In an interview with Christopher Lydon of Radio Open Source, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life co-author Barbara J. Fields explains why "there’s no race story in this [presidential] campaign. There’s a racism story and there’s an inequality story."
Christopher Lydon: Barbara Fields is an esteemed historian of the South, where she was born, and teaches at Columbia University in New York. She fights racism by denying race categorically. The problem that has taken this country to the precipice, she told us this week, is inequality. She says racism is the evil code of group privilege and invented differences. In this light, race is a non-science and ‘racecraft’ is a process of self-deception.
Barbara J. Fields: There’s no race story in this [presidential] campaign. There’s a racism story and there’s an inequality story and the two are connected. Racism and inequality have the same central nervous system. They’re apart of the same process. People should not think, for example, Bernie Sanders isn’t addressing the problems of black people because he doesn’t have a black label on it, with a bow tied around it, saying this is for black people. But, when he speaks for a new minimum wage and for higher-education to be within everybody’s reach, these are the inequality problems that plague everyone. And they’re one of the reasons why racism, not race, is intense and resurgent in this country.
As the first in a series of posts related to Black History Month, we present an excerpt from Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields' Racecraft below.
We strive to think rigorously about the world of experience that Americans designate by the shorthand, race.
That very shorthand is our abiding target because it confuses three different things: race, racism, and racecraft. The term race stands for the conception or the doctrine that nature produced humankind in distinct groups, each defined by inborn traits that its members share and that differentiate them from the members of other distinct groups of the same kind but of unequal rank. For example, The Races of Europe, published in 1899 to wide acclaim and lasting influence, set out to establish scientifically the distinctness of the “Teutonic,” “Alpine,” and “Mediterranean” races. After compiling tens of thousands of published measurements (of stature, shape of head and nose, coloring of skin, hair, and eyes, and more), the author, William Z. Ripley, had more than enough quantitative evidence to work with—indeed, far too much. A “taxonomic nightmare” loomed up and forced on him a certain flexibility of method: shifting criteria as needed, ignoring unruly instances, and employing ad hoc helpers like the “Index of Nigrescence” (to handle the variable coloring of persons indigenous to the British Isles)*. Fitting actual humans to any such grid inevitably calls forth the busy repertoire of strange maneuvering that is part of what we call racecraft. The nineteenth-century bio-racists’ ultimately vain search for traits with which to demarcate human groups regularly exhibited such maneuvering.† Race is the principal unit and core concept of racism.
(from Foster's 1899 The Races of Europe)
The common refrain, “race is a social construction” can obscure the fact that race is a ultimately results from racism itself. “We see race not as a physical fact, but as a product of racism,” Barbara says in the interview with her sister Karen, the co-author of Racecraft and Jacobin’s Jason Farbman.
What we don’t talk about when we talk about race: racecraft, or the dark magic of racism itself creating and maintaining the illusion of race.