The History of White People

by Nell Irvin Painter

Hardcover, 2010

Call number

305.8 PAI



W. W. Norton & Company (2010), Edition: First Edition first Printing, 512 pages


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.

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User reviews

LibraryThing member Fledgist
White people in the English-speaking world have operated under the assumption that they are raceless and/or that "whiteness" is a universal, ahistorical characteristic. Painter strips these assumptions bare and shows how "whiteness" developed as a category. A useful, fascinating study.
LibraryThing member phyllis01
Excellent book. Gives the historical perspective for current 'race beliefs' in society.
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
A brilliant work of scholarship! Accessible, insightful, provocative.
LibraryThing member KikiUnhinged
One of the most fascinating historical references I've read covering civilizations over 2000 years. Important education about the origination of the "white ideal" and the invention of race.
LibraryThing member ohernaes
Interesting parts, like about how there used to be hard within-European white fronts that are now much less pronounced, and president Theodore Roosevelt's worries about racial decay and writings about positive eugenics (boosting fertility), but overall I found the book too long and slow.
LibraryThing member rivkat
“Whiteness” has been a European obsession for centuries, including claims about how ancient Egyptians—at least the ruling castes—were white and fair-haired (they just wore wigs in pictures, the story went) and how modern Greeks weren’t really the Greeks of ancient times, whose proper descendants were some version of French, German, or English depending on the commitments of the proponent. In the US, this turns into a persistent contrast with blackness, though Painter also recounts the arguments for why the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews who immigrated weren’t really white, until they became so (most often in response to a new wave of immigrants who seemed even more different).… (more)
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
The history of the concept of “white People” is traced from Classical Times, when the “Top People” weren’t, strictly speaking, “White” down to relatively recent times. It is the story of the exponents of various racial theorists’ thoughts at least through their published works, though filmed and other media are also explored. Some of these theorists are shown to be deliberately pursuing political or economic programs, while others are drawn into the discussion of “Race” from other fields and interests. There is also a discussion of the extent to which the social concept of “Race” can be verified by any form of physical evidence save personal appearance.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bodagirl
Interesting but incredibly dense.
LibraryThing member xiaomarlo
It isn't what I expected (I thought it would be a deeper deconstruction of what we perceive to be white, but it's more of an academic historical survey), but I certainly did learn a lot. My favourite parts were reading about courageous progressives, telling the truth about racial oppression in much more racist and backward-thinking times. Also, I didn't know the racist history of the GI bill, and it makes so much sense (so much racial oppression is omitted from the history we learn growing up), and gave me a different perspective on the incessant self-congratulation of my parents' generation, the baby boomers, who act like they weren't born into the most privileged generation in history.… (more)




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