Racism in America: Cultural Codes and Color Lines in the 21st Century

Updated: Aug 28, 2018

by Leonard Pitts Jr.

Reviewed by Valeria Stokes


Leonard Pitts Jr’s book, Racism in America: Cultural Codes and Color Lines in the 21st Century is a compendium of his writings for Miami Herald from 1995 through 2016. For those readers who are followers of his articles, the book presents a refresher on the construct of racism using his opinions that may be substantiated by historical data or newsworthy events. The chapters are thematic serving as a discussion using narrative vignettes that are validated either through his personal research, targeted personal interviews, or literature reviews. He offers a transparent critique of the evolution of racism in United States beginning with a brief introduction on slavery, Civil War, and the lack of a scientific basis for the concept of race. The primary content describes experiences of the descendants of enslaved people (those persons sold or kidnapped with origins from sub-Saharan Africa, who were historically known as Negro slaves, property, animals, and other inhumane terminology) who now have an evolutionary variety of labels: Colored, Negro, Black, African American, or multi/bi-racial.


He explains the current state of Black America (socio-economic and educational disparities, self-loathing, incarceration, profiling, guns, drugs, sports, and entertainment) as the consequences of the historical events of the slavery system, and the difficulty of the white population to deal with the ugly past (lynching, segregation, Jim Crow Laws, assassinations, and attacks on those participants in Civil rights marches, boycotts). He affirms that any discussion of race in America is not an easy topic, primarily because intelligent discussion of racism requires cross-cultural trust. If you are a history buff, you will enjoy the journey through Pitts’ recount of the events that have led to the election of Barack Obama, development of the Tea Party Movement, and the culmination of the election of Donald Trump.


Pitts, a 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, presents a collection of his various written columns. The written style is descriptive and has an editorial approach as evident in his personal opinions of topics that are salacious issues for America, specifically Black America. He opines on the paradox of racism: the dichotomy and double standard. White people have co-opted the language of the civil rights movement and any unoffending white person who feels mistreated by an African American bigot, there is a cry of reverse racism, yet if the African American disagrees there are white accusations of a double standard. Pitts’ columns and subsequently this text should serve to validate the endogenous nature of adverse race relations between, not only African Americans, but all persons of color. The questions that one should pose:

  1. Can this divide be crossed?

  2. Is the rule of law color blind or does it serve as a lever of power to make life difficult for another group?

  3. How does society achieve a cultural trust?

This text was a reminder for me, an African American woman, of the plight of my ancestors and the complexity of the indefinable term, race. Yet, there is a major gap in content, the role of religion on colonization of values and how it is used as a lever to wield power against another group. Maybe a question should be posed: What is the role of religion in achieving cultural trust?

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