Friday, November 13, 2015

Noel A. Cazenave's "Conceptualizing Racism"

Noel A. Cazenave is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. In addition to many journal articles, book chapters, and other publications, he coauthored Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card against America’s Poor, which won five book awards, and has more recently published Impossible Democracy: The Unlikely Success of the War on Poverty Community Action Programs and The Urban Racial State: Managing Race Relations in American Cities. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled Killing African Americans: Police and Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism.

Cazenave applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Conceptualizing Racism: Breaking the Chains of Racially Accommodative Language, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Conceptualizing Racism begins with an epigraph quote from Humpty Dumpty’s great fall but concludes that instead of just falling he was, indeed, pushed. Here that story is a metaphor for what happened to the large and robust definition of “racism” as systemic--that was forced into the discourse of American social sciences and the larger society of which they are a part by the civil rights movement in the 1960s but by the late 1970s, due to the increasingly institutionalized white backlash, was largely supplanted by much smaller, more ambiguous, and less controversial conceptualizations of “race.”

Almost any randomly selected part of Conceptualizing Racism reveals similar language battles that have occurred throughout American history over whose conceptualization of race and racism prevails. Through its own linguistic racial confrontation challenges to the racial status quo of linguistic racial accommodation it exposes the role language plays in the building, maintenance, and dismantlement of systemic racism in the United States and other highly racialized societies. Consistent with this premise Conceptualizing Racism both begins and ends with just two words, words matter!

Words matter when African Americans who are unwilling to have their children killed by angry police and vigilantes as if their lives don’t count are able to push their bold and strangely necessary “Black Lives Matter!” movement proclamation through the white backlash that attempts to silence them and their legitimate concerns by shouting back racially accommodative language like “All Lives Matter!” And they matter when we cannot even have serious discussions of systemic “racism” because that issue is clouded by power and racism-evasive terminology like “race” or “the race issue.”

Conceptualizing Racism offers a provocative, language-centered, critique of American sociology and the other social sciences and their complicity in protecting the larger society they depend on for funding and legitimacy as a profession by providing undersized and fuzzy conceptualizations of what is happening racially that in one way or another misdirect attention away from the nation’s serious systemic white racism problem. After having cleared the discursive field of such distracting analytical debris it then reveals its tool chest of useful concepts for the building of a viable, interdisciplinary, racism studies.

In these and other ways Conceptualizing Racism is an invaluable resource for those who dare speak truth to the power of systemic racism.
Learn more about Conceptualizing Racism at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue