Common Sense of Race

What is the “common sense of race” that Gross addresses in What Blood Won’t Tell, both in the past and present?


In “What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America,” Ariela J. Gross examines the concept of the “common sense of race” as it has manifested both historically and in contemporary society. Gross argues that the common sense of race refers to the prevailing beliefs, attitudes, and social norms regarding race that shape individuals’ perceptions and interactions. These beliefs are often deeply ingrained in cultural narratives and are reinforced through social institutions, legal systems, and everyday practices.

Historically, Gross demonstrates how the common sense of race has been used to justify racial hierarchies, discrimination, and violence in American society. Drawing on examples such as the Dred Scott case and the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, Gross illustrates how notions of racial purity and superiority were codified into law, perpetuating systems of racial oppression and inequality. The common sense of race during this period upheld the notion of a rigid racial hierarchy, with whiteness as the standard of superiority and non-white groups relegated to subordinate positions.

In the present day, Gross argues that the common sense of race continues to shape perceptions and attitudes towards race, albeit in more subtle and insidious ways. Despite legal and social advancements in civil rights, racial stereotypes and biases persist, influencing interactions in areas such as employment, housing, and criminal justice. Gross highlights the role of racial profiling, implicit bias, and structural inequality in perpetuating disparities based on race. The common sense of race in contemporary society often manifests in colorblind rhetoric and the myth of meritocracy, obscuring the enduring impact of historical and systemic racism.

Overall, Gross’s examination of the common sense of race underscores the pervasive influence of racial ideologies in shaping individual and collective understandings of race. By interrogating the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of the common sense of race, Gross illuminates the ways in which race continues to structure social relations and shape experiences of privilege and marginalization in American society.

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