Joe R. Feagin, Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations

By C, John | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Joe R. Feagin, Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations


C, John, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Joe R. Feagin, Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations

Does anyone in the United States today believe that racism, especially against African Americans, is embedded in almost all activities of the American people? That this malignant prejudice, there before the American Revolution, became an integral part of the American Constitution, which even today serves to discriminate against African Americans effectively making it well nigh impossible for them to compete equally with whites? And would any white American today agree that virtually all Euro-Americans now benefit most unfairly in very material ways from their "unearned income,' received not only during the slave era, but subsequently and up to the present?

Very few white Americans will buy these arguments, but Joe R. Feagin, professor and current president of the American Sociological Association persuasively makes the case in Racist Americans: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. What Feagin finds most cancerous is that white Americans know that all this and more is true, but refuse to admit it -- some on the pretense of ignorance, and others out of the sheer fear of somehow losing their privileged status. Better then to pretend that African Americans and other racial minorities are in subordinate positions due to their innate inferiority.

One could conclude that the situation is hopeless for black people. However, Feagin believes that if white Americans are persuasively shown through a "pluralistic analysis of oppression," that they have always been privileged, then their attitudes and our systems of oppression will change. This is the purpose of his book.

With stunning clarity, Feagin demonstrates that most white Americans have enriched themselves at the expense of black people, from the slave trader and slave holder, and the entrepreneurs who made fortunes in trading the products of slave labor, through those who profited from cheap African American labor after slavery, to those who even today prevent African Americans from competing fairly for part of America's wealth. No wonder then, that by 1995 the median net worth of white households was $61,000, more than eight times that of black households at $7400.

The book is filled with numerous other examples of the alarming inequality racism has spawned, and Feagin concludes that "white-on-black oppression is a comprehensive system of exploitation and oppression originally designed by white Americans for black Americans, a system of racism that for centuries has penetrated every major area of American society and thus shaped the lives of every American, black and non-black." Even in the medical practice, as the New England Journal of Medicine recently reported, African American lung cancer patients, compared to whites, were less likely to receive the best surgical care.

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