Anti-Racism Reading Group #1: Racial Projects

In an effort to hold myself accountable to better anti-racism theory and practice, I’ve started hosting an anti-racism reading group for health practitioners in the Seattle area. In this series, I’d like to share both these readings and some of the discussion. 

For the first meeting of the anti-racism reading group, we read a selection from Racial Formation In The United States by Michael Omi and Howard Winant. You can download a PDF of this selection here.

In this section, the authors describe race as existing in the interaction between 1) social structures which organize society by race and 2) the cultural representations and experiences of race. Racial projects is the term given to the mediators of this interaction.

We began our discussion by sharing what our own definitions of race and racism have been. Earlier in the book, the authors describe how race deceptively presents itself a “common sense” idea, yet most of our casual descriptions of it often fail to withstand scrutiny. This proved true in our opening conversation, and established a baseline appreciation for the magnitude of the task.

Next we reviewed Omi and Winant’s theory as described in the reading and shared the various social structures and cultural representations of race we could fit within this framework. Then we filled in the racial projects that we saw at play in society, both the projects which reinforce racism and the projects that serve to dismantle racism.

As we set to this task, racism–which often looms in people’s minds as an abstract specter–become more understandable in terms of concrete racial projects such as redlining and stop-and-frisk policing which could be individually subverted or disrupted.

Given that this meeting came just after Thanksgiving, we concluded with a conversation about how we talk about race and racism with our families. In particular we focused on the relative merits to trying to discuss big-picture ideas about racism which may be more complete versus concrete examples of racism which may be more understandable but may fail to capture the scale of the issue.

If you have thoughts on the reading, please share them in the comments section. I’d love to discuss it with you!


Author: Harrison Kalodimos

I'm a family medicine resident at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

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