Rethinking racial formation theory: a systemic racism critique Academic Article uri icon


  • In this theoretical analysis of US racism, we examine contributions and deficiencies of Michael Omi and Howard Winant's influential racial formation theory from the critical perspective of systemic racism theory. Analysing important concepts and arguments in both theoretical frameworks, we demonstrate that racial formation theory inadequately explains: racial meanings and white racial framing; US society's racial foundation; the US state and other sites of racial contestation; whites' and white elites' centrality in contemporary racism; challenges to a racially pluralistic democracy; and group resistance to racism, especially that of the black 'radical' intellectual tradition. We find racial formation theory provides some innovative concepts that move beyond outdated mainstream ethnicity/assimilation theories, but that formation theory lacks the conceptual tools for fully understanding the deep foundation, layered complexities, and institutionalized operations of systemic racism in the USA. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.

altmetric score

  • 22

author list (cited authors)

  • Feagin, J., & Elias, S.

citation count

  • 107

publication date

  • June 2013