Imani Perry


On her book More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States

Cover Interview of October 06, 2011

The wide angle

The book is about race, but more broadly it is about the idea of Democracy.  In it, I’m grappling with how we move closer to a society in which the playing field is level, and even more importantly, in which meaningful participation in its fruits and labors is not determined by an accident of birth like race.

This is a book that called me, rather than one I looked for. I am continually fascinated by the process of “retrenchment” or back-sliding, as it were, after gains are made in a nation’s progress towards equality, and how “the imaginative work of white supremacy” as a matter of culture, can lead to new forms of inequality to replace the old. This is part of what we’ve witnessed in the post-Civil Rights era.

Part of our challenge today is that we use old-fashioned terms to describe new challenges, and those terms seem to hamper meaningful discussion of race, and we get tangled in a web of anxiety, rhetoric and slogan that disables forward movement on matters of equality and inclusion.

This is one of a substantial group of books on race in the 21st century United States. What distinguishes it is that it is deeply interdisciplinary. I use work from sociology, cultural theory, cognition research, neuroscience, political science, social theory, psychology, and more. I identify the structural analogies apparent in work on race across the fields in a way that enables the reader to see the patterns and common themes that a widely divergent group of thinkers are finding when it comes to how race works today.

I did not come to the book with predetermined conclusions, but instead let the research and analysis guide its outcomes. And the risk, for an academic book, is that it offers solutions based upon both addressing the practice of inequality, and maximizing the ability of those discriminated against to withstand inequality.

Some of these solutions are legal and policy based, others are community based. All are based in a belief in our fundamental responsibility to work for the “common good” and a faith in human agency notwithstanding the power of social institutions and bureaucracies.