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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

Tackling the myth of a post-racial society.

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.

Reviews

  • “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.”
  • “With examples ranging from the profound to the absurd—including, for instance, an imaginary interview with W.E.B. Du Bois 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.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “Demanding and intelligent.”
  • “Racecraft forces a quite profound reconsideration of familiar categories, by navigating between what is real and what is made-up, and by deeply probing how economic inequality gets reproduced. It is impossible to read this rich book without being challenged and enlightened.”
  • “I love the simple elegance with which they hammer home that race is a montrous fiction, racism is a monstrous crime.”
  • “This is a very thoughtful book, a very urgent book.”

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