Racial Formation in the United States: Third Edition

Final COVER_Racial Formation

It has been thirty years since AAADS Professor Michael Omi and Professor Howard Winant (currently at UC Santa Barbara) first published Racial Formation in the United States. Regarded as a seminal work on race theory, the book was re-released twenty years ago as a second edition in the middle of the Clinton years, when racial dynamics were undergoing serious changes in this country. The third edition has been published in light of further dramatic shifts since that period, and while it stays true to its original purpose of examining how concepts of race are formed, changed, and ultimately affected individual groups and institutions, each chapter has been “radically revised and rewritten.”

It is not typical for academics to make such thorough revisions when releasing new editions of their books. Most feature a new prologue with some updated citations or an epilogue to bring events up-to-date. Writing the third edition became a five-year project, and the revisions took a lot longer than Omi and Winant had originally envisioned. Initially conceived as a “home remodeling project,” it turned into what Omi described as a “much more massive project to tear down walls, build rooms and change the foundation.“ While relying on the basic architecture of the original book, Omi and Winant revamped examples, addressed the new body of racial theory that emerged since the last edition, and rethought some of their original core conceptions. 

In particular, they significantly rewrote “the chapter on racial formation itself.” They were trying to be provocative and advance the notion that race has been a master category for understanding stratification and difference in the United States. This is not to say that race determines all, as they note that there are important insights about the notion of intersectionality of class, gender, sexuality, and race. Instead, they argue that in the very foundations of the United States, race has served as a sort of a template that has had a profound effect in shaping class and gender relations.

Chronicled in the third edition are the events and changes since the Clinton years that they wanted to capture. There was a deepening of color-blind theories not only in popular discourse, but in legal decisions, in particular the Supreme Court of the United States’ rejecting color conscious language. Barack Obama sweeping into office only to be restrained in addressing structured racialization. The rise of neoliberalism and the concurrent cutting of social safety nets that severely affected marginalized communities. The War on Terror and the new acronyms that developed to categorize people who were Arab, Muslim, or South Asian as a new racial category. They also wanted to assess the continuities and discontinuities in racial movements of resistance and their impact on other social movements. 

Omi IIOmi met Winant as graduate students at UC Santa Cruz. They have shared “a deep friendship” and “an interesting collaboration for over 30 years.” They come from different backgrounds–Winant’s East Coast Jewish heritage vs. Omi’s West Coast Japanese American upbringing.  Omi credits their different experiences as one reason for the “real nice collaboration to challenge each other in different ways. Often times many of the insights that emerged in the book would not have come without us pushing each other in creative and productive ways while also compromising.” 

While Omi, with his typical good-nature, admitted that this may be the last edition of the book,  he did say“never say never” to a Fourth Edition.