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An American creation myth posits that these two black men were the victims of racial discrimination, a primal prejudice that the United States has haltingly but gradually repudiated over the course of many generations. In "A Dreadful Deceit," award-winning historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of Antonio, Owens, and four other African Americans to illustrate the strange history of race in America. In truth, Jones shows, race does not exist, and the very factors that we think of as determining it a person s heritage or skin colorare mere pretexts for the brutalization of powerless people by the powerful. Jones shows that for decades, southern planters did not even bother to justify slavery by invoking the concept of race; only in the late eighteenth century did whites begin to rationalize the exploitation and marginalization of blacks through notions of racial difference. Indeed, race amounted to a political strategy calculated to defend overt forms of discrimination, as revealed in the stories of Boston King, a fugitive in Revolutionary South Carolina; Elleanor Eldridge, a savvy but ill-starred businesswoman in antebellum Providence, Rhode Island; Richard W. White, a Union veteran and Republican politician in post-Civil War Savannah; and William Holtzclaw, founder of an industrial school for blacks in Mississippi, where many whites opposed black schooling of any kind. These stories expose the fluid, contingent, and contradictory idea of race, and the disastrous effects it has had, both in the past and in our own supposedly post-racial society.
Expansive, visionary, and provocative, "A Dreadful Deceit" explodes the pernicious fiction that has shaped four centuries of American history.
- ISBN-13: 9780465036707
- ISBN-10: 0465036708
- Publisher: Basic Books
- Publish Date: December 2013
- Page Count: 381
- Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.75 x 9.75 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-10-07
- Reviewer: Staff
MacArthur Fellow and Bancroft Prize–winning historian Jones’s aim in this heartfelt book is to redefine our ideas of what constitutes “race” while arguing that the entire foundation of racial categorizing is unscientific and deeply injurious historically. While that argument is widely held by scientists and scholars, it still lacks widespread acceptance. So in what is the most persuasive and satisfying feature of this authoritative book, Jones relates the stories of six “black” Americans across different eras spanning nearly half a millennium. These riveting tales emerge from Jones’s deep knowledge of African-American history and her brilliant use of previously unexploited sources. If at times unsubtle—Jones finds it necessary to keep reminding us that “race” is mythic, not real—she leaves no doubt that ever-changing racial mythologies “have nothing to do with biological determinism and everything to do with power relations.” Racial ideologies, she shows, have long been a pretext for injustice, are always in flux, and while they deeply affect us all, have never extinguished the robust determination of the oppressed to gain safety, dignity, and a rightful place in the nation’s civic life. Agent: Geri Thoma, Writers House. (Dec.)