Racism: A Very Short Introduction

Ali Rattansi, Visiting Professor of Sociology at City University, London, gives a thorough introduction to the subject of matter.

Considering the brief space of Very Short Introductions series, he makes the most of it to provide the reader with a context of analysing and understanding Racism. 

The first chapters, which are the most interesting for me, deal with the history and development of the concept of Racism. 
A brief historical look delineates the development of the concept of Racism, from its rather doubtful existence in the ancient past, to the Scientific Racism following the Enlightnement in the West.

It is at this point that a more systematic approach to Racism augments previous identifications of colour, negative stereotyping of black people and proto-ethnic identities into a more coherent world view, that finds its most extreme expression in Ιmperialism, Eugenics and the Holocaust. 

The historical overview is very helpful in understanding how Race, class, gender and power seem all to get interwined into the creation of racism. Racism has been a useful way for people to classify their environment - a feature especially of the rationality of the Enlightnement - and justify their position of power and its extention upon others. 

The author goes on to make a case against Scientific Racism, and provides a number of arguments refuting the claim that white people are inherently superior to others. Instead, he places the main reason for black people's and minorities' disadvantage into the abhorent, centuries-old socio-economic situation they found themselves in the Colonies and Europe. It is interesting to read that, in refuting claims that black people's IQ is lower than white's in the USA, black people in Northern States were found to have higher IQ than Southern whites, or that black people living in Bermuda achieved an IQ score similar to the US White. 

The author goes on framing the debate of what constitutes Racism today. He identifies ambivalence and contradiction in racist behaviour and into identity itshelf. He makes a differentiation into what used to be a more obvious, 'Hard' Racism and what he calls Racialization. In an environment where racist behaviour is not acceptable, what makes for racist behaviour might be more difficult to identify. The identification of the quality of Essentialism (i.e. that there is an unchanging essence that goes beyond time and space) could be a helpful guide in that aspect.

In concluding the essay, it is worth his noting that, despite the condemnation of racism in public, the socio-economic forces of our time -e.g. globalisation, the decay of industrial sites in the West, populism - make for the strengthening of racist behaviour.

In short, a good brief framing on the topic, and a platform upon which further reading could follow.
208 pages 
Oxford University Press, 2007
£4.55 on Amazon.co.uk
ISBN: 0192805908

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