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The Big Blind

Publication Date: 
February 10, 2008
The New York Times
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.''