Race — The Power of an Illusion

Film. By California Newsreel. 2003. Three episodes – 56 minutes each.
A three-part documentary series that questions the very idea of race as biology.

Themes: African American, Racism & Racial Identity

Race - The Power of an IllusionThe division of the world’s peoples into distinct groups — “red,” “black,” “white,” or “yellow” peoples — has become so deeply embedded in our psyches, so widely accepted, many would promptly dismiss as crazy any suggestion of its falsity. Yet, that’s exactly what this provocative three-hour series by California Newsreel claims. Race — The Power of an Illusion questions the very idea of race as biology.

Yet race still matters. Just because race doesn’t exist in biology doesn’t mean it isn’t very real, helping shape life chances and opportunities.

Episode 1- The Difference Between Us examines the contemporary science including genetics that challenges our common sense assumptions that human beings can be bundled into three or four fundamentally different groups according to their physical traits.

Episode 2- The Story We Tell uncovers the roots of the concept of race in North America, the 19th-century science that legitimated it, and how it came to be held so fiercely in the western imagination. The episode explains how race served to rationalize, even justify, American social inequalities as “natural.”

Episode 3- The House We Live In asks, If race is not biology, what is it? This episode uncovers how race resides not in nature but in politics, economics, and culture. It reveals how our social institutions “make” race by disproportionately channeling resources, power, status, and wealth to white people.

One of the most honest and compelling documentary series I’ve ever seen on race and its impact on this nation’s culture and politics, as well as on the economic status of nonwhite citizens. Acel Moore, Philadelphia Inquirer

A marvelously intelligent documentary. A timely reminder that social divisions are made, not inevitable.  Patricia Williams, The Nation

An online facilitator guide is available.


In light of the ongoing devastating impact of neighborhood segregation, housing discrimination, and gentrification, California Newsreel has posted a segment of the film online for free public viewing. See below.

RACE THE POWER OF AN ILLUSION: The Genesis of Discriminatory Housing Policies from California Newsreel.

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