Uprooting Racism

Paul Kivel offers a framework for understanding institutional racism. It provides practical suggestions, tools, examples and advice on how white people can intervene in interpersonal and organizational situations to promote social justice.


| April 2013



Uprooting Racism book cover

How White People Can Work for Racial Justice

Cover Courtesy New Society Publishers

Uprooting Racism (New Society Publishers, 2011) offers a framework for understanding institutional racism. It provides practical suggestions, tools, examples and advice on how white people can intervene in interpersonal and organizational situations to work as allies for racial justice. Author, Paul Kivel, also includes a wealth of information about specific cultural groups such as Muslims, people with mixed-heritage, Native Americans, Jews, recent immigrants, Asian Americans, and Latino/as.  

What Is Whiteness? 

Racism is based on the concept of whiteness — a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence. Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to certain benefits from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.

Racism itself is a long-standing characteristic of many human societies. For example, justifying exploitation and violence against other peoples because they are inferior or different has a long history within Greek, Roman and European Christian traditions. The beginnings of biological racism go back to the Spanish Inquisition. Trying to root out false Muslim and Jewish converts to Christianity but unable to reliably do so, the courts ruled that anyone with a Jewish or Muslim parent or grandparent was not a Christian. Soon, the courts were ruling that any person with any Muslim or Jewish blood was incapable of being a righteous Christian because they did not have clean blood (limpieza de sangre).1

In more recent historical times in Western Europe, those with English heritage were perceived to be pure white. The Irish, Russians and Spanish were considered darker races, sometimes black and certainly non-white. The white category was slowly extended to include northern and middle European people, but still, less than a century ago, it definitely excluded eastern or southern European peoples such as Italians, Poles, Russians and Greeks. In the last few decades, although there is still prejudice against people from these geographical backgrounds, they have become generally accepted as white in the United States.2

The important distinction in the United States has always been binary — first between those who counted as Christians and those who were pagans. As historian Winthrop Jordan has written: