books

“The neologism ‘racecraft’ is modelled on ‘witchcraft’ … It isn’t that the Fieldses regard the commitment to race as a category as an irrational superstition. On the contrary, they are interested precisely in exploring its rationality—the role that beliefs about race play in structuring American society—while at the same time reminding us that those beliefs may be rational but they’re not true.”—Walter Benn Michaels, London Review of Books

“A most impressive work, tackling a demanding and important topic—the myth that we now live in a postracial society—in a novel, urgent, and compelling way. The authors dispel this myth by squarely addressing the paradox that racism is scientifically discredited but, like witchcraft before it, retains a social rationale in societies that remain highly unequal and averse to sufficiently critical engagement with their own history and traditions.”—Robin Blackburn

“With examples ranging from the profound to the absurd—including, for instance, an imaginary interview with W E B Dubois and Emile Durkheim, as well as personal porch chats with the authors’ grandmother—the Fields delve into “racecraft’s” profound effect on American political, social and economic life.”—Global Journal

“This is a very thoughtful book, a very urgent book.”—The Academic & The Artist Cloudcast

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844679942
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 10/9/2012
  • Pages: 310
  • Sales rank: 977,828
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara J. Fields is Professor of History at Columbia University. Her books include the prize-winning Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland During the Nineteenth Century and (coauthored with the Freedmen and Southern Society Project) The Destruction of Slavery and Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War.

Karen E. Fields is Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the Center for African and African American Research at Duke University. Her books include a translation of Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. She is at work on Racism in the Academy: A Traveler’s Guide and Bordeaux’s Africa.

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Table of Contents

Authors' Note vii

Introduction 1

1 A Tour of Racecraft 25

2 Individual Stories and America's Collective Past 75

3 Of Rogues and Geldings 95

4 Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America 111

5 Origins of the New South and the Negro Question 149

6 What One Cannot Remember Mistakenly 171

7 Witchcraft and Racecraft: Invisible Ontology in Its Sensible Manifestations 193

8 Individuality and the Intellectuals: An Imaginary Conversation Between Emile Durkheim and W. E. B. Du Bois 225

Conclusion: Racecraft and Inequality 261

Index 291

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2013

    Great discussion on racism

    Really good discussion on the significance of racism behind racial identity

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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