Next Thursday, Barbara Fields will discuss Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life with Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates at the CUNY Graduate Center. The book, which Fields co-wrote with her sister, Karen Fields, is dense with ideas and there will be lots to cover in the conversation.
In advance of the event, we recommend the Academic & the Artist podcast, which Karen Fields has appeared on three times now. The programs provide a great opportunity to explore some of the challenging debates circulating around the book's central themes of race, inequality and the mythical belief in a "post-racial" America.
In the first interview, which was released shortly after Racecraft was published in the fall of last year, Fields talked to the podcast hosts José F. Moreno and Sergio Muñoz about racial identity, the racializing of inequality, and the problems inherent in fighting inequality with social policy that has been constructed on racial terms. Music by Stevie Wonder—Fields is a fan—was played during musical interludes. Click here to listen to the first show.
That race is a mere social construct is an oft-repeated assertion in the media and academia. That there is no currency to the color of someone’s skin, but there is for the content of his or her character has become the mantra of this supposedly post-racial era. Then why does the concept of race still poison our discourse? And in a time of rapidly growing income inequality, how does race cloak the much-needed issue of tackling this problem for all Americans, regardless of race?
In their fantastically lucid and much-needed exposé of the mental terrain that underlies the issue of race, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, Karen and Barbara Fields deal with how it obscures gross income inequality. They coin the term “racecraft”—the illusion of race produced by the practice of racism.
Karen Fields discussed these and other topics concerning the practice of racecraft in two illuminating interviews, respectively for the New Books in Sociology podcast and The Academic and the Artist on KBeach radio.
Audio below the jump
We are black, it is true, but tell us, gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? ... Yes, gentleman, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right that you pretend to have over us ... We are your equals then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colours within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white.
This excerpt is from a letter written in July 1792 by the leaders of the revolution of Haitian slaves. The letter has been republished in the collection of writings of the black leader Toussaint L'Overture, The Haitian Revolution, which includes also the correspondence between him and Napoleon Bonaparte. In the late eighteenth century, Toussaint L'Overture and his supporters established the first black republic in the world.
In the United Kingdom, October is Black History Month. The celebration was originally introduced in 1926 on the initiative of Carter G. Woodson, the editor of the Journal of Negro History. In 2007, no fewer than 6,000 events were held in the UK as part of its programme. Here are some key Verso titles past and present that are relevant to the study and celebration of African and Caribbean history.