Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nell Irvin Painter

Nell Irvin Painter is the award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History Across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, and Standing at Armageddon. Her new book is The History of White People.

From her Q & A with Thomas Rogers at Salon:

Why write a history of whiteness?

We've spent so much time in this country on various racial issues. It's our national sport, in a way, and it's always as if there is only one side: nonwhite. But this is one of those binaries where you need both sides to make sense of it.

I want to point out that this book is not about white nationalism. It's not about how bad white people are. It's about how we have thought about people now considered white. I used to encounter reservations about the project, and people would ask, "Why are you doing this as a black person?" People hear it's a book called "The History of White People" and that it's by a black author, and make assumptions.

We've all seen the word "Caucasian," usually when we're filling out forms, but most of us have no idea where it came from. What is a Caucasian, exactly?

It comes from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who applied it to a large swatch of humanity on the 11th of April, 1795, with the publications of the third edition of his dissertation, in Latin, about the varieties of mankind. He used the word "Caucasian" because he wanted to underscore the beauty of white-skinned people. He thought they were the most beautiful. He located these people in Europe, east into Russia, south into India and southwest into North Africa. The Caucasus is a border area between Europe and Asia and it's an area freighted with mythological baggage -- Jason and the Argonauts, Mount Ararat.

The Human Genome Project found that there's no genetic basis for racial difference. Is this the end of race?

This is...[read on]
Visit Nell Irvin Painter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue