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Racism: A Short History [Paperback]

by George M. Fredrickson
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 22, 2003 0691116520 978-0691116525

Are antisemitism and white supremacy manifestations of a general phenomenon? Why didn't racism appear in Europe before the fourteenth century, and why did it flourish as never before in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Why did the twentieth century see institutionalized racism in its most extreme forms? Why are egalitarian societies particularly susceptible to virulent racism? What do apartheid South Africa, Nazi Germany, and the American South under Jim Crow have in common? How did the Holocaust advance civil rights in the United States?

With a rare blend of learning, economy, and cutting insight, George Fredrickson surveys the history of Western racism from its emergence in the late Middle Ages to the present. Beginning with the medieval antisemitism that put Jews beyond the pale of humanity, he traces the spread of racist thinking in the wake of European expansionism and the beginnings of the African slave trade. And he examines how the Enlightenment and nineteenth-century romantic nationalism created a new intellectual context for debates over slavery and Jewish emancipation.

Fredrickson then makes the first sustained comparison between the color-coded racism of nineteenth-century America and the antisemitic racism that appeared in Germany around the same time. He finds similarity enough to justify the common label but also major differences in the nature and functions of the stereotypes invoked. The book concludes with a provocative account of the rise and decline of the twentieth century's overtly racist regimes--the Jim Crow South, Nazi Germany, and apartheid South Africa--in the context of world historical developments.

This illuminating work is the first to treat racism across such a sweep of history and geography. It is distinguished not only by its original comparison of modern racism's two most significant varieties--white supremacy and antisemitism--but also by its eminent readability.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An erudite comparison of racism and anti-Semitism throughout Western history, George M. Fredrickson's amazingly concise Racism: A Short History explains how medieval anti-Semitism influenced the racist rationalization of the African slave trade; shows how the Enlightenment and Romanticism opened up new avenues for thinking about Jews and slaves; and contrasts American Jim Crow laws, Nazi Germany's Aryan nation and South African apartheid. A U.S. history professor at Stanford and co-director of the Research Institute for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, Fredrickson offers a scholarly but compelling and accessible narrative.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Amid the many books on the why's of racism comes a new analysis from Fredrickson (history, Stanford Univ.), author of several books on the history of racial ideologies, including The Arrogance of Race and Black Liberation. In this concise history, Fredrickson seeks to answer where and why racism began and what forms it has taken through the ages. Combining comparative, geographical, and historical perspectives, he studies the origin of Western racism from its emergence in the late Middle Ages to the present time. He begins by defining racism as a system that establishes a permanent racial hierarchy reflecting the laws of nature or decrees of God. Thus, stigmatized groups can never change their status and rise to a position of power within the dominant group. According to Fredrickson, this was first applied to Jews in the Middle Ages. Racism spread following European expansion and the African slave trade and grew during the Enlightenment. A particularly interesting insight is the comparison of the Jim Crow South, Nazi Germany, and apartheid South Africa. Both illuminating and distressing, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the evolution of one of the darkest sides of human nature. Recommended for informed readers in both public and academic libraries. Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 22, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691116520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691116525
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #231,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Overview November 11, 2002
George Fredrickson is a Stanford history professor who has studied racism (particularly of the white supremacist variety) for many years. In this "Short History," he attempts a synthesis and comparison of much of what he has learned from his own work and that of others. An initial problem in tracing the history of "racism" is in deciding what exactly counts as "racism" -- for example, is the ancient prejudice against foreigners (barbarians) a kind of racism or simply xenophobia or ethnocentrism? Fredrickson excludes ancient examples on the ground that members of disfavored groups could (more or less) overcome these prejudices by adopting (assimilating) the dominant culture. One's status as Other was neither immutable nor (necessarily) heritable. An essential element of racism, in Fredrickson's view, is the belief that certain differences are tied to race, that those differences cannot be overcome by human action, *and* (most critically) that those differences have implications for how society ought to be structured (ranging from informal prejudice and discrimination against the disfavored group through legal segregation to exclusion/extermination).
Definition in hand, Fredrickson provides a fascinating overview of how religious prejudice (against Jews and heathens) gradually transformed (through different paths) into racial prejudice, and how racial prejudice became official policy in the American South of the Jim Crow era, Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. (European attitudes toward Native Americans are briefly explored, but then dropped without much development, and the eventual subjugation of Native Americans by the federal government is ignored completely, for reasons which are not apparent to me.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Written with remarkable clarity August 9, 2002
This book is certainly short only some 160 pages(the rest of the 200 is made up of foot notes) but it is written with a clarity that makes it a delight to read. The thesis of the book is that racism is something, which developed due to Western Europe?s relation with the Jews and Africans. In medieval times the failure of the Jews to convert to Christianity became to be seen as reflecting something malicious or evil rather than being a purely intellectual failing. It was something to do with the character or nature of the Jews themselves.
However racism took off in a big way in the 19th Century. The Enlightenment had made it possible to see mankind as a type of animal. In that animals had certain characteristics it became fashionable to attribute cultural differences in people to a biological cause. It became fashionable to characterise people who lives in Britain or Germany as members of the British or German race rather than as Britons or Germans. The poverty of other groups such as Africans was seen as a product of their racial breeding rather than being the result of their history and sociology. European universities developed departments that investigated the pseudo science of Eugenics or the study of the biological character of races.
Racism became something that was supported by the actions of states. Places such as Australia developed immigration policies to preserve the racial character of their state. In South Africa and America political systems, were developed aimed at subjugating blacks.
Germany brought about the end of racism as an accepted part of main stream policy by its crimes. One of the interesting facts raised in the book is that the Holocaust was Germany?s second tray at Genocide.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
George Frederickson stated in Racism: A Short History, that racism reached its peak in the twentieth century with the rise of three "over, racist regimes". Frederickson's three overt racist regimes were the U.S. South during the "Jim Crow era", Nazi Germany, and the apartheid government of South Africa (Frederickson, p. 99). He chose these states because they effectively enforced racism through the mechanisms of the state rather than through custom. Frederickson's criteria included regimes that bureaucratized a racial ideology, codified racism by law, excluded "other" groups from power, and forced those excluded groups into poverty (Frederickson, p. 100). While Frederickson acknowledged the racist ideologies of European colonial regimes during the "scramble" for Africa, he did not refer to those states as "overtly racist" because they allowed native elites to have some access to power. Frederickson viewed World War Two and the Cold War as key components in the dismantling of overt racism worldwide, the decolonization of Africa (and Asia), and the dismantling of the apartheid regime of South Africa. While Frederickson acknowledged that subtle racism continues, he argued that overtly racist regimes have become extinct in the twenty-first century.

Throughout Racism: A Short History, Frederickson used simplistic arguments and showed a misunderstanding of the complexities of ethnic strife to write a short book which packaged the "greatest hits" of racism. Too often, Frederickson failed to differentiate between institutional racism; racism enforced by the state, and basic racism; in which individuals commit acts of hatred against those that are different.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Racism: A Short History is awesome
I am a product of the 20th Century Civil Rights Movement. I have lived the experiences of dedicating my whole being to struggle and advocacy as Frederick Douglass advocated. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ernest Gardner
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
Not only is it well written and easy to read, but it has a lot of information in it that I didn't learn in high school history class.
Published 12 months ago by rpg_gyrl
4.0 out of 5 stars What is racism? I consulted many dictionaries in several languages
The other Amazon reviews are generally excellent. Two-star through five-star reviews were helpful. Read more
Published on April 18, 2010 by Graham H. Seibert
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the most thorough book ever written, but important nonetheless
Georg M. Fredrickson is, among other things, a scholar at the Research Institute for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity as well as author of several books about the... Read more
Published on March 22, 2007 by Stefan Isaksson
1.0 out of 5 stars This book sucks
As a black man I can truthfully say that every word is b.s. I didn't finish reading it, but I didn't have to either. This book is rascist.
Published on July 17, 2006 by Lyndon Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent short history
Beware of the negative reviewer who thinks that one should write about racism and anti-semitism in a 'clinically disinterested manner. Read more
Published on May 2, 2006 by philosopher
4.0 out of 5 stars hard-headed look at a misused concept
The guts of the book is a parallel analysis of two of the most virulent forms of racism: Nazi anti-semitism and US white supremacy. Read more
Published on February 2, 2005 by Neal Alexander
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a very good book
Beware of academics praising each other's work. This is a dull summary of "white supremacy" and "antisemitism. Read more
Published on December 7, 2002
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