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White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American Hist)

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807845509
ISBN-10: 0807845507
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"One of the most important historical works of the past 40 years, contributing to the cultural shift in white thinking that made possible the election of Barack Obama."
— Gordon S. Wood, Wall Street Journal

A massive and learned work that stands as the most informed and impressive pronouncement on the subject yet made.

C. Vann Woodward, New York Times Book Review

[A] rare thing: an original contribution to an important subject.

The judges for the 1969 National Book Award for History and Biography

This monumental study is a tremendously important block, fascinating and appalling, of American social and cultural history.

The Phi Beta Kappa Senate award committee for the 1968 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award

A monumental work of scholarship.

Publishers Weekly

White Over Black will stand as a landmark in the historiography of this generation. . . . A brilliant achievement.

Richard D. Brown, New England Quarterly

From the Inside Flap

A timeless classic and award-winning work on the history of race relations in early America.
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Product Details

  • Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American Hist
  • Paperback: 651 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (September 25, 1968)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807845507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807845509
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,362,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I write to refute the reviewer who gave Jordan's great book one star. White Over Black is probably the best single work of scholarship in any field on race in American history--still current and trenchant after more than thirty years. Jordan's Jefferson chapters remain definitive, his examination of Europeans' "first impressions" of Africans is classic, and his basic perspective--that one cannot say that slavery caused racism or vice versa, but intertwined--completely persuasive. His insistence that racial attitudes intertwine with sexual stereotypes, prejudices, and self-doubts reshaped the field. The book is brilliantly written and rests on an unmatched mastery of literally thousands of sources. Anyone interested in the history of race in America should read it.
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Format: Paperback
Winthrop D. Jordan answers the question, "what were the attitudes of white men toward Negroes during the first two centuries of European and African settlement in what became the United States of America?" in his book, White Over Black: Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812 (vii). Jordan answers this question comprehensively; his book is sectioned off chronologically into six parts. The first part covers the evolution of the American attitudes regarding the Negroes with references to English perspectives, interpretations, and hypotheses, and topics of enslavement. The second part, "Provincial Decades," involves topics on freedom and control in a slave society, interracial sex, and of the spiritual and physical nature of a Negro. This is followed with an overview on the revolutionary era in which the Americans impose self-scrutiny on their behavior. Part four, "Society and Thought," gives in-depth descriptions on economic interest and national identity, limitations of antislavery, revolution, and result of separation. The last section involves Thomas Jefferson's actions and his impact on society, the "chain of being of the Negro," erasing Nature's "Stamp of Color," and actions toward a white man's country. The organization of these topics demonstrates analytically to the reader the development of racial "attitudes" as time passes.
Jordan's basic perspective of this issue was that slavery was not caused by racism or vice versa, these two factors both attributed to each other's development. This book is predominantly focused on how the Americans and their historical encounters formed and were fashioned by people different from themselves.
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This work is a well-crafted, non-polemical theoretical chronology of the history of race and racism in Western and American culture. Winthdrop Jordan, now a professor at the University of Mississippi, is a careful writer and respected historian. His treatment, although non-polemical, still is very much a white-centered rendition of the formation of racism, with an historical bent and a heavy flavor of the "blacks are still a White Man's Burden" genre.

He sets forth the thesis that racism was not caused by slavery but in fact preceded it by at least a century. Attitudes and myths about dark skinned people formed by European sailors during the era of sea exploration to Africa, gelled and cross-fertilized upon reaching the "New World," where an abundance of land and a scarcity of labor conspired to reduce the Negro to the bottom of the American social and economic heap.

Negroes as slaves were always morally problematic, and American whites were forced to continue fashioning, revising and updating the rationalizations needed to justify their mistreatment and continued enslavement of them. The most stable result was an ideology of racial superiority that melded together the sailors' myths and attitudes about blacks, and a self-serving rendition of white, mostly Protestant, religion. This ideological concoction was so successful that over time maltreatment of blacks was pretty much taken as normal.

Primarily to avoid endangering their souls, only a handful of well-off religious zealots, the abolitionists, failed to accept these rationalizations. They chose adherence to higher moral and religious principles over racist ideology. But interestingly, they did not give up notions of superiority and continued to despise and would not consort with Negroes.
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Winthrop D. Jordan wrote an extrudinary book on the culture of blacks in America."Long before they found that some men were black, Englishmen found in the idea of blackness a way of expressing some of their most ingrained values," historian Winthrop D. Jordan wrote in his 1968 book White Over Black. To the English, the color black meant something foul wicked, deadly, filthy and sinister. White denoted beauty, purity and virtue. English travelers to Africa commented at length on the Africans' lack of clothing, their "heathen" religious beliefs, their seemingly lusty nature. They described Negroes as "beastly," compared them to apes and speculated that their skin color was the manifestation of an ancient Biblical curse.
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