Cover image for The problem of race in the twenty-first century
The problem of race in the twenty-first century
Holt, Thomas C. (Thomas Cleveland), 1942-
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xi, 146 pages ; 20 cm.
Subject Term:

Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
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HT1521 .H585 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HT1521 .H585 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HT1521 .H585 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour-line, W.E.B. du Bois wrote in 1903, and his words have proven sadly prophetic. As we enter the 21st century, the problem remains - and yet it, and the line that defies it, have shifted in subtle but significant ways. This brief book speaks powerfully to the question of how the circumstances of race and racism have changed in our time - and how these changes will affect our future.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Holt insists that race will play a crucial role in the future, but society is unable to identify that role. His conclusions are rooted in the belief that nineteenth-and twentieth-century racial roles and concepts currently utilized are inadequate for such an analysis. The popularity of Colin Powell or Michael Jordan implies progress that is apparently contradicted by daily realities. The same is true of acceptance that race is a social, not a biological, construct. Holt traces the ties between race and economics from the international slave trade to our current global economy. Moreover, he explores the shift from the role of blacks primarily as means of production in a capitalistic nation to consumers, with little value on the production side of the equation other than as surplus workers among the structurally unemployed. Holt rightly asserts that our racial legacy should be a point of departure--not a destination--in examining the enduring nature of racial enmity. As a nation and as individuals, we must imagine ourselves beyond, while remaining aware of, those forces that are at the root of the enmity. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a country where retired U.S. Army Gen. Colin PowellÄthe son of Jamaican immigrantsÄcan be nominated to be secretary of state while a group of servicemen in the U.S. Army can form a neo-Nazi group and murder an African-American couple (as happened in North Carolina in 1997), readers don't need to turn to scholars to ascertain that race is an incredibly divisive issue. But they will benefit from Holt's expert and careful examination of these "narratives of contradiction and incoherence" as he attempts to forecast the reigning racial ethos for the next millennium, just as W.E.B. Du Bois did when he declared that "the color line" was "the problem of the twentieth century." Breaking from traditional paradigms, Holt, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, focuses on "what work race does"Äthat is, what role it plays in the economy and in consumer culture. Taking his cue from Du Bois's idea that "slavery was the first truly global market of exchange," Holt details how shifting conceptions of race have dovetailed with the realities of the U.S. economy before and after Ford's invention of the assembly line and mass production. Within this framework, he examines myriad phenomena of consumer culture, such as the NAACP boycott of Birth of a Nation and Michael Jordan's Nike endorsements. His major point is that the Civil Rights movement (unlike many other worldwide movements of people of color) failed to emphasize forging alliances with labor. Though he doesn't have the name recognition outside the academy of a Henry Louis Gates Jr. or Cornel West, Holt writes in clear, precise prose (these essays were originally given as the Nathan I. Huggins lectures at Harvard) and makes an important contribution to both public and academic discussions of race and labor and their intersections in U.S. politics. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Introduction: Race, Culture, and History
1 Racial Identity and the Project of Modernity
2 Race and Culture in a Consumer Society
3 Race, Nation, and the Global Economy
Epilogue: the Future of Race