- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 18, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393339742
- ISBN-13: 978-0393339741
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The History of White People Paperback – April 18, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter's inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of white identity in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors, Painter's wide-ranging response is a who's who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar; Saint Patrick, history's most famous British slave of the early medieval period; Madame de Staël; and Emerson, the philosopher king of American white race theory. Painter (Sojourner Truth) reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking them to one another across time and language barriers. Conceptions of beauty (ideals of white beauty [became] firmly embedded in the science of race), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. What we can see, the author observes, depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for. For the variable, changing, and often capricious definition of whiteness, Painter offers a kaleidoscopic lens. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* Painter is the author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (1996) and several other scholarly works on the history of slavery and race relations in America, most recently Creating Black Americans (2006). Her latest selection examines the history of “whiteness” as a racial category and rhetorical weapon: who is considered to be “white,” who is not, what such distinctions mean, and how notions of whiteness have morphed over time in response to shifting demographics, aesthetic tastes, and political exigencies. After a brief look at how the ancients conceptualized the differences between European peoples, Painter focuses primarily on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There, the artistic idealization of beautiful white slaves from the Caucasus combined with German Romantic racial theories and lots of spurious science to construct an ideology of white superiority which, picked up by Ralph Waldo Emerson and other race-obsessed American intellectuals, quickly became an essential component of the nation’s uniquely racialized discourse about who could be considered an American. Presenting vivid psychological portraits of Emerson and dozens of other figures variously famous and obscure, and carefully mapping the links between them, Painter’s narrative succeeds as an engaging and sophisticated intellectual history, as well as an eloquent reminder of the fluidity (and perhaps futility) of racial categories. --Brendan Driscoll --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Painter begins in antiquity, a time in which race was not important so much as place; where you were from, a time of social hierarchy and class more so than racial consciousness. The disturbing truth is that class served more to define one's status and place than ethnicity or race for many centuries. Slavery, the great sin of any age, was racially colorblind in antiquity, and even in colonial America it was initially colorblind if indentured servitude is included. Painter guides readers through the evolution and construct of whiteness leading up to the harsh realities of the 19th Century, a time where whiteness took on further nuances, differences, and distinctions owing to increased immigration. It was a time when the Irish, Italians, Jews, and "others" were denigrated for their otherness; for not fitting the Anglo-Saxon ideal of whiteness.Read more ›
I was very impressed by her thorough research into the lives of the people who created the theory of race. Yes, she does make a point to highlight that the main actors were Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic Nordics. So what? Yes, she's a black woman and yes she has a leftist viewpoint. But she would be less than competent as a historian if she had not pointed this out.
My only objection is that sometimes she gets bogged down in too much minutiae on the lives of the scholars she's describing. On the other hand, she also delves into the personal and collegial relationships of these race theorists to each other and that's interesting.
Very good book and well worth reading.
I was in university before black studies and had not even heard of white studies until I read this book.Read more ›
Stated in the second sentence, Painter’s main argument in this book is that “race is an idea, not a fact.” (ix) This argument is hardly new, as others before her such as Stuart Hall have argued that the concept of race is a “floating signifier” with no biological basis. However, Painter points out that despite academia’s general acknowledgement of race as a discursive construct, the average person still views race in biological terms and “many Americans cling to race as the unschooled cling to superstition.” (xii)
Painter begins the book in the depths of antiquity long before there was a USA. She points out the oft forgotten fact that there was an extensive and complex history of white slavery beginning as far back as the Greeks and Scythians.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great explanations about the 4 "enlargements of whiteness" and illustrating how race is a tool of political & economic needs.Published 22 days ago by Amazon Customer
It is a good history of European development from a perspective I had not read before. A worthwhile read.Published 1 month ago by Student
Excellent read, helps to explain how we got where we are today! Must have for anyone interested in equality issuesPublished 1 month ago by Tamara Turner
The author begins her search for whiteness in the midst of Greek and Roman Myths, where, as is still true today, power determined the markers of ethnic differences rather than... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Herbert L Calhoun
Another wonderful work attempting to diminish and denigrate western civilization.Published 3 months ago by B Bob
We all bleed red but if one does not learn about the difference in nationality and the different culture across this world that God created peace cannot be stillPublished 3 months ago by Lawrence Trimblett
If anything, she (author) is super-intelligent and impeccably thorough with research. An interesting read for anyone who seeks to expand his/her base when it concerns issues of... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Sean A. Hinton