Racecraft

Karen E. Fields, Barbara J. Fields

This was my first book from Verso, who was a publisher I've always wanted to read books from by the basis of their catalogue, but could never quite grant the occasion. Seeing the pictured passage from Racecraft piqued by interest enough to finally prompt a book, or six.

This book concerns the subject of the race-racism evasion, an ever-present rhetorical sleight-of-hand employed by both individual racists and racist superstructures, “through which immoral acts of discrimination disappear, and then reappear camouflaged as the victim’s alleged difference.” Upon first groking the concept, I was reminded of the passage from Jean-Paul Sartre's Réflexions in which he pondered the “bad faith” employed by the anti-semites of World War 2. Those old, antiquated passages highlighted the seeming futility in trying to argue, disprove, or even constructively persuade against unserious sophists who indulge in public displays of racism throughout various online and media fora in the name of accumulating social capital.

The problem in relying on Sartre as an attempted antidote (or even basic defense) to the sophistry employed racism and antisemitism, is that no matter how much any individual racist person might act with disregard towards large groups of people they've already decided a priori to be unworthy of respect, the societal-level superstructures of racism could not simply amount to those multiple individuals as an aggregate. Capitalism and colonialism are not unserious affairs, thus it is wrong to assume they have any also-unserious underlying basis. Despite that, there still is some means through which this form of sophistry exits the realm of “playfulness” and begins having actual effects on unwilling peoples, to the point of predator and prey. Once it passes this threshold, Sartre's initially-useful warnings about bad faith can no longer account for everything these machinations will beget, and antisemitism becomes so pervasive in social structures that even those outside of Sartre's “antisemitic” profile would become forced into acting “antisemitic” themselves.

The Fields Sisters proffer their theory of racecraft, which I interpreted in attempt to make up for Sartre's shortcomings. It's an impressive and well-researched work, but as I read it, I couldn't but feel some kind of helplessness. For every well-calculated step it takes forward, there is a risk of another step backward, and perhaps for spurious reasons. That very clear first moment in which prompts the act of racism can really only be justified in the long term by “witchcraft,” as the Fields would put it. Despite their logic flowing rather well on the basis of theirs being a historical subject—the past is a different country, they do things differently there—I wondered if those accusations of witchcraft weren't themselves just using it as a means towards narcissistic sophistry. Even if bullshit might be subject to clearly-observable rules and conventions, as the Fields take great pains to illustrate, the frustration nonetheless remains: it is still bullshit.


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