In this book, Feagin develops a theory of systemic racism to interpret the highly racialized character and development of this society. Exploring the distinctive social worlds that have been created by racial oppression over nearly four centuries and what this has meant for the people of the United States, focusing his analysis on white-on-black oppression.
Drawing on the commentaries of black and white Americans in three historical eras; the slavery era, the legal segregation era, and then those of white Americans. Feagin examines how major institutions have been thoroughly pervaded by racial stereotypes, ideas, images, emotions, and practices. He theorizes that this system of racial oppression was not an accident of history, but was created intentionally by white Americans. While significant changes have occurred in this racist system over the centuries, key and fundamentally elements have been reproduced over nearly four centuries, and US institutions today imbed the racialized hierarchy created in the 17th century.
Today, as in the past, racial oppression is not just a surface-level feature of society, but rather it pervades, permeates, and interconnects all major social groups, networks, and institutions across society.