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The History of White People

Narrated by: Allyson Johnson
Length: 14 hrs and 9 mins
5 out of 5 stars (1 rating)
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Publisher's Summary

A mind-expanding and myth-destroying exploration of notions of white race—not merely a skin color but also a signal of power, prestige, and beauty to be withheld and granted selectively. Ever since the Enlightenment, race theory and its inevitable partner, racism, have followed a crooked road, constructed by dominant peoples to justify their domination of others. Filling a huge gap in historical literature that long focused on the non-white, eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter guides us through more than two thousand years of Western civilization, tracing not only the invention of the idea of race but also the frequent worship of “whiteness” for economic, social, scientific, and political ends.

Our story begins in Greek and Roman antiquity, where the concept of race did not exist, only geography and the opportunity to conquer and enslave others. Not until the eighteenth century did an obsession with whiteness flourish, with the German invention of the notion of Caucasian beauty. This theory made northern Europeans into “Saxons,” “Anglo-Saxons,” and “Teutons,” envisioned as uniquely handsome natural rulers. Here was a worldview congenial to northern Europeans bent on empire. There followed an explosion of theories of race, now focusing on racial temperament as well as skin color. Spread by such intellectuals as Madame de Stael and Thomas Carlyle, white race theory soon reached North America with a vengeance.

Its chief spokesman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, did the most to label Anglo-Saxons—icons of beauty and virtue—as the only true Americans. It was an ideal that excluded not only blacks but also all ethnic groups not of Protestant, northern European background. The Irish and Native Americans were out and, later, so were the Chinese, Jews, Italians, Slavs, and Greeks—all deemed racially alien. Did immigrations threaten the very existence of America? Americans were assumed to be white, but who among poor immigrants could become truly American?

A tortured and convoluted series of scientific explorations developed—theories intended to keep Anglo-Saxons at the top: the ever-popular measurement of skulls, the powerful eugenics movement, and highly biased intelligence tests—all designed to keep working people out and down. As Painter reveals, power—supported by economics, science, and politics—continued to drive exclusionary notions of whiteness until, deep into the twentieth century, political realities enlarged the category of truly American.

A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People forcefully reminds us that the concept of one white race is a recent invention. The meaning, importance, and realty of this all-too-human thesis of race have buckled under the weight of a long and rich unfolding of events.

©2010 Nell Irvin Painter (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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  • Emily L.
  • 25-08-2014

Destroys the myth that race is about skin color

What made the experience of listening to The History of White People the most enjoyable?

I found this book to be enlightening and even though it contains a huge amount of information it is still bearable. The presentation of illogical, contradictory race theory about different European races really revealed how the concept of race in general is a social construct.

Which scene was your favorite?

I was surprised to learn about 1920's eugenics and the campaign against "degenerate" families...meaning poor whites... who contradicted the theory that Anglo Saxons where a superior race..

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

This book covers a great deal of time and contains many names and dates while addressing a very complex topic. It would have been impossible for me to listen to it all in one sitting. Still I found it very engaging, and I just accepted that I would never be able to retain all the details in my memory.

Any additional comments?

Economics, religion, science, literature and politics have all played their part in the invention and maintenance of race theories that have been used to justify inequality and the status quo of keeping power from those deemed as "other."

46 of 49 people found this review helpful

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  • ayodele higgs
  • 31-07-2015

A Great Listen

This book gave me a new look at the concept of race. The author did excellent research and introduced me to thoughts I never knew existed. I loved this book.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Paola V. Hidalgo
  • 26-07-2017

Very Interesting

all white people should read this book without judging this woman who did a great job writing it

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Salih Abdullah
  • 24-04-2015

Important history

It's hard to say you can dislike a history book. it's nothing more than the narration of supposedly factual events. I believe this historical text is something that should be taught in American public schools. We should understand this social construct of race. How it originated, developed, and divides us today is something that the youth deserve to know so they can lead in effectively in the future. For those reasons this book is a great academic introduction to this concept.

22 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • DEON E PROVOST
  • 30-08-2016

must read

a completely different take on race in America and it's emergence without vitriolic finger-pointing. am awesome read and narration

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Pgood
  • 15-12-2015

Brilliant

An eye-opening exploration of the construct of race. Regardless of whether you're "black" or "white" or anything in between, this book will change the way you think of the concept of "race".

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Cameron Richardson
  • 07-02-2018

Great Book on the Construction of American Whiteness

Painter's analytical account takes the reader from Greek Antiquity to the recent American past (Obama-era), detailing important thinkers and history otherwise. Clearly written and easy to read. The author finds a rational middle ground between important broad strokes and specific supporting detail (i.e. motif of the changing ideas of western political leaders, such as Caesar, Napoleon, and a litany of America presidents, which supplements the analysis of academic racial thought and reflects the trends in this history's progression). It's an admirable balance unless one hopes for a more exhaustive look at such history, in which case I'd still recommend this book, albeit along with further research. Though racial discourse can seem inherently divisive, this fair, largely detached description of informational storytelling offers only the analysis-based conclusions that readers ought to come to on their own. It shouldn't be controversial to anyone not personally invested in protecting the notion of biological determinism, or racial permanence. That being said, readers should not expect "deep" sociological analysis. Rather, readers should expect to gain understanding with respect to the history of "whiteness", whether or not they are familiar with notions of social construction and race. It's my personal opinion that we'd all feel less divided for understanding and learning from this history. Definitely read this book; definitely listen to this audiobook.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rrrapture G
  • 03-01-2018

Exacting, thorough, interesting

It took me a while to get into it because of the dates and names, but then I realized how well researched and blissfully thorough the book is. Which is what the best of science is to me. As a white woman in the US, I appreciate this book because I have rarely gotten a real solid answer on whiteness in the US, and IMO we all need to know where we come from--conceptually and spiritually if not literally. Nell Irvin Painter sheds light on this.

As a middle class/working class disabled white woman from a working class family, I value Painter's insight on class and the construction of racial whiteness and how that leads to pressure on each of us to live a certain role. The details and history are jaw dropping. The current day play of this legacy is *facepalm* really obvious after listening and inexcusable.

I have to honor the horrors that have been and are still done by your everyday, pleasant seeming white person to people of color and even poor (for example, homeless) white people in the interest of maintaining a certain standard of middle class whiteness. It's hard for me to hear, although this is not a new idea to me. But it's better to hear it and deal with it and stop doing that bs. The subtle humor of the author comes into view at various times of the read, and it's refreshing when the weight of the facts and sheer illogic of racism and classism can really weigh you down.

One thing I wish Painter would dealve into more: the othering of Indigenous Americans and how the process of colonialism and our current settler society (meaning the land we live on is, literally, stolen from the recent ancestors of our American Indian neighbors) ties into the house of cards of whiteness and settler identity.

I recommend this book. Thank you Nell Irvin Painter.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Angie Powels .H
  • 23-01-2017

wonderfully done!

This book does a a phenomenal job of pulling together pertinent authorship research and presentation of race and ethnicity not only from America but from its Global ancestry. How the author was able to tie in very important works of literature, science, religion, and sociology together to explicate the issue and presence of race today in America was fantastic! Great book!!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • OrlandoShopper
  • 24-09-2017

The basis of the USA

Painter makes it clear, even though she doesn't explicitly say it , that the existence of the construct of the USA, Inc., is dependent upon whiteness. In fact, what I take from this book is that, given Capitalism, Whiteness is THE single construct that undergirds the continued economic success of the whole enterprise known as the Americas.

Can one imagine how risky, career-wise, it was for Painter, an Princeton African American Scholar, to tell white folks who they are. It is also clear that Painter has had to write benignly (or is it the audio performance of Allyson Johnson) and avoid any language that could be used to accuse her of polemiscism(sp), in order have her work be acceptable.

For example, look at her treatment of Malcolm X in the context of so-called Black Power and nationalism movements. Instead of showing, fully, how the result of late '50s thru early '60s was an empirical demonstration of the power of the "whiteness", it comes off, to this reader, that she lays the blame for blue-collar anger on the reaction to black power .... shameless. Why is this a problem? Because she earlier asserts that the white concept and the "buffer class" strategy was waaaay earlier used to consistently keep African Americans (AMs) oppressed. It came off a little like "blame the victim". This reviewer will state that he is particularly sensitive to this area of history since it was THE LAST opportunity AMs had to establish a cultural and economic bulwark against whiteness.

All considered, this book is a majorly important work and, needless to say, should be read by all white folks. Having said the needless, I know that it won't be. 21st century whites, in general, are too sensitive and tender to be able to deal with who they are and how they came to be. Just look at Trump, who came about after her book...I would love to see a revision based on the events and results leading to the election and administration of Trump.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Teleica K.
  • 29-05-2016

Meh

This could have been a lot more interesting but Allyson Johnson has a voice that will put you to sleep!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful