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Racism in American Public Life: A Call to Action, Johnnetta Betsch Cole

Reviewed by Brandy S. Faulkner

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Two pandemics. Many potential outcomes. How do we navigate racism during two deadly public health crises? What role can Americans play in either perpetuating the harmful effects of racism or supporting the construction of equitable public policies? Johnnetta Betsch Cole considers these two questions in her thoughtful and reflective book Racism in American Public Life: A Call to Action. This book, drawn from Cole's series of Malcolm Lester Lectures, offers three chapters of analysis on the origins, mythologies, and consequences of racism in society.

Cole first offers a personal connection to the history of racism. Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, the author experienced segregation, isolation, and systemic discrimination. For example, she writes, “When White children received new schoolbooks, my school for ‘colored children' was given their old ones. The textbooks were filled with the stories of White people who were called heroes and heroines” (p. 19). Despite those experiences, she excelled in school and became a well-known anthropologist and higher education administrator. In her work, she challenges the very foundations of racist America, including the idea of race-based superiority linked to pseudoscientific studies and socially constructed dominant narratives that preserve racial hierarchies.

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