Blame, Resent, Repeat

REVIEW: ‘Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives—and How We Break Free’ by Tricia Rose

(Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
May 19, 2024

"Systemic racism remains the most important but largely concealed and therefore underestimated barrier to creating a racially just society," Brown University professor Tricia Rose writes in her new book, Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives—and How We Can Break Free. "The repercussions of unaddressed and interlocking past and present policies and practices … work to create a network of mutually reinforcing racial disadvantages." On and on Rose goes in this way for nearly 300 pages, naming, condemning, and convicting all manner of sins. America, she proclaims, is not a country of individuals who sometimes—arguably, often—behave in ways that obstruct the pursuit of happiness; it is rotten to the core, an irredeemable nation which can only be saved by being made anew.

Like other books of the "woke" genre, Metaracism teems with paranoiac prophecies of white devils whose sole purpose is thwarting black success, of ruling over a world in which the white man’s yoke is heavy and unbreakable. It offers less a testable thesis than a theology in which the United States is the Great Whore of Babylon, "mother of prostitutes and earth’s abominations" and a sanctuary for spiritual wickedness in high places.

"The devil is in the details," she writes. "No one policy alone could be singled out as the source, but by exploring multiple policies relationally, and doing so from the vantage point of how they impact Black people, the depth, breadth, and intricacy of how policies and practices worked to maintain metaracism came into sharp focus. ... Systemic racism tightens its grip as the metaeffects of its policies and processes amplify one another and evolve."

Much has been written in recent years about the extent to which modern progressivism is Christianity secularized and abstracted from the Divine. Purveyors of that argument would do well to read Metaracism for affirmation of their work. When Rose writes of the "depth, breadth, and intricacy" of systemic racism, she upends the imagery Paul evoked in his letter to the Ephesians, in which he expresses hope that the city's Christians will comprehend the "breadth, length, height, and depth" of the love of Christ, asking readers instead to discern in her revelation the evil edifices of the American system.

When she recounts the death of Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot in 2013 by George Zimmerman—a non-white Hispanic—during a fight, she frames the event as fulfilled prophecy foretold before the foundations of the world were laid. It was no matter of "chance" that Martin died, she argues, it is written: "The interconnecting networks of powerful and compounding social forces of systemic racism that shape our lives … significantly raised the likelihood that the exchange between Martin and Zimmerman would end in Martin's death."

What makes Metaracism uninteresting for most readers and not worth buying until it is steeply discounted is not only that it is derivative of other works offered by more imaginative writers but that it promulgates a pessimistic and impoverished view of African-American history. For Rose, African Americans are always the victim, never the victor, and almost certainly never agents of their own destiny. Least of all are they permitted to be self-critical.

Stop-and-frisk, to which she devotes a lengthy section, is a weapon of white supremacy rather than an earnest attempt to protect members of the African-American community from gun violence by which they are most likely to be affected. Inner-city public schools "steal education" from black youth, causing poor outcomes that Rose never would conceive of attributing to other sociological forces such as the breakdown of the nuclear family and lax, or absent, adult supervision.

If Metaracism is to be believed, all of America colludes to exacerbate racial inequality and tension, sources of daily frustration which most Americans would leave in the distant past if given the chance. Adopting its worldview means accepting that parking tickets, property taxes, middle-class morality—and the white and "white adjacent" people who abide by it—are the sprawling tentacles of a conspiracy of white dominance and control. Our only hope of recognizing it as such is a convulsive transformation of how we comprehend reality—what Rose describes as a "paradigm shift"—and draw conclusions about justice. Rapacious banks, New York City slumlords—a subtle yet obvious anti-Semitic dog whistle that emerges in Metaracism’s introduction—police officers, and even white liberals all are obstacles to the new world she wishes to bring forth. What she ultimately promises the faithful, however, is not a new heaven and new earth but the abolition of common sense and more decades of rehashing a conversation that is interminably cyclical—blame, resent, repeat.

"The more you find out about systemic racism, the more shocked you might be about how well its operations and effects have been hidden," she writes in the book's conclusion. "The invisibility of its effects and metaeffects has been carefully produced for a very long time, so we shouldn't expect to see and digest it all immediately. To shift a paradigm is a process of unlearning and learning, of reflecting, questioning, and sharing—all of which leads to the creation of deeper awareness and recognition."

If Metaracism teaches anything it is the urgency of competing with progressives in a field in which optimism and fresh ideas are sorely needed. All indicators say the time for doing so is now. There are signs that African Americans are beginning to doubt the long-term prospects of being divorced from "the American way" and of being spoken for by so-called allies who, being far removed from the realities of everyday life, never promote or implement policies that help in achieving levels of upward mobility dreamed of ever since Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

Such work would require a degree of sensitivity but, more so, courage in discussing issues that are unpleasant but necessary for moving the African-American community forward in a time when every other minority group—including blacks who are not descendants of enslaved persons—is claiming their share of the American Dream on their own terms.

Brave is the writer who undertakes it. History will remember him fondly.

Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives—and How We Break Free
by Tricia Rose
Basic Books, 288 pp., $30

Dion Pierre is the campus correspondent for the Algemeiner. He was previously a research associate at the National Association of Scholars, where he wrote "Neo-Segregation at Yale."

Published under: Anti-Racism