9 reviews on white privilege and racism in America

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Acharya, Avidit. Deep roots: how slavery still shapes southern politics, by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. Princeton, 2018. 280p bibl index ISBN 9780691176741, $29.95; ISBN 9781400889976 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2018

The South has often stood out as a counterpoint in the national melody, especially in the devotion of its white citizens to conservative politics and commitment to white supremacy. This volume argues that whites who live in those parts of the former Confederacy where the enslaved population was equal to or greater than the white population—the black belt counties and those running along the Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans—are persistent conservators of anti-black attitudes. They express themselves by voting against affirmative action and redistributive policies. Using statistical and historical evidence, the authors contend that this white supremacy persists due to intergenerational transfer of racial attitudes, demonstrating what social scientists call “path dependency.” Emancipation created the need to control black labor and limit black voting. White domination supported by ritual violence and Jim Crow justice necessitated constructing anti-black beliefs that persist to the present time, unaffected by migratory, economic, and educational shifts in the southern landscape. The distant past rather than contemporary issues, even when they are racially tinged, most strongly predicts white voting patterns in these locales. This model may explain other electoral anomalies outside the South. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —E. R. Crowther, emeritus, Adams State University

Gómez, Laura E. Manifest destinies: the making of the Mexican American race. 2nd ed. New York University, 2018. 285p bibl index ISBN 9781479882618, $89.00; ISBN 9781479894284 pbk, $26.00; ISBN 9781479835393 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2018

Debate over the term Latina/o’s becoming a racial category in the 2020 census is not new. As Gómez (UCLA) points out in her revised groundbreaking book, this debate over racial hierarchies has shaped the nation’s understanding of race and identity since 1848. Like the previous edition, the book focuses on the intersections of white supremacy and racial categories within the Mexican-American communities of the American Southwest, especially New Mexico. Gómez expands on her concept of “double colonization” by calling on readers to rethink American imperialism within the American Southwest and Latin America. She argues that colonization, especially the racialization of Mexican Americans and Latinas/os, has led to the reproduction of racism within the American Southwest and elsewhere. Furthermore, the book points out, this racism can be seen in the construction of racial formation between Mexican Americans and Latinas/os. To confront those issues in the time of Trump, Gómez points out that to move forward, Americans must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Finally, this revised edition broadens understanding of intersections of racial hierarchies, as Gómez reflects on current anti-immigrant rhetoric with new scholarly evidence from the fields of Chicana/o studies, Latina/o studies, and history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —L. H. Moreno, Bowling Green State University

Healing our divided society: investing in America fifty years after the Kerner Report, ed. by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis. Temple, 2018. 469p index ISBN 9781439916025, $99.50; ISBN 9781439916032 pbk, $24.95; ISBN 9781439916049 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2018

This collection of expert voices (Harris is the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission; Curtis is equally esteemed as an expert on this subject) brings powerful messages regarding the destructive consequences of the inequalities and discriminatory policies that shape life in the US. As an appraisal of contemporary injustice and inhumanity, the volume certainly stings. But because it contextualizes its detailed reporting and analysis with reference to the half-century-old report of the famous Kerner Commission, it also teaches sober lessons about the politics of change, the limits of conscience, and the subversive persistence of oppression. Attention to the racial divide is foremost, as the editors and authors grapple with the Kerner warning that separate and unequal societies—one white and one black—were becoming entrenched in the US. To explore evidence of economic disparities, educational gaps, housing restrictions, and criminal justice excesses in use of force and incarceration is to confront the enormity of race privilege, situated in a system of explosive class inequality, and the balance of gains versus setbacks since the Kerner response to urban violence is not encouraging. Yet just as the Kerner Commission urged the US to scale up programs with promise, this volume also delivers a dense package of recommendations based on proven progress from across the nation. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. Zingraff, James Madison University

Lipsitz, George. The possessive investment in whiteness: how white people profit from identity politics. 20th anniversary ed. Temple, 2018. 359p index ISBN 9781439916384, $91.50; ISBN 9781439916391 pbk, $341.95; ISBN 9781439916407 ebook, $31.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2019

Lipsitz’s 20th-anniversary reissue has only shown how prescient and important this book was from first press. The book is predicated on the idea that race is a social fact, even though it is a biologic, cultural, and scientific fiction. White people benefit from their whiteness, and therefore have a vested interested in preserving racial hierarchies even when they appear to be tearing them down or instituting supposedly race-neutral policies and ideas. He argues that public policy and private prejudices mutually reinforce each other to develop an economic, social, and political value in being white and thus reify racial hierarchies. Placement on that hierarchy has implications for earnings, wealth, life expectancy, and well-being. Attempts to create a race-benign society cannot succeed without recognizing historical burdens. Weaving together literary references, scientific studies, and court cases, and using well-known contemporary events like Hurricane Katrina, police killings of young African-American men, the Charleston massacre, and many historical events that may be lesser known, he illustrates how white fear and failure are the sources for the development of ethnonationalism. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. A. Harper, York College

McRae, Elizabeth Gillespie. Mothers of massive resistance: white women and the politics of white supremacy. Oxford, 2018. 352p bibl index ISBN 9780190271718, $34.95; ISBN 9780190271725 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2018

McRae (Western Carolina Univ.) makes the compelling case that reducing massive resistance to a decade from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s obscures its political evolution and renders its activists reactionaries. The author shows that the politics of massive resistance developed over a period of several decades from the 1920s to the 1970s. Examining this resistance through the eyes of four southern white segregationists—Nell Battle Lewis, Florence Sillers Ogden, Mary Dawson Cain, Cornelia Dabney Tucker—McRae reveals that these women and their southern sisters were not isolated but rather part of a widespread political mobilization. Though initially these women publicly promoted the importance of maintaining de jure segregation and “white over black,” over time they came to emphasize other fears—e.g., communist subversion and runaway government control. As southern women adapted, they were able to cultivate relationships with other conservative activists across the US, but ideas of white supremacy always remained under the surface. For McRae, the forced busing controversies of the 1970s in various cities across the US brings home the idea of an expanded notion of massive resistance and the idea that racism in the US has been persistent and pervasive, occurring across vast periods of time and crossing regional boundaries. McRae deserves kudos for her extensive research. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —J. M. Richards, Gordon State College

McVeigh, Rory. The politics of losing: Trump, the Klan, and the mainstreaming of resentment, by Rory McVeigh and Kevin Estep. Columbia, 2019. 310p index ISBN 9780231190060, $32.00; ISBN 9780231548700 ebook, $31.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2019

In The Politics of Losing, McVeigh (Notre Dame) and Estep (Creighton Univ.) take up an ambitious task, making sense of the election of Donald Trump. In the process, they provide an informative assessment of white nationalism and its place in US politics over the past century. Employing a comparative frame, McVeigh and Estep juxtapose the historical circumstances driving the Ku Klux Klan with the social conditions contributing to Trump’s success in 2016. They argue that white nationalism, which they define as a mix of nativism and economic protectionism, animates these sociopolitical movements. They develop this argument across the book, not through gross generalization but through grounded analyses that draw on historical and social scientific methodologies. Individual chapters chart the rise of these movements a century apart, unpacking the economic, political, and social aspects of white nationalism anchoring them. Of special value here is the close reading of Trump’s electoral base and the centrality of loss and resentment to its mobilization to protect status and entitlement in a rapidly changing world. Throughout, the authors’ comparative lens reveals unnerving historical parallels that should give readers much to contemplate. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —C. R. King, Columbia College Chicago

Sherman, Rachel. Uneasy street: the anxieties of affluence. Princeton, 2017. 308p bibl index ISBN 9780691165509, $29.95; ISBN 9781400888504 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2018

This is an unusual book about wealthy people. More specifically, it considers how affluent individuals understand their privilege and negotiate the tension between their wealth and morality. Sherman (New School) conducted in-depth interviews with 50 parents in 42 households—all of them with annual household incomes greater than $250,000—in New York City. She finds that those individuals made sense of their wealth by convincing themselves that they were “good people”: they described themselves as hard workers; they wanted to be prudent consumers; and they felt obligated to “give back” to society. Moreover, to feel morally worthy and avoid entitlement, these rich New Yorkers had to work on their feelings—independence, modest desire, and appreciation—and were eager to pass these behaviors and values to their children. With rich ethnographic detail, this book reveals the often-hidden side of the economic elite: moral ambivalence. This exceptionally lucid book is a work of exemplary sociological imagination and deserves to be widely read. It is an ideal combination of social significance and qualitative skills that may also spark broad discussions and shape public attitudes about economic inequality. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. Li, Central China Normal University

Sullivan, Shannon. Good white people: the problem with middle-class white anti-racism. SUNY Press, 2014. 214p bibl index afp ISBN 9781438451688, $90.00; ISBN 9781438451695 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9781438451701 ebook, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2014

Sullivan (Penn State) bluntly warns that the anti-racist work of “good white people” may be doing more to impair the cause of racial justice than to promote it. She examines four insidious ways in which “white allies” perpetuate their own power and privilege. First, even as they self-righteously proclaim openness, white liberals reinstate otherness when they distance themselves from “white trash,” who are cast as provincial and unsophisticated. Second, good white people also construct white ancestors as monstrous “others” who justified the demonic system of antebellum slavery. Third, good white folks deny the present reality of white privilege by promoting the fantasy of “color-blindness.” And fourth, white liberals pretend to hold the moral high ground by sanctifying white guilt—even as they do nothing. Good white people must stop fleeing from being white, says Sullivan. She calls for critical acceptance (“self-love”) of whiteness—not in the sense of the racist exaltation of the white supremacist, but as critical self-examination that aims for spiritual racial health. With its highly sophisticated method and edgy straight talk, this provocative little book is required reading for anyone who aspires to destabilize racist systems of undeserved power and privilege. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —P. K. Steinfeld, Buena Vista University

Yancy, George. Backlash: what happens when we talk honestly about racism in America. Rowman & Littlefield, 2018. 147p index ISBN 9781538104057, $19.95; ISBN 9781538104064 ebook, $18.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2018

This is a timely account of how raising the issue of racism to a white public can bring out the worst of humanity: hate. Yancy is a noted African American philosopher who wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Dear White America,” which aimed to explain the reality of racism in North America, which is often unacknowledged by the majority of white America. This book is a broader response to the backlash, largely hateful, that he received after the op-ed was published, December 24, 2015. It is not an easy book to read, no matter what your cultural and racial heritage, because it is unutterably sad that we need such a book in 2018. But we do require such an analysis of racism, and its concomitant ally whiteness. It is ubiquitous and rather insidious in all forms of social life, from the White House to the trailer park. Yancy gives heartfelt, yet courageous, insight into how the vitriol from whites stirred his humanity to be proactive, and seek further ways to reach the unreachable. He accomplishes his task, to foster a path for reconciliation and redemptive love for those bold enough to listen. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. Christian, Lehman College