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Book Reviews   |    
The Anatomy of Racial Inequality: The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures
Reviewed by Joshua Miller, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2003; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.54.5.751-a
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by Glenn C. Loury; Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2002, 226 pages, $22.95

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More than half of the prisoners in the United States are African Americans, even though African Americans constitute only 13 percent of the overall population. The poverty rate for black children is twice that for white children. These examples of structural inequities based on race do not strike most white people as odd, according to Glenn C. Loury, author of The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, because "the arbitrariness of the race convention remains hidden from our view, leaving us 'cognitive prisoners' inside a symbolic world of our own unwitting construction." Loury offers evidence of social and economic racial inequality but uses this evidence as a foundation for exploring people's interpretation of these disparities. What he finds is that the victim is often blamed because of racial stigma, an assumed, imputed, dishonored, "spoiled" view of a class of people by virtue of distinguishing physical characteristics.

Although Loury believes that racial discrimination, which he calls reward bias, still exists—for example, a white person gets paid a higher salary than a black person because of race—he is more concerned with development bias, whereby "the opportunity to acquire productivity is unequally available to the members of distinct racial groups." To further illustrate this point, Loury distinguishes between discrimination in contract and discrimination in contact. Discrimination in contract refers to discrimination in formal transactions, such as buying and selling property, or legalized discrimination, such as the Jim Crow laws. Discrimination in contact refers to discrimination in intimate, private spheres of life—where people choose to live and whom they associate with, fear, and despise. Essentially, Loury is saying that most Americans abhor discrimination in contract, which is less prevalent today than it used to be, but take for granted discrimination in contact, which creates a web of isolation and exclusion that creates disadvantages for African Americans.

Loury's position is not a popular one to take, because it challenges certain political and social orthodoxies. Many individuals on the left may consider Loury's argument to be overly focused on attitudes and social arrangements and to place insufficient weight on economic and material discrimination. However, Loury does not minimize such inequities; rather, he suggests that they are a consequence of discrimination in contact. Loury also questions the adequacy of the liberal value of individualism in understanding and addressing racial inequity, which, although oppressing individuals, is manifested in differential group fortunes. And by focusing on discrimination in contact, Loury interrogates what is usually considered a sphere of privacy and implicitly encourages readers to ask themselves who their friends are, where they live, which schools they send their children to, and which neighborhoods they try to avoid. Such questions can create feelings of unease and discomfort.

However, Loury writes in a logical, nonstrident fashion. He strikes a tone of rational conversation and offers helpful conceptual tools and hypothetical examples to develop his thesis. Parts of the book are dense, but overall The Anatomy of Racial Inequality is very readable and accessible. It is one of the few books I have recently read about race and racism that take risks and can be unpredictable yet are always thought-provoking and meaningful. As complex and as seemingly intractable as racism is, it is important that we further our understanding of racism in order to dismantle it. The Anatomy of Racial Inequality makes an important contribution to this project.

Dr. Miller is associate professor at Smith College School for Social Work in Northampton, Massachusetts.




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