Racecraft: Race, Society, and Superstition
“Race is a social construction” is something we commonly hear and say. Yet, biological ideas of race remain firmly rooted in our practices and discourse. Take, for example, the legal and customary categorization of race by phenotype. Or, the growing appeal of genetic testing for ancestry. The reason, according to Karen and Barbara Fields, is racecraft—a constantly reiterated set of practices that misconstrue racism for race. Racecraft is the attachment to alleged inherent qualities of groups, whether grounded in genes or values, and the corresponding disregard for the larger context in which those qualities are conjured in the first place. The allusion to “witchcraft” is no accident. Like magic, the significance of race doesn’t depend on the (non-existing) evidence; it’s the belief in race that is the source of its social and political power. But how did racecraft arise? How does it operate? And what can we do to break such a powerful spell?
In this course, we’ll discuss in depth such a conflation of race with racism as the “social alchemy” characterizing racecraft. Over four weeks, we’ll explore essays from the Fields sisters’ Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, probing the Fields’s innovative concept, reconsidering the idea of race as a social construction, analyzing racecraft’s shifts historically and across geographical space, and considering alternatives to ingrained race-thinking. Together, we’ll ask: How does racecraft differ from traditional notions of racism? What do the intimate ties between race and racism say about race as an analytical category? What historical events and institutions have contributed to the development and perpetuation of racecraft in the U.S.? How can racecraft help us contest the claims of an alleged post-racial society? How does racecraft help us understand cultural racism? To what extent does the concept of racecraft, and the related assertion that race doesn’t exist, conflict with conversations about Blackness and racial pride? How does the concept of racecraft intersect with other social constructs or categories, such as gender, class, and ethnicity? How does historical and sociological research support racecraft? How does the conjuring of race inhibit the eradication of inequality and racism? Supplementary readings will both complement and challenge Fields’s arguments and may draw on the works of Michael Omi, Howard Winant, Paul Gilroy, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, W.E.B. DuBois, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Stuart Hall, among others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 12 — October 03, 2023