About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

#9: The Race Card

The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, by Richard Thompson Ford (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008).

Jacket Summary: "What do Katrina victims waiting for federal disaster relief, millionaire rappers buying vintage champagne, Ivy League professors waiting for taxis, and ghetto hustlers trying to find steady work have in common? All have claimed to be victims of racism. These days almost no one openly expresses racist beliefs or defends bigoted motives. So, many are victims of bigotry, but no one's a bigot? What gives? Either a lot of people are lying about their true beliefs and motivations, or a lot of people are jumping to unwarranted conclusions -- or just playing the race card. As the label of 'prejudice' is applied in more and more situations, the word loses a clear and agreed-upon meaning. This makes it easy for self-serving individuals and political hacks to use accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other types of bias to advance their own ends.

"Richard Thompson Ford, a Stanford Law School professor, brings sophisticated legal analysis, lively and eye-popping anecdotes, and plain old common sense to this heated topic. He offers ways to separate valid claims from bellyaching. Daring, entertaining, and incisive, The Race Card is a call for us to treat racism as a social problem that must be objectively understood and honestly evaluated."

Table of Contents:
  • Introduction - Playing the Race Card
  • 1 - Racism Without Racists
  • 2 - The Wild Card: Racism by Analogy
  • 3 - Calling a Spade a Spade: Defining Discrimination
  • 4 - The Clash of Ends: Contested Goals
  • 5 - Post-Racism: Why the Race Card Is a Crisis of Success
My Take: Interesting and more balanced than I expected, if a bit muddled in places. Based on the jacket flap I expected to find this book maddeningly inflammatory. It's actually not; it's a complex, well-reasoned exploration of what racism looks like and doesn't look like in 21st-century, allegedly post-racist America.

Having spent so much time working on The Perfect Review for Some Sing, Some Cry, I had to return this one and several others to the library before I finished the review, so I'm going to cop out: William Grimes's 2008 review from the New York Times is here, and provides a good overview for those so inclined.

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