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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


Making Race and Nation
Anthony W Marx

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
390pp. Index. Bibl. ISBN (hb) 0-521-58455-8. 22.50.



'Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of the United States, South Africa, and Brazil' by A.W. Marx (Cambridge University Press, 1998), is another important contribution to our understanding of the concept of 'race' and of the shameful role that this has played in the formation of nation-states. Professor Anthony Marx, of Columbia University, provides a very thorough analysis of the ways in which racist ideas grew from their ancient historic origins into powerful rationalisations and justifications for systematic oppression associated with the processes of consolidation of government control in emergent nation-states.

Marx is able to build a convincing case by his detailed comparison of these processes in the histories of the United States, South Africa, and Brazil. Contrary to popular belief he establishes that the process in Brazil was essentially the same as in the other two cases, though the system of racist discrimination takes a more subtle form. This is a valuable insight. It is also revealing to read how the process of oppression in South Africa was developed as a means of trying to bring together people of Dutch and English origins into an effective government. The oppression of people crudely categorised as 'black', in the United States, is described as a similar process of trying to reconcile the North and South after the Civil War, and unintentionally this crude categorisation helped to build a sense of commonality among disparate groups. It is particularly salutary to read Marx's account of how the motivation for this oppression - the consolidation of government authority in the United States - continued to have a profound effects on government policy, until very recently.

In style this book is somewhat heavy and repetitive but at this stage in global politics, the importance of understanding racist ideas is so great that it should be widely read.


Morris Bradley, Lancaster University



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