You are on page 1of 5

Radical History Review

History of Racism in the United States

Sundiata Cha-Jua
University of Missouri at Columbia
Spring 1992

This course focuses predominantly on the relationship between African

Americans and European-Americans. It examines the origin and develop
ment of racial domination from the European slave trade to the present.
Equal attention will be given to the antiracist movement. Central to this
course is understanding the process of racialization or the making of races.
Race is therefore analyzed as a socio-historical concept, rather than as a
biological reality. The concepts of color prejudice, ethnocentrism, and xeno-
phobia will be distinguished from racism.
Student discussion is the primary form of instruction. Each class section
will consist of a student analysis of a section of the readings, and a student
critique of that student's analysis. The presentation/critique will be followed
by a student-led discussion of all the assigned readings. Occasionally, the
professor or a guest will lecture.
Each week students will submit a six-page reaction paper critiquing the
reading assignments. These papers are worth twenty-five points. A final
paper based on primary sources will be due at the end of the semester. This
paper can be either an examination of a racist or an antiracist individual,
organization, event or movement.
Graduate students will attend only the first hour of class and will meet
collectively with me for another hour and a half. Graduate students are
responsible for the undergraduate assignments with two differences: your
final paper will be a thirty-page annotated bibliography of twenty journal
articles; and you will do additional readings.

Course Objectives
This course has five objectives as follows: To survey the history of American
race relations; to examine the relationship between capitalism and racism; to
study the origin and historical development in racism in both its structural
and idealogical aspects; to examine the structural and immediate causes of
racial violence; and to study antiracist resistance.

The title of a popular song came to mind as I prepared this assessment of the

Published by Duke University Press

Radical History Review


course on racism which I taught in the winter semester of 1992. As the song's
refrain states, "everything must change," so predictably, in practice, the
course deviated from the syllabus. Four factors influenced alterations in the
teaching of the class. The first, and most significant change involved the
composition of the class. Initially, the course was designed to attract an equal
number of undergraduate students pursuing a minor in Black Studies and
students majoring in History, but it was quickly transformed into a joint
undergraduate and graduate seminar. The addition of graduate students
(mainly Euro-Americans) had a dramatic effect on the racial dynamics in the
class. The condescending manner in which a couple of "progressive" white
graduate students dismissed the work of Black scholars served to illustrate
the ambivalent attitudes of the liberal-left toward people of African descent.
It was also disturbing to see that the ideas of melanin-theory zealots held a
strong attraction for African-American students. I was reminded of C.L.R.
James' comment on the difficulty of building interracial solidarity. James wrote:
"Black/white unite and fight' is unimpeachable in principle and undoub-
tedly has an excellent sound. But it is often misleading and sometimes even
offensive in the face of the infinitely varied, tumultuous, passionate, and
often murderous reality of race in the United States."
The classroom revealed the complexity of race relations as students met
each other simultaneously as individual seekers of knowledge and under-
standing and as representatives of hostile race camps.
The reduction of the undergraduates' writing assignments from weekly
to biweekly due dates constituted the second alteration of the syllabus. This
change alleviated student anxiety with workload, and facilitated comparison
and contrast of readings on different themes. Consequently, the emphasis in
the students' papers shifted from summary to critical analysis.
Third, due to the intensity of the initial presentations-critiques, I experi-
mented with discussion format. We finally settled on a short summary and
analysis of the readings by several students followed by a critical discussion
of them. Unfortunately, due to students' failure to keep u p with the readings,
I found myself lecturing more than facilitating class discussion.
Fourth, we altered the class schedule to take advantage of the visit of
Malik Simba, Associate Professor of History and Afro-American Studies at
Fresno State University to campus. Dr. Simba gave an excellent talk on the
historical development of conservatism among African Americans. We also
used the last two class meetings to discuss the events surrounding the rebel-
lion in Los Angeles. This discussion led to four students surveying 100 Black
and white students concerning their reaction to the King verdict and the
In sum, it was a worthwhile experience. The students were exposed to a

Published by Duke University Press

Radical History Review


wide range of primary documents and interpretations of the origin, develop

ment and structure of racism. I learned that the seminar format truly is not
conducive to mixing undergraduate and graduate students. Finally, I think
all the participants learned not only new material and perspectives, but that
each one of us was forced to reexamine our views of race and how class and
gender intersected with it.

Required Texts
St. Clair Drake, Black Folk Here and There.
F. James Davis, Who is Black?: One Nation's Definition.
Stanley B. Greenberg, Race and State in Capitalist Development.
David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American
Working Class.
George M. Fredrickson, The Black Zmage in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-
American Character and Destiny, 2827-1 924.
Herbert Shapiro, White Violenceand Black Response: From Reconstruction to
William J. Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing
American Institutions.
Thomas D. Boston, Race, Class, and Conservatism.
Frances Cress Welsing, 7'he lsis Papers: The Keys to the Colors.
Stanley Feldstein, ed.,The Poison Tongue: A Documentary History of American
Racism and Prejudice.

January 23

January 30
I. What is Race and the Origin of Racism?
Drake, Black Folk, 1-114; Greenberg, Race 6 State in Capitalist Development:
Comparative Perspectives, 5-50; Frances Cress Welsing, The Isis Papers, 1-17; and
Oliver C. Cox, Caste, Class and Race, 321-45.
Graduate Students: Paul Liem and Eric Montague (ed.) "Toward a Marxist
Theory of Racism: Two Essays by Harry Chang," Review of Radical Political
Economics (Vol. 17, No. 3): 34-45; A1 Szymanski, "The structure of Race," Review
of Radical Political Economics (Vol. 17, No. 3): 106-20; and Marci Green and Bob
Carter, "'Races' and 'Race-makers': The Politics of Racialization," Sage Race
Abstracts (Vol. 13, NO.2): 4-30.

February 6
11. The American Racial Formation
Documents: The Slave Code of Virginia; The Slave Code of New York; and "A
Rebuttal to the Selling of Joseph," in Stanley Feldstein (ed.) The Poison Tongue: A
Documenta ry History of American Racism and Prejudice: 25-37.
Readings: Barbara J. Fields, "Ideology and Race in American History," in (ed.)
J. Morgan Kousser and James McPherson, Region, Race and Reconstruction: 143-

Published by Duke University Press

Radical History Review


177;Thomas Holt, "Reflection on Race-Making and Racist Practice: Toward a

Working Hypothesis," The Newbery Seminar in American Social Histoy 1991: 1-
25;and Davis, Who is Black?

February 13
David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness:Race and the Making o f the American
Working Class, 3-64; Welsing, The Isis Pape~s:53-59.A Documentary History of
American Racism, 46-66.

February 18
Meeting with Prof. Weems. Seminar in Afro-American History, Guest Lec-
turer: Dr.Robin Kelley, associate professor of history and Afro-American
studies, University of Michigan.

February 20
Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness,65-184;and Greenberg, Race b State in
Capitalist Development, 273437,328-55.

February 27
George Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-
American Character and Destiny, 1817-2924,l-164; A Documentary History of
American Racism, 77-114.

March 5
Frederickson, The Bfuck Image in the White Mind, 165-332;and Herbert Shapiro,
White Violenceand Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery, 30-63;
Welsing, The Isis Papers, 93-101.

March 12
Greenberg, Race & State in Capitalist Development,5349,107-25;129-47;209-42;
385-410;Shapiro, White Violenceand Black Response, 93-157;A Documentary His-
tory of American Racism, 167-208.

111. Race, Racism and Class in Lute CapitafistAmerica

March 19
Shapiro, White Violenceand Black Response, 161-300;and William J. Wilson, The
Declining Significance of Race, 1-87.

April 2
Shapiro, White Violence and Black Response, 301-470; Wilson, The Declining
Significance of Race, 88-182;Documents: A Documentary History of American
Racism, 288-330.
Graduate Students: Kenneth Nuebeck and Jack L. Roach, "Racism and
Poverty Policies," in Benjamin Browser and Raymond G. Hunt (eds.) Impacts
of Racism on White Americans: 153-64; Michael Reich, 'The Economic Impact
of Racism in the Postwar Period,'' in Impacts of Racism on White Americans:
165-76; and Philip V. White, "Race Against Time: The Role of Racism in U.S.
Foreign Relations,'' in Impacts of Racism on White Americans, 177-89.

Published by Duke University Press

Radical History Review


April 9
Thomas D. Boston, Race, Class & Consmatism, 1-53; Louis V. Kushnick,
"Racism and Class Consciousness in Modem Capitalism," in Impacts of Racism,

April 16
Boston, Race, Class & Consmafism,53-159.

April 23
Welsing, The lsis Papers, 81-92;and 119-301.

April 30 and May 7

Class Presentations

Published by Duke University Press