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The Big Blind

Publication Date: 
February 10, 2008
Source: 
The New York Times
Author: 
Orlando Patterson

Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson reviewed Professor Richard Thompson Ford's new book, The Race Card, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

A few years ago, an American lady showed up late at an exclusive Parisian store and was turned away. The outraged shopper was Oprah Winfrey, who charged racial bias; a companion said it was ''one of the most humiliating moments of her life.'' Oprah may have been denied a prerogative of elite status in our new gilded age -- being waited on in luxury stores after hours -- but had she been the victim of racism?

In ''The Race Card,'' a sharp, tightly argued and delightfully contentious work, Richard Thompson Ford flatly disagrees, finding ''something Orwellian'' about Winfrey's ''egalitarian demand for one's rightful position as V.I.P. -- a civil rights claim to a colorblind hierarchy of the rich and famous.'' Winfrey's complaint, Ford writes, is typical of a class of grievances that has created a crisis in the social and legal meaning of race: playing the race card, defined as making ''false or exaggerated claims of bias'' that ''piggyback on real instances of victimization.''