Date March 14, 2024
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Tricia Rose and ‘Metaracism:’ Unpacking the complexities of racism in housing, education and more

A leading voice on race in the U.S., the Brown University scholar shared insights from her new book, “Metaracism,” at a talk organized by Brown’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In her new book, Tricia Rose explores how policies and practices in areas ranging from education to criminal justice interconnect to create and sustain adverse outcomes for Black individuals and other people of color.

Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives — and How We Break Free,” was published by Basic Books earlier this month. Rose, a professor of Africana studies and director of Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, discussed the book on campus on Thursday, March 14, kicking off a series organized by CSREA to highlight the topical published works by faculty members and invited guests.

A pioneering scholar who has authored books on topics ranging from hip-hop and women’s sexuality to Black popular culture, Rose’s latest work analyzes systemic racism by examining U.S. policies, along with the experiences of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Kelley Williams-Bolar, three highly publicized cases of injustice against Black people. The book stemmed from her teaching and scholarship at Brown, she said, and several students assisted with research.

“I suppose that it [writing the book] would have happened anywhere else, but it wouldn’t have come into being in the same way,” Rose said. “I don’t think it would have been driven by the kind of support, but also the critical engagement and open-minded thinking that you see in Brown’s intellectual and social culture.”

After offering remarks on the book in Brown’s Metcalf Research Building, Rose engaged in a Q&A session with Professor of Sociology Prudence Carter and answered questions from the audience. The following passages are edited excerpts from her talk.  

On the book’s origins…

It began [around 2005] as a bit of a classroom conundrum… I was teaching a course about life in the city. We take three cities [and look at] the cultural, the political and the sociological — and how they work together — to talk about different sort of factors that are bringing Black culture in the 20th century into a kind of urban consciousness. And then somehow, we got to the ’70s and ’80s in one particular city, and the students were very skeptical about this notion that racism [still] existed.

Now, they didn't have any questions about the ’20s and ’30s, the ’40s, the ’50s, not even the ’60s. They said, ‘Well, you know, we changed the laws. Now we have affirmative action and now you know, racism is over.’ And I'm like, ‘Well, what makes you think that?’ So I began trying to figure out: How can I explain how systemic racism works? What I was trying to do is explain that you're looking at a multi-faceted set of practices and policies that interconnect with one another, in such a way that they produce [inequality], both in any point in time, and over time. We’re going to have significant repercussions depending on the intention and purpose of the system. So how do you show those connections?

On the book’s purpose …

I’m hoping it will be helpful in thinking about the degree to which we can live in a profoundly disjointed… moment in which we have significant… examples of institutionalized systemic racism operating across many elements of society. And yet we have the complete denial of that practice as the basis of retracting and reversing a whole half-century of efforts to undermine its existence. So we’re reproducing more of it under the pretense that it doesn’t exist. Because you couldn’t say we’re a meritocracy. You can’t say that everybody goes to jail to the same degree, [for example]. My hope is that this book will somehow dislodge the comfort with which we operate on top of this system, in ways that I think are profoundly disturbing, not only on the emotional level but on a political level.

On her research …

Over several years, I examined policies in four key areas of society: housing, education, criminal justice and lending. Policies and practices in these areas are critically important in that they can either enhance or deplete stability, opportunity, economic growth and community well-being. They go a long way toward determining who does and who doesn’t gain access to affordable and safe housing, high-quality, well-resourced schools, public safety designed to protect and respect the community, and affordable credit for buying homes, building businesses and other investments, such as paying for higher education.

My initial interest was to consider how important policies in each of these areas contributed to or depleted individual and community well-being. And then I began to ask a set of questions that are not usually asked simultaneously: What is the language of these policies? And then what are the outcomes for Black people in particular? That allowed me to see points of connection and interconnection that are not visible if you ask the question of a policy on its own.

Among the [approximately 100] policies I examined were ‘stop and frisk,’ the war on drugs, the G.I. Bill, school punishment policies, using property taxes as a base for school funding, etc. What did I find? In virtually every policy I studied, I found that whites were afforded advantages, and Black people were saddled with disadvantages. In other words, they were identifiable as parts of the system. Not only did they interconnect, but they did so in ways that intensify the negative impact on Black people in multiple and reverberating directions.

On her hope for the book’s impact …

I see this work as having the potential… to enable a paradigm shift. And once you have a different way of seeing the facts around you — and now they tell a very different story — I think that will be very generative for producing different kinds of critiques and generating different kinds of solutions.