Sports writer reviews new book “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America”

Not too many football columns include a book review of a new book on the social construction of race:

This emerging theory is reflected in a book about to be released, “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America,” by Jacqueline Jones, a highly regarded University of Texas historian. Your columnist just finished an advance copy, and was impressed — the volume may have a lasting impact on American thought.

Jones persuasively argues that the wealthy and powerful of previous centuries were obsessed with holding back the poor. Pretending blacks represent a different “race” than whites created an excuse, she contends, for the well-off to mistreat blacks; and also a lever to prevent poor blacks and poor whites from joining in common cause. Whites “fashioned their own identity by contrasting themselves to blacks,” Jones writes, ingraining the concept that skin color is somehow fundamentally different from all the other cosmetic distinctions among persons, then using the biases to prevent blacks from achieving the education and economic power that would disprove racial assumptions.

“A Dreadful Deceit” is one of those books that may succeed more because it coincides with developments in public thought, than because of being a great work. Jones employs the “storytelling” structure that is all the rage in academia, which posits that because minorities and women of the past were marginalized, they can be understood only through their personal narratives. This may be true; the trouble is that for every personal narrative of oppression, there is a personal narrative of someone who was not mistreated. Grand themes of history, one of which Jones claims to have discovered, need more than anecdotes, however compelling. Jones also comes perilously close to contending, “Race is an imaginary concept for which the white race should be blamed.”…

Such faults aside, “A Dreadful Deceit” may put into the national conversation the notion that categorizing by “race” is an obsolescent idea. Skin color tells nothing more about a person than eye color; there is simply one human race. That is a powerful, progressive idea.

Sounds like an interesting book. However, I wonder if it could be used to justify a color blind view: if everyone is more or less the same genetically, why talk about race at all? Even if race is socially constructed, it continues to have real ramifications.

On a separate note, I must say I enjoy sports writers who can also converse intelligently about a broad range of academic topics. Gregg Easterbrook does this quite well but most do not. Bill Simmons has too much pop culture and often acts like he wants to be viewed as smart rather than actually is learned. The typical big-city newspaper columnist will often make reference to social issues but does so in a ham-handed way. Think Rick Reilly who often uses personal narratives to try to make a bigger point. Too often, sports writers acts like sports are the main things that matter – and the rest of life supports it.

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