White Purity, Black Sexuality, and Their Roles in America’s History of Racism

Posted in History, Interviews, Law, Media Archive, United States, Videos on 2021-11-02 01:37Z by Steven

White Purity, Black Sexuality, and Their Roles in America’s History of Racism

Center for Brooklyn History

In her new book, “White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America’s Racist History,” historian Jane Dailey places white fear of Black sexuality and interracial sex at the center of America’s history of racism.

Dailey brings into sharp relief how white focus on safeguarding purity fueled centuries of brutality and structural racism. Historian Nell Painter looks at the nineteenth and twentieth century south through an intersecting lens. Her book “Southern History Across the Color Line” brings to the surface the many ways in which the lives of southern Blacks and whites were thoroughly entangled. Join these two thinkers as they reflect on the white American psyche, the messy tangles between races in the south, and the throughline that brings us from Emmett Till, to Loving v. Virginia, to the racism that continues today.

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Episode 38: Skulls and Skin (Seeing White, Part 8)

Posted in Audio, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Interviews on 2017-06-11 22:01Z by Steven

Episode 38: Skulls and Skin (Seeing White, Part 8)

Scene on Radio

John Biewen, Host and Audio Program Director/Instructor
Center for Documentary Studies
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Skulls in the Samuel Morton Collection, University of Pennsylvania Museum. Photo by John Biewen

Scientists weren’t the first to divide humanity along racial – and racist – lines. But for hundreds of years, racial scientists claimed to provide proof for those racist hierarchies – and some still do.

Resources for this episode:

Listen to the podcast (00:45:56) here. Download the podcast here.

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What Is Whiteness?

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2015-07-01 01:33Z by Steven

What Is Whiteness?

Sunday Review
The New York Times

Nell Irvin Painter, Professor Emerita of History
Princeton University

The terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C., an atrocity like so many other shameful episodes in American history, has overshadowed the drama of Rachel A. Dolezal’s yearslong passing for black. And for good reason: Hateful mass murder is, of course, more consequential than one woman’s fiction. But the two are connected in a way that is relevant to many Americans.

An essential problem here is the inadequacy of white identity. Everyone loves to talk about blackness, a fascinating thing. But bring up whiteness and fewer people want to talk about it. Whiteness is on a toggle switch between “bland nothingness” and “racist hatred.”

On one side is Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old charged with murdering nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday. He’s part of a very old racist tradition, stretching from the anti-black violence following the Civil War, through the 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation,” to today’s white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and gun-toting, apocalyptically minded Obama-haters. And now a mass murderer in a church.

On the other side is Ms. Dolezal, the former leader of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., who, it seems, mistakenly believed that she could not be both anti-racist and white. Faced with her assumed choice between a blank identity or a malevolent one, she opted out of whiteness altogether. Notwithstanding the confusion and anger she has stirred, she continues to say that she identifies as black. Fine. But why, we wonder, did she pretend to be black?

Our search for understanding in matters of race automatically inclines us toward blackness, although that is not where these answers lie. It has become a common observation that blackness, and race more generally, is a social construct. But examining whiteness as a social construct offers more answers. The essential problem is the inadequacy of white identity…

Read the entire article here.

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‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-18 19:41Z by Steven

‘William Wells Brown,’ by Ezra Greenspan

The New York Times
Sunday Book Review

Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita
Princeton University

Greenspan, Ezra, William Wells Brown: An African American Life (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)

If the publishing industry reflects the American zeitgeist, things have changed when it comes to black American historical figures. As a graduate student at Harvard decades ago, I came across William Wells Brown, the fugitive slave, abolitionist, lecturer, travelogue writer, novelist and performer whose wide-ranging intelligence turned a gaze on white people (for a change). Back then he was to be found in only one full-length biography, William Edward Farrison’s “William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer” (1969). Published by the University of Chicago Press in the twilight of the “second Reconstruction” and at the dawning of African-American studies, it depicted Brown as a representative black American. In the absence of the biographical scholarship coming after 1969, Brown’s colleagues remained ill defined. Farrison’s biography was reviewed only in publishing trade papers and a couple of history journals. What was the problem?

It wasn’t Brown’s lack of an interesting life: more on that momentarily. The main problem was that 20th-century American culture accommodated only one 19th-­century black man, a spot already taken by the monumental, best-selling Frederick Douglass. Another problem was theoretical: Farrison published his biography before the flowering of two other fields crucial to a full appreciation of Brown’s public life — the history of the book and performance art…

…The child who would be William Wells Brown was born enslaved in Kentucky, in about 1814, the son of his owner’s cousin. In St. Louis, given the job of tending a young charge also called William, his name was changed to Sandford with the carelessness characteristic of slave naming. As Sandford he worked in his owner’s medical office and on the Mississippi River’s ships and docks. After several unsuccessful attempts at escape, one with his mother, he finally fled St. Louis at about age 19. He retook his own name William and added Wells Brown in honor of the Quaker who had rescued him from starving and freezing in Ohio

Read the entire review here.

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Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2013-07-07 01:09Z by Steven

Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?

The New York Times

Shaila Dewan, Economics Reporter


As a racial classification, the term Caucasian has many flaws, dating as it does from a time when the study of race was based on skull measurements and travel diaries. It has long been entirely unmoored from its geographical reference point, the Caucasus region. Its equivalents from that era are obsolete — nobody refers to Asians as “Mongolian” or blacks as “Negroid.”

And yet, there it was in the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. The plaintiff, noted Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in his majority opinion, was Caucasian.

To me, having covered the South for many years, the term seems like one of those polite euphemisms that hides more than it reveals. There is no legal reason to use it. It rarely appears in federal statutes, and the Census Bureau has never put a checkbox by the word Caucasian. (White is an option.)…

…The use of Caucasian to mean white was popularized in the late 18th century by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German anthropologist, who decreed that it encompassed Europeans and the inhabitants of a region reaching from the Obi River in Russia to the Ganges to the Caspian Sea, plus northern Africans. He chose it because the Caucasus was home to “the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgians,” and because among his collection of 245 human skulls, the Georgian one was his favorite wrote Nell Irvin Painter, a historian who explored the term’s origins in her book “The History of White People.”…

Susan Glisson, who as the executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Oxford, Miss., regularly witnesses Southerners sorting through their racial vocabulary, said she rarely hears “Caucasian.” “Most of the folks who work in this field know that it’s a completely ridiculous term to assign to whites,” she said. “I think it’s a term of last resort for people who are really uncomfortable talking about race. They use the term that’s going to make them be as distant from it as possible.”

There is another reason to use it, said Jennifer L. Hochschild, a professor of government and African-American studies at Harvard. “The court, or some clever clerk, doesn’t really want to use the word white in part because roughly half of Hispanics consider themselves white.” She added, “White turns out to be a much more ambiguous term now than we used to think it was.”

There are a number of terms that refer to various degrees of blackness, both current and out of favor: African-American, mulatto, Negro, colored, octaroon. There are not a lot of options for whites. In Texas, they say Anglo. And there is the pejorative we were so pithily reminded of when a witness in the racially charged George Zimmerman trial said the victim, Trayvon Martin, had called Mr. Zimmerman a “creepy-ass cracker.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The History of White People

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2009-12-27 01:32Z by Steven

The History of White People

W. W. Norton & Company
March 2010
448 pages
6.125 × 9.25 in
ISBN: 978-0-393-04934-3

Nell Irvin Painter

A mind-expanding and myth-destroying exploration of “whiteness”—an illuminating work on the history of race and power.

Eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter tells perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history. Beginning at the roots of Western civilization, she traces the invention of the idea of a white race—often for economic, scientific, and political ends. She shows how the origins of American identity in the eighteenth century were intrinsically tied to the elevation of white skin into the embodiment of beauty, power, and intelligence; how the great American intellectuals— including Ralph Waldo Emerson—insisted that only Anglo Saxons were truly American; and how the definitions of who is “white” and who is “American” have evolved over time.

A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People closes an enormous gap in a literature that has long focused on the nonwhite, and it forcefully reminds us that the concept of “race” is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed according to a long and rich history.

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We Were Always Free: The Maddens of Culpeper County, Virginia, A 200-Year Family History

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Virginia on 2009-11-19 02:39Z by Steven

We Were Always Free: The Maddens of Culpeper County, Virginia, A 200-Year Family History

University of Virginia Press
304 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4
52 b&w illustrations
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8139-2371-0

T. O. Madden, Jr. (1903-2000)


Ann L. Miller, Historian
Virginia Transportation Research Council

Foreword by Nell Irvin Painter

In August of 1758, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, a poor Irish immigrant named Mary Madden bore a child, Sarah Madden, whose father was said to be a slave and the property of Colonel James Madison, father of the future president of the United States. This daughter, though born to a free mulatto, became indentured to the Madisons. There she worked as a seamstress to pay off the fine of her birth until she was thirty-one years old.

Sarah Madden bore ten children; when the term of her indenture was over, she and her youngest son, Willis, struck out for themselves—Sarah as a seamstress, laundress, and later, with Willis, a dairy farmer and tavern keeper.

Spanning two hundred years of American history, We Were Always Free tells its story with remarkable completeness. we can thank Sarah Madden and her descendants for keeping their family narrative alive—and for saving hundreds of important documents detailing their freedom, hardship, and daily work.

These documents came to light in 1949 when T. O. Madden Jr. discovered a hidebound trunk originally belonging to his great-grandfather Willis. Stored in the trunk were papers dating back to the mid-eighteenth century, freedom papers, papers of indenture, deeds of land, Sarah Madden’s laundry and seamstress record books, letters, traveling passes. The trunk even held a full set of business records from the nineteenth century when Madden’s Tavern flourished as a center of activity in Orange County and as a rest stop on the road to Fredericksburg.

From that day forward, T. O. Madden deeply researched his family, using census reports, other official sources, family, and friends. All have led to his ably reconstructed family history, and to his own remarkable story.

We Were Always Free is a unique and very American family saga.

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