Not Oprah’s Book Club: Fatal Invention

Cover of Fatal Invention, black and white with a genome as the graphicDorothy Roberts’ new book seeks to prove a controversial premise: “In less academic terms: race is the product of racism; racism is not the product of race.”

Roberts, a well-established and highly regarded professor of law is the right person for this daunting task. In Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century, she takes on the idea of biological race and breaks down exactly how this concept falls apart under closer inspection.

I’m still grappling with how important this book is, and how necessary challenging these ideas of race and biology are in today’s world.

She explains exactly what is at stake:

To this day, the delusion that race is a biological inheritance rather than a political relationship leads plenty of intelligent people to make the most ludicrous statements about black biological traits. Worse yet, this delusion permits a majority of Americans to live in perfect comfort with a host of barbaric practices and conditions that befall blacks primarily–infants deaths at numbers worse than developing countries, locking up children in adult prisons for life, the highest incarceration rate in the history of the free world–and still view their country as a bastion of freedom and equality for all.

As a legal scholar and a talented writer, Roberts is able to walk us through bit by bit the history and development of racial theory and racial science, and break down these ideas each step of the way. She provides the thoroughness of a true academic and scholar, with the accessibility of a journalist and writer.

A definite must read. You can learn more about the book at The New Press, or purchase through Powell’s Books.

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  • Ariadne

    I need to read this book. Honestly, I thought everyone knew that race as it is imagined in society is a cultural construct, but I’m also an Anthropologist so …

    But she’s totally right. I had a paper wherein race or the appearance and construction of race was one of the primary subjects. Defining race took multiple citations and a lot of mental gymnastics. I think I finally ended up with two or three definitions. Race as popularly understood is entirely fictional with no physical or genetic basis. Race as ethnicity is also largely imagined but has to do with political self-identification as opposed to heritable traits. Finally, race as a physically tracable phenomenon is visually indistinct and includes so many groupings and traits that it is not useful culturally. That is within a single largely homogenous population such as Koreans or Yayoi Japanese there are already hundreds of “races” or trait groupings. Often this has only to do with migration and can be obliterated with a bottleneck or interbreeding so not only is it really hard to define but constantly changing.

    Unfortunately, science is often asked to act as an apologia for culture or scientists will allow bias to obscure their interpretation or … the public will simply fail to objectively interpret the results themselves. So … yes race exists but no it does not exist the way we typically think of it and is by no means indicative of hierarchy or ability and it does not excuse the tremendous injustices suffered by those deemed to be of the wrong “race.”

    The human brain will attempt to categorize information so to an extent this is why we believe in race as a cultural construct, but really the blame falls societally and economically.

  • Wensie

    Downloading to Kindle now