Joe Feagin

Joe Feagin


* Professor of sociology at Texas A&M University
* Former President of the American Sociological Association
* Deems the United States a racist, sexist nation

Joe Feagin is the Ella McFadden Professor of Liberal Arts in Texas A&M University’s Department of Sociology. He is also the former (1999-2000) President of the American Sociological Association.

A distinguishing feature of Professor Feagin’s worldview, as expressed in his writings, is his belief that the United States is a deeply racist, sexist nation whose inherent impulse to oppress and discriminate against blacks, Hispanics, and women has abated only scarcely, if at all, in recent decades. The only thing that has changed since yesteryear, he contends, is that whites have become more adept at concealing their racism: “We’ve learned to say the polite, non-racist thing, but that doesn’t meant there has been a sharp decline in white racist attitudes. We’ve just learned to camouflage [racism], to hide it.” “Most of white America,” adds Feagin, “is in denial about racism, but we know just backstage it exists in extreme forms.”

According to Feagin, America’s “systemic racism” is defined by “a diverse assortment of racist practices; the unjustly gained economic and political power of whites; the continuing resource inequalities; and the white-racist ideologies, attitudes, and institutions created to preserve white advantages and power.” “One can accurately describe the United States,” he says, “as a ‘total racist society’ in which every major aspect of life is shaped to some degree by the core racist realities.” “In the United States,” Feagin elaborates, “racism is structured into the rhythms of everyday life. It is lived, concrete, advantageous for whites, and painful for those who are not white. . . . Every part of the life cycle, and most aspects of one’s life, are shaped by the racism that is integral to the foundation of the United States.”

Chief among the facets of life that are dominated by racism, in Feagin’s estimation, is the criminal-justice system — from the police, to the courts, to the prisons. Writes Feagin in Racist America: “Police harassment and brutality directed at black men, women, and children are as old as American society, dating back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Such police actions across the nation today reveal important aspects of the racism dealt with in this book – the commonplace discriminatory practices of individual whites, the images of dangerous blacks dancing in white heads, the ideology legitimating antiblack images, and the white-dominated institutions that allow or encourage such practices.”

To compensate blacks for their many afflictions at the hands of America’s longstanding racist traditions, Feagin advocates the payment of monetary reparations to African Americans. “[T]he magnitude of the oppression of African Americans by white Americans has yet to be understood by whites,” says Feagin. “Most whites need to be educated to the past and present costs of racism for African Americans, as well as the costs to themselves and for society generally.” In Feagin’s view, whites who cannot see the logic and the justice of reparations are suffering from a psychological malady he calls “slavery denial.”

Feagin’s explanation of the causes of American inequity is rooted in Marxist doctrine: “The Marxist tradition provides a powerful theory of oppression centered on such key concepts as class struggle, worker exploitation, and alienation. Marxism identifies the basic social forces undergirding class oppression, shows how human beings are alienated in class relations, and points toward activist remedies for oppression.”

Ultimately, Feagin blames capitalism for the perpetuation of American racism. “Black workers,” he writes, “have periodically become scapegoats when a serious economic crisis threatens white livelihoods. They, as well as Asian, Latino, and Jewish Americans, have been singled out as targets of anger, even though they are not responsible for the employment or other economic problems of white workers. … The Marxist tradition has accented the way in which capitalist employers take part of the value of workers’ labor for their own purposes – thus not paying workers for the full value of their work. … This continuing exploitation of black workers not only helps to maintain income and wealth inequality across the color line but also is critical to the reproduction of the entire system of racism over long periods of time.”

Feagin condemns the “blatant, obscene ignorance” underlying white Americans’ “deep nativism and racist tradition [that] we need to get over.” Claiming that most white Americans object to hearing foreign-born immigrants speak their native languages, he says, “You know in Europe, you’re considered cultivated and educated if you speak two languages. Here it’s just [considered] wrong.”

To combat racism on campus, Professor Feagin recommends that predominantly white universities institute “anti-racist” education classes designed to “unprogram that long 20 years of racist thought.” He told the Texas A&M student newspaper in October 2004: “There are two types of white Americans: racists and recovering racists.”

Feagin dismisses the notion that racial preference programs like affirmative action and set-asides are unfair to whites. “People like me who are white are supposed to be suffering drastically from reverse racism,” he says. “ . . . [T]his allegation would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. It makes more sense to believe in the Tooth Fairy. It’s amazing how white men have captured terrain on this issue of reverse racism. I know there’s tension between white women and blacks on the issue of affirmative action, but both groups are getting screwed by white men.”

In the “Racial and Ethnic Relations” class that Feagin taught at the University of Florida, the course description read: “This overview seminar will focus on recent research on racial and ethnic discrimination, stratification, and conflict in the United States. We will assess the oppression and discrimination historically and currently faced by Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and African Americans. We will examine the practices, attitudes, structures, and ideologies of racial oppression that have evolved since European colonization in North America began, and the ways people of color have fought oppression with resistance strategies and oppositional cultures.”

Though his primary focus is on race, Professor Feagin also impugns the United States for its alleged hostility to women. “[M]ost men,” he states, “will not aggressively promote women’s rights because of their personal and economic interest in maintaining discriminatory practices. Thus, women must take the initiative in fighting sex discrimination.”

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