The Legacy of Racial Caste: An Exploratory Ethnography

Publication Date: 
July 2012
From Bringing Fieldwork Back In: Contemporary Urban Ethnographic Research, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 642: 25-42


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With the racial progress the nation has made over the past half century, including the growth of the black middle class and the election of a black president, many are now prepared to proclaim the United States a postracial society, where egalitarian values most often prevail; race is no longer a significant barrier to power, privilege, and prestige; and racial prejudice is mostly a thing of the past. When observed ethnographically, the lived experience of race relations suggests a different view and conceptual framework. As the legacy of racial caste, the color line persists in social interaction and is evident in racially determined perspectives and local working conceptions that order race relations and contribute to persistent racial inequality. Indeed, the claim of a postracial society is an ideological discourse that denies continuing patterns of race relations.