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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  493 ratings  ·  77 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Verso (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant work. The authors adopt Durkheimian approach to explain why, even though we all know that race is a cultural construct, it is still such a basic part of American culture. Their point is that since every society needs some basic principles which cannot be questioned to sustain its stability (they compare race in US to witchcraft in Africa) and since race was so basic to US culture, first as justification for slavery and later as a disguise for class, it will take much more than rational ...more
Mike Goldstein
Nov 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Three stars not for the ideas, but for my personal reading experience. The basic ideas here, the way the authors are able to trace the establishment of American racial ideology, the way they explain the impetus for racist pseudo-science, are...well, just look at all the other reviews here. It's all really well done, and the book does a great job of getting at why concepts of "race" are so impervious to factual and logical rebuttals. The ideas will definitely stick with you.

But... I'm sure I'm at
This is a powerful and highly intelligent exploration of the idea that racecraft is no more legitimate than witchcraft, and that the racism that follows from it is no more natural or explicable than the development of superstitions and punishments that flowed from centuries of adamant belief in witchcraft. It's a helpful heuristic--witchcraft makes sense to a group of people in search of explanations for complex, inexplicable phenomena. Witchcraft is rife with contradictions, completely fabricat ...more
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Truly a book that we should have read in college, this book has enhanced my knowledge on more than my white male perspective.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
easily worth about 1000 stars, or even a million... if you can read this book and not get totally fucking pissed off about America's racist problem (not racisM problem, mind you) then you are in such a state of ignorance and/or denial that you are most likely not human at all... this book crushes all the preconceived notions people have about "race" that it is impossible to even conceive of ever using the term except as a way of designating the user as a racist, par excellence... an essential bo ...more
Charlise Randall
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Written by 2 sisters who are professors. Essentially equates how we view Race and its perceived realness to the way people viewed witchcraft, seldom questioning the actual mechanism/connection between race and outcomes. (i.e. black men are violent. well what exactly is it about blackness that makes them violent?) There were no witches in Salem yet droves of people were accused and killed for witchcraft just as race is not real yet people (black people in particular) are targeted for it because o ...more
Mark Lewis
While the overall theme of the book is laudable, the writing style leaves much to be desired. Slogging through this tome is like driving a Ferrari on a washboard road full of ruts and potholes. Any enthusiasm for the experience is quickly dampened by ambiguous wandering sentences that completely halt the flow of the narrative. Eventually I pulled off to the side of the road, hailed a taxi and moved on to my next book.
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Inspired but meandering history and sociology of racism

Racecraft is a 2012 collection of essays written by sisters Karen and Barbara Fields, respectively sociologist and historian by trade. It deals with racism in both historical and sociological perspectives, especially inspired by Émile Durkheim. (Karen Fields has translated The Elementary Forms of Religious Life into English.)

The main idea of the book is that race is a fiction and racecraft is the conjuring of race in the same way that witchc
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
The premise of this book is that race, much like witchcraft, operates socially as a collective experience in which individuals and societies take part in the various rites, rituals and ceremonies that constitute a belief system. These belief systems then become self-perpetuating in that they affirm and reaffirm these concepts which do not stand up to scrutiny but nonetheless may be rooted in reason, in the sense that the belief in spirits and witchcraft reveal much about the way people experienc ...more
Sanjay Varma
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This book reminded me of reading Julian Jaynes, or Nietzsche. A creative insight is being presented by an original thinker. But the authors also have aspirations to write a comprehensive history book, replete with citations. The authors fail to mesh these dual purposes. I felt like i was reading two separate books that had been mashed together.

The historical chapters are excellent, and will be of interest to readers not familiar with the gradual shifts that turned indentured servitude into slav
Jan 24, 2018 rated it liked it
The first half of this book is excellent, laying out helpful definitions and distinctions of "race," "racism," and "racecraft" (think "witchcraft" with its irrational premise but utterly rational consequences). The second half is overly theoretical for my taste, spending a lot of time on the obscure conceptual and linguistic formulations of these ideas. It is academic writing, which is not my cup of tea.

The torrid conclusion is a welcome coda, and it reads almost as manifesto. The last paragraph
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Many of the reviews I found for Racecraft seemed to be pent up releases of praise for the acknowledgement by African American historians that the North American peculiarity of race was a purposeful construction and outcome of plantation labor slavery, and not the cause of it. While this argument is not entirely new, the Fieldses do seem to find a new way to present it that resonates with political economy scholars interested in locating the sickness of racism within an economic social structure, ...more
Jan 04, 2018 rated it liked it
I don't really have any problem with the content or intent, but this isn't well written and the organization is a mess.
Apr 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
by: Karen E. Fields & Barbara J. Fields

I know - with a title like that, the gamer in me is still confused. It has nothing to do with Warcraft, Starcraft or Minecraft. Just an FYI ;).

Overall, I found it a good read. The academic language and phrasing can be a bit offputting, but the subject matter is compelling.

I do wish the authors had just gone all the way and been clear about "race as religion" instead of hiding it one level out as "racecraft works like witchcraft". I could be wrong, but t
Fraser Kinnear
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fields's title "Racecraft" "... highlights the ability of pre- or non-scientific modes of thought to hijack the minds of the scientifically literate." They chose it so as to point out how similar racism today is to other cultures' belief/acceptance of witchcraft, as the two behaviors have a lot in common. Most notably, that both are a system of belief that doesn't conform to empirical reality, but persist because they are internally consistent and therefore difficult for their holder to abandon. ...more
Aug 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Talks about and around the absurdity of racism and inequality in America. That race is not natural, rather is an ideology constructed and perpetuated by humans. I like the concept of seeing racism and racist remarks through the eyes of a Martian visiting America.

"To say that race is entirely a social construction provokes a surprising level of resistance, even amongst the socially liberal. Though it is no longer socially acceptable to presume inferiority based on descent, so-called racial “diffe
Dec 11, 2017 rated it liked it
So here's the thing: I really liked this book overall and think its arguments are important. However, there were a few passages that made me question a lot of the others. For instance, the authors completely misrepresent scholars who study Black English (or AAVE) and then destroy the (racist) straw man they've created. They come back to this two or three times. It may seem like a minor thing, but it made me question their representation of their opponents in other areas, as well. As a result, I ...more
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
During the Heyday of the cotton empire in the nineteenth century, slavery continued to perform the service it has pioneered in colonial times: that of limiting the need for free citizens(which is to say white people) to exploit each other directly and thereby identifying class exploitation with racial exploitation. 131

Racial ideology supplied the means of explaining slavery to people whose terrain was a republic founded on radical doctrines of liberty natural rights, and more important a republi
Philip Mckenzie
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this at a perfect time, as the current political and economic environment has made the questions raised and tackled even more relevant. The authors attempt to connect "race/racism" to the traditions and customs of witchcraft hence the title of the book. It challenges the usual way in which we think of race both from a philosophical and biological construct and I found it compelling. It can be hard to wrestle with the ideas, not because they are not argued well but actually because they ar ...more
Jul 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Kind of cobbles together many previously-published essays, so there's a lot of repetition of the central argument -- the idea that racism created and continues to create race, and not the reverse. A very important argument, but you really only need to read one or two essays to grasp probably 85% of the substance of this collection.
Dec 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fine. Interesting. Sometimes lush. Not profound.

Some great writing especially the chapter on memory. Some turgid writing too. A mixed bag, useful in deconstructing the concept of race but hardly original.
Sep 07, 2015 rated it liked it
I agree with these authors' overall philosophy but was frustrated by their writing style, the insufficient attention they pay to the role of language in racecraft, and their lack of discussion of how we might undo racecraft in ordinary life.
Apr 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Made a few very good points, in fact these were the central points of the entire book. However, one chapter would have been enough....
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Beautiful essays on race. Some are a bit too academic, but very worthwhile
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, history

Very much required reading.
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
At the end of the 1960s it was possible to believe that the United States was, at long last, serious about eliminating racism, the poisonous cause and legacy of chattel slavery. After all, segregation had finally been outlawed in the South, the Civil Rights movement was surging, and important voting rights for all citizens had recently been enacted into law.

Fifty years later, however, it is sadly clear that this hope was illusory. Indeed, in many ways, not only do racist attitudes seem as firmly
Ailith Twinning
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This was borderline surreal to listen to. Hard to really explain why really, when I tried it just sounded like complaining that it's a collection and that's not the thing, I've read lots of journalists' published collections of their own work it's never came out quite like this one, It's just the way the writing is, parenthetical and digressive and somehow frustrated.

I actually like that about this one tho. And the actual ideas are not so hard to come to.

I got a new-ish way of looking at ideol
Mar 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Racecraft is a discussion of race, racism, and the construction of racial mythology in the United States. It starts out strong and is at its most interesting when recounting events and putting them into context; I found the more academic passages a bit more of a slog. I'm not sure whether this started out as a series of essays, but it reads more like one than like a cohesive book at times, and since I was listening to the audiobook I kept wondering whether the recording had somehow skipped back ...more
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely vital must-read. One of the deepest and most intricate books on race/racism (primarily in America) that I have found. It has fundamentally re-oriented my understanding.

It's a collection of essays, so certainly there are some ups and downs, and I will need to revisit the book over time. But the central insight: racism creates the inexistent race, and most invocations of race in the present only activate this superstitious and destructive belief in the reality of that unreal thing? W
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“the Afro-American experience, rejecting the false history, spurious logic, and expedient politics that collapse the situations of Afro-Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and indigenous Americans into a single category. He correctly insists that there is no counterpart for any other descent group to the one-drop or any-known-ancestry rule that, with minor exceptions, has historically identified Afro-Americans.” 0 likes
“In America, straightforward talk about class inequality is all but impossible, indeed taboo. Political appeals to the economic self-interest of ordinary voters, as distinct from their wealthy compatriots, court instant branding and disfigurement in the press as divisive “economic populism” or even “class warfare.”39 On the other hand, divisive political appeals composed in a different register, sometimes called “cultural populism,” enlist voters’ self-concept in place of their self-interest; appealing, in other words, to who they are and are not, rather than to what they require and why. Thus, the policies of the 1980s radically redistributed income upward. Then, with “economic populism” shooed from the public arena, “cultural populism” fielded something akin to a marching band. It had a simple melody about the need to enrich the “investing” classes (said to “create jobs”), and an encoded percussion: “culture wars”; “welfare mothers”; “underclass”; “race-and-IQ”; “black-on-black crime”; “criminal gene”; on and on.40 Halfway through the decade, as the band played on, a huge economic revolution from above had got well under way. The poorest 40 percent of American families were sharing 15.5 percent of household income, while the share of the richest 20 percent of families had risen to a record 43.7 percent, and the trend appeared to be (and has turned out to be) more and more of the same.41 The” 0 likes
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