A Dreadful Deceit
The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America
By Jacqueline Jones
(Basic Books (AZ), Hardcover, 9780465036707, 381pp.)
Publication Date: December 2013
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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 color--are 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.
Author Jacqueline Jones argues that race is a social construct and that people should think twice before even using the word. Host Rachel Martin talks with Jones about her new book, A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America. More at NPR.org
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