2022 ONTD Reading Challenge discussion

Racism: A Short History
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2017 ♦️ARCHIVES♦️ February > Discussion post - Racism: A Short History (George M. Frederickson)

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message 1: by Lea (last edited Feb 04, 2017 07:37AM) (new) - added it

Lea | 327 comments Mod
Racism: A Short History - George M. Fredrickson

Rochelle and I are reading this (and hopefully more of you!) so here's a topic for us to discuss it!


Rochelle (rochestar) | 43 comments I'm in chapter one, and while I like it so far, his writing style kills me. I just want commas to separate these thoughts!! I have a feeling I'll be better able to articulate what racism is after reading so I'm gonna push through.


Rochelle (rochestar) | 43 comments Lea! I finished this today. How did it go for you?? Thoughts?


message 4: by Lea (new) - added it

Lea | 327 comments Mod
Omg, I'm still about halfway through, Rochelle! I'm actually liking the writing style (more accessible than I thought it would be), but since it's really the kind of book you gotta pay a lot of attention to and highlight and make notes, I haven't had a lot of time to devote completely to it.

The thoughts on Spanish antisemitism/racism (and how they were transported to the American colonies) were super interesting to me, but I was disappointed in the lack of mentions of Portugal or Brazil. When the author says, for example, "[...] from the very beginning of the settlement of the Americas, only those thought to be of pure Christian ancestry were permitted to join the ranks of the conquistadores and missionaries" - that does not apply to Portugal/Brazil at all, and we're a big part of the Americas! Many of the most important explorers/colonizers/traders/governors/administrators/landowners etc in Brazil were New Christians. In fact the very first governor was a convert, Fernão de Noronha. I feel like this is an important bit of history that should have been included.

What about you? Anything you particularly liked or disliked?


Rochelle (rochestar) | 43 comments Lea!!! I haven't forgotten you!! Last week was so hectic and I want to write a very thoughtful response to you. Hopefully I can find some time later today...


Rochelle (rochestar) | 43 comments Lea, I am finally able to spend some time properly sharing my thoughts with you!!

Thank you for letting me know about the oversight regarding the Brazilian context. I think it goes without saying that many scholarship excludes the Caribbean, Latin America, and South America. These regions remain understudied despite their incredibly rich and relevant histories. Of course, I am biased being I am from the Caribbean, but the point stills stands.

I have to say that I was overall very impressed by this book, especially given it is a very lofty undertaking. In my point of view, the strength of the book lies in Fredrickson highlighting the different ways leaders sought support for their racist ideas; from biology to religion to culture, the reasons were numerous. I was most taken by his discussion of religion and how it has been used in order to advance racist agendas. That religious leaders were called upon to search the Bible for religious justification of antisemitism and Black inferiority was striking. Of course, this was not necessarily new to me, but some of the finer points, like “the curse of Ham”, were not something I knew a great deal about. It’s funny because if anyone has a even a basic understanding of the Bible, the story of Ham, or simply how the bloodlines evolved, they would see that this example was not a good one. But, as we know, racism is senseless and illogical, so every argument made in support of it will undoubtedly be a weak one.

I was also taken by his discussion of cultural essentialism and how this serves function similar to biological racism. The epilogue did a great job showing the muddiness in definitions of racism. Is it racism, religious intolerance, xenophobia, racialism, etc.? He does a good job unpacking each of these concepts, how they differ from one another, and offers, I think successfully, a working definition of racism. The idea that the racism needs to contain two components: 1) a view that the races are inherently and unchangeably different, and 2) that this difference gives license to exclude/ render one group inferior is really a strong woking definition for me. I’m eager to see what you think. And again, when thinking about religion, I really think he made a good distinction when he talked about conversion, and if conversion is a legitimate option, then this is not a pure form of racism.

I actually wished he spent more time talking about color-coded racism, especially in the South African context, but even in his sections on the Jim Crow South, even though this latter context was decently explained. I feel the sections on antisemitism were very well-developed, but this other form of racism was not given as throughout of a treatment. Relatedly, he tried really hard not to make one form of racism seem greater (or worse) than the other, but I feel that there could be a case made for color-coded racism being much more destructive, especially given it functions across and within minority communities (i.e. colorism, and pigmentocracy). Does this make sense? I did find some of his discussion on Nazi Germany a little weak, especially in his articulation of the Jewish people as economic scapegoats for Hitler. I feel others have done a better job presenting this argument and his felt a little rushed, but sufficient given this pace of the book.

I will need to read this book again to get an even better understanding of some of his points. Maybe some of my above comments reflect a still limited understanding of his work. Nevertheless, I feel this book is an important one and will serve as a good reference for me, especially in conversations with those who do not understand that power is an essential component of racism, and that racism is not and cannot be something as simple as one race treating another another poorly.

Have you finished yet?


message 7: by Lea (new) - added it

Lea | 327 comments Mod
Rochelle, thank you for that wonderful commentary!

I agree that his definition of the elements of racism is very interesting, I think it works very well. When he mentioned the conversion aspect, I was reminded that I have a book at home called A Suitable Enemy, by Liz Fekete, which I haven't read yet, but is supposed to talk about "xeno-racism", linking racism to islamophobia and anti-imigration sentiment. It'll be interesting to contrast both author's ideas.

I still have a little bit left on this book though!


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