The History of White People

The History of White People

eBook - 2010
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Historian Painter centers her momentous study of racial classification on the slave trade and the nation-building efforts which dominated the United States in the 18th century, when thinkers led by Ralph Waldo Emerson strove to explain the rapid progress of America within the context of white superiority. Her research is filled with frequent, startling realizations about how tenuous and temporary our racial classifications really are.
"Ever since the Enlightenment, race theory and its inevitable partner, racism, have followed a crooked road, constructed by dominant peoples to justify their domination of others. Filling a huge gap in historical literature that long focused on the non-white, eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter guides us through more than two thousand years of Western civilization, tracing not only the invention of the idea of race but also the frequent worship of 'whiteness' for economic, social, scientific, and political ends. Our story begins in Greek and Roman antiquity, where the concept of race did not exist, only geography and the opportunity to conquer and enslave others. Not until the eighteenth century did an obsession with whiteness flourish, with the German invention of the notion of Caucasian beauty. This theory made northern Europeans into 'Saxons, ' 'Anglo-Saxons, ' and 'Teutons, ' envisioned as uniquely handsome natural rulers. Here was a worldview congenial to northern Europeans bent on empire. There followed an explosion of theories of race, now focusing on racial temperament as well as skin color. Spread by such intellectuals as Madame de Stael and Thomas Carlyle, white race theory soon reached North America with a vengeance. Its chief spokesman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, did the most to label Anglo-Saxons -- icons of beauty and virtue -- as the only true Americans. It was an ideal that excluded not only blacks but also all ethnic groups not of Protestant, northern European background. The Irish and Native Americans were out and, later, so were the Chinese, Jews, Italians, Slavs, and Greeks -- all deemed racially alien. Did immigrations threaten the very existence of America? Americans were assumed to be white, but who among poor immigrants could become truly American? A tortured and convoluted series of scientific explorations developed -- theories intended to keep Anglo-Saxons at the top: the ever-popular measurement of skulls, the powerful eugenics movement, and highly biased intelligence tests -- all designed to keep working people out and down."--Publisher description.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton, ©2010
ISBN: 9780393079494
Branch Call Number: EBOOK OVERDRIVE
Characteristics: 1 online resource (496 pages) : illustrations, map

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From Library Staff

A provocative look at the white race—or, more accurately, the white races—by noted African-American scholar.

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Jun 21, 2020

Like Genovese, Nell Irvin Painter flips convention on its head with her book “The History of White People,” in which she examines race through the lens of whiteness, instead of blackness. What has whiteness meant through history, asks Painter, a professor emerita at Princeton, and how has it come to shape race relations in America, from the earliest European settlements to the present? (For those who want to read more from Painter, but in a different register, also check out “Old in Art School,” her memoir about her post-academic career.) - NYT

Feb 07, 2020

The construct of race was originated by the Hamitic Negro and Asiatic people groups as they, along with the sons and daughters of Shem and Japheth, moved across Pangea (Earth without continental divisions) through the first recorded beauty pageant among the early Mongols. Race came from a distinct form of standard of beauty. So in essence, racial categorizations has been with us for thousands of years of our human history and a so-called book about white people written by a extremely race-conscious black woman is an oxymoron? I appreciate Nell Irving Painters unique way of explaining the "painful to make it palpable", it unfortunately still isn't the answer to a fair and honest discussion on race matters.

Jan 08, 2020

One of the most important and insightful books that I have ever read. It made me upset at first, but the longer I thought about it the more I began to let my guard down and embrace the message the book is giving. I feel like I have become much more aware and compassionate of others after really giving this book a fair chance. I hope one day this book will become a required reading in school.

JCLJohnK Oct 06, 2018

A must read for anyone interested in the history and evolution of the concept of race in Western society. This work focuses on Europe and America and the ways "race" has been redefined through the ages. It offers a perspective that gets behind all of our basic assumptions.

Jun 02, 2016

It will shock some well-educated people how racial prejudices motivated "white people" (the definition constantly changing) to place themselves above the "huddled masses" and define race on a "Christian" scale. But the concept of race is relatively modern but forefathers such Emerson and Teddy Roosevelt were true believers in their own words. A detailed and unwavering history of the concept of race, all the head measuring and the so-called science of beauty. The author has done solid work and has an easy style to follow. Bravo!

Apr 25, 2011

Great overview of the concept of whiteness, especially pertaining to the USA. Chapters tend to be brief and the author covers a nice breadth topics, so the book rarely drags.



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