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Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  811 ratings  ·  129 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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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
...more
Inna
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
Conor Ahern
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
Richard S
Jul 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: race
This book has a very interesting take on racism, one that is very different from the other books I've been reading. Unfortunately it comes across mostly as very garbled, academic and unconvincing. It basically says we agree that bioracism is factually wrong and indefensible as a coherent idea, but it argues that the way to attack racism is to attack the concept of race. To call race a social construct like Kendi does is racism because it requires us to treat races differently. As a result it's k ...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
Kyle
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.
Jim
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
Mary
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
Ross
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 racecraf
...more
Yen Ba
Race relations as an analysis of society takes for granted that race is a valid empirical datum and thereby shifts attention from the actions that constitute racism—enslavement, disfranchisement, segregation, lynching, massacres, and pogroms—to the traits that constitute race.

What a brilliant book. Coming from the French education system, I've always been somewhat skeptical of the way American popular discourse approaches the concept of "race" (while also steering clear of the full Frenchie colo
...more
Mike Benoit
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece. I see our world more clearly for having read this.
blakeR
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
...more
Zain
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
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.
Jennifer
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Mehrsa
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Beautiful essays on race. Some are a bit too academic, but very worthwhile
JC
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
There were portions of this book that were definitely over my head. Sometimes academics can write past me, because I’m not that astute a reader, especially when they start talking inside baseball. But for the parts that I could understand, this was a very interesting book. Firstly, I loved how the book opened:

“In the beginning was the deed.” - Ludwig Wittgenstein quoting Goethe misquoting John the Apostle

In such a way the authors introduce their notion of race craft:

“The ideas of racecraft are p
...more
André
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“The more dutifully scholars acknowledge that the concept of race belongs in the same category as geocentrism or witchcraft, the more blithely they invoke it as though it were both a coherent analytical category and a valid empirical datum. In place of Jefferson’s moment of impassioned truth-telling, his successors fall back on italics or quotation marks, typographical abbreviations for the trite formula, ‘race is a social construction.’ The formula is meant to spare those who invoke race in his ...more
Erik
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
...more
P
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the USA," originally published as an article in 1990, is one of the best texts you can read for understanding how dangerous racial ideology is in the hands of liberals, progressives, and whatever passes for the left in these days of neoliberal psychopolitics.

Those who create and re-create race today are ... the 'liberals' and 'progressives' in whose version of race the neutral shibboleths 'difference' and 'diversity' replace words like 'slavery,' 'injustice,' 'op
...more
Mack Hayden
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, history, america
Given the wide berth of positive reviews here, take this one with a grain of salt. I have no issue with the content here—their central thesis is super spot on in my estimation and I definitely enjoyed quite a few passages from the book. But the prose here is so obtuse and devoid of lucidity that I could barely keep my head on straight as I was reading it. It seems like others had a much easier time, so I may just be dumb as a rock (definitely not opposed to that conclusion). Regardless, I was le ...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
...more
Sharad Pandian
It's a book of luminous essays by the historian Barbara Fields and the sociologist Karen Fields (cousins). There is a lot of great stuff, with different styles (a series of vignettes, an imagined conversation between Du Bois and Durkheim) and arguments throughout. I'm not even going to try to summarize all that, but here's maybe one way to think about what they're doing.

While this is not quite how they put it, I think of "racecraft" as drawing attention to the continuous social production of rac
...more
Monica
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
Sanjida
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.
Winston Plum
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a good book. I recommend it. However, I don’t like all the essays equally. This a collection of essays Karen and Barbara Fields wrote over many years. I just flipped through the book to see if I could find which author wrote which essay and it’s not readily apparent. I’m guessing Karen wrote some and Barbara wrote some but maybe they wrote them all together the way Adolph Reed Jr. and Walter Benn Michaels write essays together. Whatever the case, some of the essays are fantastic. Some of ...more
Onefinemess
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 that
...more
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
Anita
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
...more
Jason
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
...more
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Karen E. Fields, an independent scholar, holds degrees from Harvard University, Brandeis University, and the Sorbonne. She is the author of many articles and three published books: Revival and Rebellion in Colonial Central Africa, about millennarianism; Lemon Swamp and Other Places: A Carolina Memoir (with Mamie Garvin Fields), about life in the 20th-century South; and a retranslation of Emile Dur ...more

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