Race Matters deals with the theme of race from the perspective of a black person in the United States, pointing out that black Americans"differ from all other modern people owing to the unprecedented levels of unregulated and unrestrained violence directed at them," according to the book's opening statement. The eight essays within detail various aspects of the modern black experience, beginning with the trauma of the transatlantic slave trade that continued through the injustice of the Jim Crow era. West acknowledges that America has made much racial progress since the 1960s but asserts that white supremacy remains visibly evident in many areas, such as racial profiling, drug conviction rates, unemployment levels and infant mortality rates.
The book provides essays divided into the following topics: Nihilism in Black America, The Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning, The Crisis of Black Leadership, Demystifying the New Black Conservativism, Beyond Affirmative Action: Equality and Identity, On Black-Jewish Relations, Black Sexuality: The Taboo Subject. Smaller themes within the broader topic of race are highlighted, in particular the threat of nihilism to the existence of the black community, the crisis in leadership within the black community, and the complex topic of African American identity.