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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in…

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (original 2012; edition 2014)

by Karen E. Fields (Author)

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272777,972 (3.98)1 / 21
Title:Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
Authors:Karen E. Fields (Author)
Info:Verso (2014), Edition: Reprint, 310 pages
Collections:Your library

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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen E. Fields (2012)


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» See also 21 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
In The Myth of Sisyphus, if you'll excuse the digression, Albert Camus did not set out to prove that life was absurd. Rather, he assumed it, and set himself to the question of how one was to life if life was, in fact, absurd.

This analogy came immediately to my mind when reading Racecraft, which at the broadest level concerns the idea that "race" is an illusion, without any basis in biology, purely a matter of social convention. But authors Karen and Barbara Fields do not set out in this book to prove that race is an illusion. Rather, they assume it, and tackle a second-order problem: if race is an illusion, then why is race (and racism) such a big deal in American society?

To answer this question, they coin the titular neologism, "Racecraft," in direct analogy to "Witchcraft." By this, they are building off of the premodern understanding of a world in which unseen witches are the causal factors behind many seemingly ordinary things. For believers, the idea of witchcraft is an internally coherent ideology that can explain the world, even if it sometimes strains to cohere with external world. The same is true, the authors argue, for "racecraft," the belief that race is real and explains how humans act in the real world — belief in the reality and power of race is just as coherent an ideology, they write, as belief in the reality and power of witches.

The book itself is a collection of essays on a theme, composed over two decades for different mediums: book chapters, academic papers and oral presentations. As such it lacks the focus that a specifically composed book would have; rather than deliberately developing a thesis, the book moves in fits and starts, with the thesis advancing here and there, and other times repeating arguments and examples from earlier chapters. Still, the authors are intelligent and eloquent, and despite the handicap of their chosen medium remain engaging throughout.

This is perhaps not a book for someone completely new to a scholarly study of the topic of race; it often seems to be responding to unexplicated currents in academic discourse. But an intelligence layperson can still easily penetrate its arguments.

Interestingly, it offers no robust direction forward — if race if an illusion, the product of "racecraft," then what are people confronted with a society that takes race seriously to do? Despite the authors' frequent engagement with French scholars, they don't engage with the alternative French model in which race is explicitly ignored. In the conclusion, and bits and pieces throughout, the authors hint that a better solution might be to ignore race in favor of a focus on class as a more real social division, but this thesis is never developed at length.

If one is willing to accept (at least for the sake of argument) this book's premise, that "race" is a myth, this is a thought-provoking tome. It's not as persuasive a polemic as a book composed as a single text would be, but as a collection of intelligent essays it's still thought-provoking at a time when this type of thought is in particular demand. ( )
  dhmontgomery | Dec 13, 2020 |
Dangerous lies do not always dress the part.

The Fields sisters persuasively argue that race is not a coherent empirical fact, but a concept created via the strange ideological legerdemain they call "racecraft." While race is not real, the racist framework and practice of a double standard based on the ideology of race is very real. Racism is an active social practice that takes for granted that race exists, thereby creating the latter in an act of imagination and social belief—an act of racecraft. This thesis forms the backbone of a series of essays that touch on history, sociology, philosophy, genetics, and many other disciplines. The only thing that kept Racecraft from garnering five stars was that the book was somewhat front-loaded. The best essays were the first ones, making the sociological chapters on Durkheim, Du Bois, and witchcraft seem a letdown. This is not to say that they weren't interesting or compelling in their own right, only that they seemed underwhelming coming off the heals of the chapters on slavery, the legacy of Jim Crow, and C. Vann Woodward. In spite of this minor quibble, the book was certainly the most persuasive text on inequality and racism that I've read in years. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote drbrand | Aug 4, 2020 |
I really want to know the ideas in this book. I've heard great things. But the writing isn't just too accademic; it also really needs an edit. I tried to start in on a few different places, but I found myself reading the same paragraphs over and over trying to understand what the author was talking about. It's a shame. ( )
  mitchtroutman | Jun 14, 2020 |
Essays about race in America—race as racecraft, similar to witchcraft. Race itself doesn’t exist as a scientific fact, but racism does, much as witchcraft doesn’t work but in some places has a social reality that explains things to members of a society and that can lead people to kill. I liked the beginning parts on the metaphor of “blood” and the way that saying “Michael Brown was killed because he was black,” while a useful shorthand, can also locate the source of the problem in his “blackness,” as if that were a thing that existed outside society, whereas we do not as easily say “this kid was not killed for his misbehavior because he was white.” Later essays, including an imagined dialogue between DuBois and Durkheim—who were writing at the same time—were less interesting to me. ( )
1 vote rivkat | Nov 28, 2017 |
A dense read -- denser than it needed to be. There's a part of me that thinks this isn't a problem because it isn't these particular authors' responsibility to educate everyone, but another, larger part of me worries that the important viewpoint contained in this book will be lost or ignored because it is written this way.
  sparemethecensor | Oct 28, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
RACECRAFT: THE SOUL OF INEQUALITY IN AMERICAN LIFE is the first book I’ve read on the subject of race that speaks accurately to my lived experience. ... the authors ... have undertaken a great untangling of how the chimerical concepts of race are pervasively and continuously reinvented and reemployed in this country, all without drawing a single circle themselves. Instead, they describe the circles drawn by others, you might say, and patiently erase each one.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karen E. Fieldsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fields, Barbara J.main authorall editionsconfirmed
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