The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


Tricia Rose — Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives

Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives―and How We Break Free (book cover)

In recent years, condemnations of racism in America have echoed from the streets to corporate boardrooms. At the same time, politicians and commentators fiercely debate racism’s very existence. And so, our conversations about racial inequalities remain muddled. In Metaracism, Brown University Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose cuts through the noise with a bracing and invaluable new account of what systemic racism actually is, how it works, and how we can fight back. She reveals how—from housing to education to criminal justice—an array of policies and practices connect and interact to produce an even more devastating “metaracism” far worse than the sum of its parts. While these systemic connections can be difficult to see—and are often portrayed as “color-blind”—again and again they function to disproportionately contain, exploit, and punish Black people. By helping us to comprehend systemic racism’s inner workings and destructive impact, Rose shows how to create a more just America for us all.

Tricia Rose (photo by OJ Slaughter)

Tricia Rose is Chancellor’s Professor of Africana Studies and the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University. She has received fellowships from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and her research has been funded by the Mellon and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations. She co-hosts with Cornel West the podcast The Tight Rope. She is the author of Longing to Tell: Black Women’s Stories of Sexuality and Intimacy, The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When we Talk About Hip Hop—and Why it Matters, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, and her new book Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives—and How We Break Free.

Shermer and Rose discuss:

  • how she broke free from her own working-class background growing up in Harlem in the 1960s
  • racism, structural racism, systemic racism, metaracism
  • specific problems to be solved vs. deep-root cause-ism
  • What policies, practices, laws, and beliefs are racist in 2024 America and what can be done about them?
  • what it means to be “caught up in the system”
  • individual vs. group differences
  • White advantages and Black disadvantages
  • Rawls’ original position/veil of ignorance and why it has not been realized in America
  • race differences that are real and current, and not just historical
  • Trayvon Martin
  • Kelley Williams-Bolar
  • Michael Brown
  • Rose’s response to Black conservative authors like Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell
  • why Coleman Hughes is wrong about color-blindness
  • Obama, George Floyd and race relations today
  • reparations.

Introduction to the Show

In my 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things, in a chapter on race and racism, I summarized the scientific research to date on the subject. My deeper motive in this exercise was my belief that in my lifetime we could achieve—or at least approach in an asymptotic curve—a post-race society in which such superficial characteristics as skin color, hair color and form, and facial traits would be considered the least important thing to know about a person.

Nearly twenty years later, in my book The Moral Arc, I suggested that we had made so much moral progress toward this end that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” was at last coming true and so, I concluded, “we are living in the most moral period in our species’ history.”

How naïve I was. Conversations about and coverage of race and race-related incidents have since become omnipresent in our culture, from social media to mainstream media. Government, corporate, and academic collection of data on all matters race has become ubiquitous, driven further along by racial (and gender) sensitivity training programs, of which I have partaken.

Thus, in 2022 I edited a special edition of Skeptic on “Race Matters,” that included: “Systemic Racism—Explained” by Mahzarin R. Banaji, Susan T. Fiske & Douglas S. Massey. Excerpt:

In the early 1960s, more than 60 percent of White Americans agreed that Whites have a right to keep Blacks out of their neighborhoods. By the 1980s, however, the percentage had dropped to 13 percent. The fact that discrimination is illegal, and White support for segregation has plummeted, begs the question of why segregation persists.

Rental and sales agents today are less likely to respond to emails from people with stereotypically Black names or to reply to phone messages left by speakers who “sound Black”. A recent meta-analysis of 16 experimental housing audit studies and 19 lending analyses conducted since 1970 revealed that sharp racial differentials in the number of units recommended by realtors and inspected by clients have persisted and that racial gaps in loan denial rates and borrowing cost have barely changed in 40 years.

Audit studies, conducted across the social and behavioral sciences, include a subset of resume studies in which researchers send the same resume out to apply for jobs, but change just one item: the candidate’s name is Lisa Smith or Lakisha Smith. Then, they wait to see who gets the callback. The bias is clear: employers avoid “Black-sounding” names. In fact, in both Milwaukee’s and New York City’s low-wage job market, Black applicants with no criminal background were called back with the same frequency or less as White applicants just released from prison.

As a result, Critical Race Theory (CRT) literature on systemic racism is both riding and fueling this cultural pattern, loaded as it is with discussions about racial group differences on everything from income and family wealth to the percentage of Black professors in STEM fields. What percentage of STEM professors have brown eyes, blue eyes, hazel eyes, and green eyes (pace Jane Elliott’s famous experiment)? How many brunettes, blonds, and redheaded professors are there in STEM?

Who knows? Who cares? Why are these superficial characteristics considered meaningless, whereas equally frivolous features like skin color, hair color and form, and facial traits are proxies for everything from intelligence and personality to moral worth and social value?

The answer is obvious. Race and racism as manifested in slavery, segregation, lynchings, Jim Crow, redlining, profiling, and police brutality is America’s original sin, whereas we have no history of prejudice and bigotry based on eye or hair color. How did we get to this point and how can we get past it?

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode was released on May 25, 2024.

Skeptic Magazine App on iPhone


Whether at home or on the go, the SKEPTIC App is the easiest way to read your favorite articles. Within the app, users can purchase the current issue and back issues. Download the app today and get a 30-day free trial subscription.

Download the Skeptic Magazine App for iOS, available on the App Store
Download the Skeptic Magazine App for Android, available on Google Play
SKEPTIC • 3938 State St., Suite 101, Santa Barbara, CA, 93105-3114 • 1-805-576-9396 • Copyright © 1992–2024. All rights reserved • Privacy Policy