We need to talk about racism before it destroys our democracy. And that conversation needs to start with an acknowledgement that racism is coded into even the most ordinary interactions.
Every time we interact with another human being, we unconsciously draw on a set of expectations to guide us through the encounter. What many of us in the United States—especially white people—do not recognize is that centuries of institutional racism have inescapably molded those expectations. This leads us to act with implicit biases that can shape everything from how we greet our neighbors to whether we take a second look at a resume. This is tacit racism, and it is one of the most pernicious threats to our nation.
Tacit Racism, Anne Warfield Rawls and Waverly Duck illustrate the many ways in which racism is coded into the everyday social expectations of Americans, in what they call Interaction Orders of Race. They argue that these interactions can produce racial inequality, whether the people involved are aware of it or not, and that by overlooking tacit racism in favor of the fiction of a “color-blind” nation, we are harming not only our society’s most disadvantaged—but endangering the society itself.
Ultimately, by exposing this legacy of racism in ordinary social interactions, Rawls and Duck hope to stop us from merely pretending we are a democratic society and show us how we can truly become one.
Anne Warfield Rawls is professor of sociology at Bentley University, research professor of socio-informatics at the University of Siegen, Germany, and senior fellow with the Yale Urban Ethnography Project. She is the author of
Epistemology and Practice: Durkheim’s “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” and the editor of Harold Garfinkel’s works
Toward a Sociological Theory of Information;
Seeing Sociologically; and
Waverly Duck is associate professor of sociology and director of urban studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of
No Way Out: Precarious Living in the Shadow of Poverty and Drug Dealing, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
“While many Americans continue to celebrate the collapse of the old Jim Crow order as a relic of the past,
Tacit Racism reminds us of the myriad ways that racism continues to influence everyday life in US society and represents what the authors describe as a ‘clear and present danger’ to American democracy today.”
— Joe William Trotter, Jr., author of Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America
Tacit Racism is a very, very important book. It will inform, challenge, disturb, and inspire. Anne Rawls and Waverly Duck bring to the project similar aptitudes for original research and theory joined by constructive differences—the one, Rawls, is a leading expert in applied ethnomethodology; the other, Duck, is a leader in the tradition of new ethnography. She is a bit more the philosopher; he the social theorist.
Tactic Racism plows the terrain from Du Bois to Garfinkel and Goffman and sows it with the seeds of rich interview data and compelling field work.”
— Charles Lemert, author of Dark Thoughts: Race and the Eclipse of Society