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Reviewed by:
  • Race by Martin Orkin
  • Noe Montez
RACE. By Martin Orkin with Alexa Alice Joubin. New York: Routledge, 2019. 257 pp. Paperback, $26.95.

Race is among the newest texts in Routledge's The New Critical Idiom series. Charged with providing an explanatory guide to critical histories and vocabularies of race for undergraduate humanists, authors Martin Orkin and Alexa Alice Joubin create a practical introduction that will serve many classrooms as well as students seeking foundational knowledge in the field. Orkin and Joubin draw from a number of historical accounts, literary references, and popular culture allusions from across the world for their readers. This depth of knowledge brings a richness to the text. Orkin and Joubin divide the book into three sections: the first concerns the origins of cultural notions of race, in addition to the beginnings of scientific theorizing about racial categorization; the second addresses the ways that colonialism and slavery created a new understanding of race in opposition to whiteness; and the third section defines contemporary knowledge production on race as it is shaped by globalization, the U.S. Civil Rights movement, and the politics of exile. Accompanied by a strong bibliography and a small but serviceable glossary, Race provides insight into specific racial categorizations and demonstrates how the language and cultural understanding of race has been written and re-written in several different contexts throughout the history of western civilization.

The first section, "Fixing the Fetters of Race" focuses on constructions of race from ancient Greece to medieval Europe. The [End Page 585] authors begin with a chapter grounded in the history of barbarism. This portion of the book explores the Greek concept of barbarism as a way of distinguishing between their political and cultural values and those of others. While the term was used as a method of self-definition (by drawing contrast between themselves and others), it began to take on racial overtones by the end of the Hellenistic period. From here, Orkin and Joubin turn to the early Christian church and its conceptions of Muslims and Jews, thus marking physiognomic and behavioral distinctions which imagined Christians as normative and others as sinners. The chapter draws heavily on ancient literary texts, religious documents, legislative and judicial practices as a way of documenting these early efforts to mark others as ethnically and culturally distinct. The second chapter of this section turns towards discourses of the natural sciences and the search for scientific evidence of racial difference. Orkin and Joubin draw from observations, pseudo-science, and experiments dating back from the mid-fourteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, recording the ways that such studies were used to advance debates around nationalism and immigration that remain with us in the twenty-first century.

Part two of Race, titled "Recasting the Fetters of Race," discusses reconfigurations of race born out of the legacies of slavery and colonialism. The chapter begins by exploring connections between race and the United States' legal system from independence to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, as well as South African law during its period of apartheid in the twentieth century. Orkin and Joubin cite heavily from Alice Walker's The Color Purple and J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians as texts through which to read about the impact of racism. These examples work, although it seems surprising that the authors would draw from late twentieth century texts, particularly in the case of the United States, where there are so many texts from the period that can be used to discuss the pernicious effects of race and legality. From there, the book describes how slavery intersects with imaginings of race. Orkin and Joubin provide a detailed history of the British slave trade before turning to an investigation of slave narratives in Solomon Northrup's Twelve Years a Slave and Toni Morrison's Beloved.

The final section of Race, "Loosening the Fetters of Race," concludes with a brief chapter that thinks through the ways that definitions of race intersect with contemporary notions of exile, class, and gender. Orkin and Joubin explore exile and migration during Britain's modernist period; from there, the chapter briefly examines intersectionality through a reading of David Henry...


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pp. 585-587
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