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Racism in American Public Life

A Call to Action
Johnnetta Betsch Cole

BUY Cloth · 152 pp. · 5 × 8 · ISBN 9780813945620 · $19.95 · Feb 2021
BUY Ebook · 152 pp. · ISBN 9780813945637 · $19.95 · Feb 2021

For some in our society, diversity is a threat. Others feel society should be more inclusive, if only out of fairness. But as Johnnetta Cole argues in her new book, embracing diversity and inclusiveness is more than a virtuous ideal; it is essential to a healthy, productive society.

Focusing on higher education and other arenas of cultural development, Cole explores our institutions’ vulnerability to the influence of racism and the wider implications for American society. At the core of Cole’s argument is the belief that increasing the representation of historically marginalized groups on college campuses, and in museums, media, and other institutions is, like the liberal arts, vitally important to social progress. Accompanying Cole’s urgent calls to implement social change are vividly rendered experiences from her own remarkable life. Cole issues a challenge for courageous conversations about race and racism and places unique responsibility and accountability on institutions of higher education in leading these conversations.


In Racism in Public Life, Johnnetta Betsch Cole gracefully interweaves her experiences as a child in the segregated South, a professor of anthropology, and a life-long educator to reflect insightfully upon the broad sweep of racism in America. In this era marked by the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial turmoil, Cole stresses the opportunities for honest, interracial, "courageous conversations" to confront the systemic inequality "that continues to afflict our nation." This beautifully written volume is an essential guide for these critically important discussions within the academy and our communities.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University · Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow

Riveting. Johnnetta Cole challenges all to engage in brave discussions about how race and racism influence education while offering historical context for how we got to where we are.

Bianca C. Williams, The Graduate Center, CUNY · The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism

A very timely contribution to our understanding of race, racism, and the ways in which people, particularly college students, and higher education as a societal institution, should be engaged in addressing systemic issues. The book begins some of the difficult conversations the author implores us all to have.

Riché Barnes, Mount Holyoke College · Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community

Drawing on a lifetime of personal experiences with racism and the transformative power of courageous conversations about race, Dr. Cole issues a compelling call to action. This book is, at once, a deeply personal story, an engaging history lesson, and a hopeful guide, offering practical advice for anyone who believes in the power of education to build a better future."—Laura L. Lott, President & CEO, American Alliance of Museums

Laura L. Lott, President & CEO, American Alliance of Museums

[Cole] brings a highly knowledgeable historical and personal perspective and context to these issues, showing how deeply racism is embedded in the DNA of America and urging an engagement in the 'courageous conversations' required to heal the many divisions that plague the nation.... [Her] tone is measured and nuanced yet urgent. She ends the book by quoting Frederick Douglass, who famously said, 'If there is no struggle, there is no progress.'

Kirkus Reviews

About the Author(s): 

Johnnetta Betsch Cole, President of the National Council of Negro Women, is coauthor of Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities.

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