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Racism

1999
Author:

Albert Memmi
Translated by Steve Martinot
Introduction by Steve Martinot
Foreword by Kwame Anthony Appiah

Racism

An eminent social analyst examines the way racism works--and how it can be overcome.

Racism: It is social, not “natural”; it is general, not “personal”; and it is tragically effective. In a remarkable meditation on a subject at the troubled center of American life, Albert Memmi investigates racism as social pathology-a cultural disease that prevails because it allows one segment of society to empower itself at the expense of another. By turns historical, sociological, and autobiographical, Racism moves beyond individual prejudice and taste to engage the broader questions of collective behavior and social responsibility.

The kind of in-depth, critical-theoretical exposition too often missing or marginalized in contemporary sociology.

Contemporary Sociology

An eminent social analyst examines the way racism works-and how it can be overcome.

Racism: It is social, not “natural”; it is general, not “personal”; and it is tragically effective. In a remarkable meditation on a subject at the troubled center of American life, Albert Memmi investigates racism as social pathology-a cultural disease that prevails because it allows one segment of society to empower itself at the expense of another. By turns historical, sociological, and autobiographical, Racism moves beyond individual prejudice and taste to engage the broader questions of collective behavior and social responsibility.

The book comprises three sections-“Description,” “Definition,” and “Treatment”-in which Memmi delineates racism’s causes and hidden workings, examines its close affinity to colonialism, and considers its everyday manifestations over a period of centuries throughout the West.

For Memmi, the structure of racism has four “moments”: the insistence on difference; the negative valuation imposed on those who differ; the generalizing of this negative valuation to an entire group; and the use of generalization to legitimize hostility. Memmi shows how it is not racism’s content-which can change at will-but its form that gives it such power and tenacity.

Born in a poor section of Tunis, Tunisia, a Jew among Muslims, an Arab among Europeans, Memmi brings his own experience of the complex contours of prejudice to his analysis of a problem that divides societies the world over. Writing in the tradition of Frantz Fanon, Memmi redirects debates about racism-and offers a rare chance for progress against social prejudice.

ISBN 0-8166-3164-6 Cloth £27.50 $39.95xx
ISBN 0-8166-3165-4 Paper £11.00 $15.95x
176 Pages 4 3/4 x 7 1/2 December
Translation inquiries: Editions Gallimard

Racism

Albert Memmi is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Paris, Nanterre, and the author of numerous books, including The Colonizer and the Colonized, The Pillar of Salt, and Portrait of a Jew.

Steve Martinot is an independent scholar who lives in the Bay Area and teaches at San Francisco State University.

Racism

The kind of in-depth, critical-theoretical exposition too often missing or marginalized in contemporary sociology.

Contemporary Sociology

Memmi’s book remains a provoking and intelligent attempt to tackle a burning issue. Translated fluently into English and shorn of jargon, it is a book everyone who wants to understand the world she lives in should read.

Interventions

“The great contribution of Memmi’s book is his care in distinguishing the different ways of thinking about racism. This translation should be an especially welcome addition to the literature on racism in English. . . . Memmi’s project is not just the analysis of racism, not just a project of definition, but also an intervention in the politics of anti-racism, offering us not just a sense of what racism is but also some tools with which to combat it. His starting point here is the fact that heterophobia is ‘the most widely shared attitude in the world.’ He urges us, first, to be conscious of racism, in ourselves as in others: disarming our own racism is, he says, ‘the first step, the price to be paid in advance.’ Second, he urges that, just because heterophobia arises naturally through the psychosocial processes he has described, we must continually be educating people to resist it. And third, because racism has an institutional life, it requires an institutional (which is to say political) response. In the work of self-criticism, and of anti-racist education and politics, Memmi’s work can be an important manual, a companion in what he calls the ‘infinite task’ of ‘the struggle against racism’ that is ‘the condition of our collective social health.’” From the foreword