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Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar;

Saint Patrick, history's most famous British slave of the early

medieval period; Madame de Staël; and Emerson, the philosopher

king of American white race theory. Painter (Sojourner Truth)

 reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking t

hem to one another across time and language barriers.

 

 

Books by Nell Irvin Painter

The History of White People / Creating Black Americans / Southern History Across the Color Line

Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol / Standing at Armageddon / The Narrative of Hosea Hudson / Exodusters

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The History of White People

By Nell Irvin Painter

Norton Books / Hardcover, $27.95 / 512 pages, Illustrated

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

“Most Americans envision whiteness as racially indivisible, though ethnically divided; this is the scheme anthropologists laid out in the mid 20th Century. By this reckoning, there were only three real races (Mongoloid, Negroid and Caucasoid) but countless ethnicities. Today, however, biologists and geneticists no longer believe in the physical existence of races—though they recognize the continuing power of racism (the belief that races exist, and that some are better than others)...

Although science today denies race any standing as objective truth, and the U.S. censes faces taxonomic meltdown, many Americans cling to race as the unschooled cling to superstition. So long as racial discrimination remains a fact of life and statistics can be arranged to support racial difference, the American belief in race will endure.

But confronted with the actually existing American population—its distribution of wealth, power and beauty—the notion of American whiteness will continue to evolve, as it has since the creation of the American Republic.”

Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xi-xii)

A quarter century ago, comedian Martin Mull published The History of White People in America a book which took a lighthearted look at the contributions of Caucasians to this society. The droll humorist even served as the host for a made-for-TV adaptation of the popular best-seller, a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary starring Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, and Fred Willard.

As might be expected, Nell Irvin Painter’s version of The History of White People tackles the same subject-matter, only in the deadly-serious, methodical and academic fashion expected of a Princeton University professor who also happens to be African-American. Weighing-in at 500+ pages, her informative, encyclopedic opus ponders whether white people even belong to a separate race, which one might presume to be the case, judging by this country’s long legacy of a strictly-enforced color line.

But the author’s examination of the history of Western Civilization from ancient Greece and Rome to the present reveals the emergence of “whiteness” to be a relatively-recent phenomenon, having only really caught hold as a viable philosophy in the 1700s in the wake of a Germanic propagating the notion of Caucasian features as the epitome of beauty. Professor Painter’s persuasive thesis that there is only one race, the human race, rests on evidence unearthed in recent years by the Genome Project. Yet, in spite of conclusive scientific proof, we see that the arbitrary, artificial construct of race tends to persist, even if undergoing alterations in accordance with dictates of ever-evolving cultural mores to a certain degree.

If there is any hope in finally making racism obsolete once and for all, it rests in the widespread embrace of the sort of sensible conclusions upon which Nell Painter’s monumental research and scholarship were based.  

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The History of White People

By Nell Irvin Painter

A mind-expanding and myth-destroying exploration of “whiteness”—an illuminating work on the history of race and power. Eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter tells perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history. Beginning at the roots of Western civilization, she traces the invention of the idea of a white race—often for economic, scientific, and political ends. She shows how the origins of American identity in the eighteenth century were intrinsically tied to the elevation of white skin into the embodiment of beauty, power, and intelligence; how the great American intellectuals— including Ralph Waldo Emerson—insisted that only Anglo Saxons were truly American; and how the definitions of who is “white” and who is “American” have evolved over time.

A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People closes an enormous gap in a literature that has long focused on the nonwhite, and it forcefully reminds us that the concept of “race” is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed according to a long and rich history. 70 illustrations.—Publisher, WWNorton

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Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter's inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of white identity in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors, Painter's wide-ranging response is a who's who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar; Saint Patrick, history's most famous British slave of the early medieval period; Madame de Staël; and Emerson, the philosopher king of American white race theory. Painter (Sojourner Truth) reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking them to one another across time and language barriers. Conceptions of beauty (ideals of white beauty [became] firmly embedded in the science of race), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. What we can see, the author observes, depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for. For the variable, changing, and often capricious definition of whiteness, Painter offers a kaleidoscopic lens.—Publishers Weekly  

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Painter is the author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (1996) and several other scholarly works on the history of slavery and race relations in America, most recently Creating Black Americans (2006). Her latest selection examines the history of “whiteness” as a racial category and rhetorical weapon: who is considered to be “white,” who is not, what such distinctions mean, and how notions of whiteness have morphed over time in response to shifting demographics, aesthetic tastes, and political exigencies. After a brief look at how the ancients conceptualized the differences between European peoples, Painter focuses primarily on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There, the artistic idealization of beautiful white slaves from the Caucasus combined with German Romantic racial theories and lots of spurious science to construct an ideology of white superiority which, picked up by Ralph Waldo Emerson and other race-obsessed American intellectuals, quickly became an essential component of the nation’s uniquely racialized discourse about who could be considered an American. Presenting vivid psychological portraits of Emerson and dozens of other figures variously famous and obscure, and carefully mapping the links between them, Painter’s narrative succeeds as an engaging and sophisticated intellectual history, as well as an eloquent reminder of the fluidity (and perhaps futility) of racial categories.Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

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Nell Irvin Painter & Richard Powel Public Conversation

Nell Irvin Painter, a leading historian of the United States and Edwards Professor of American History Emerita at Princeton University, discusses her transition from scholar to artist in a public conversation with Richard Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke. This event was jointly hosted by the FHI and the Duke Library's John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

This event is jointly hosted by the FHI and the Duke Library's John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Nell Painter has also held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Antiquarian Society. She has served as president of the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Historical Association.

A prolific and award-winning scholar, her most recent books are The History of White People  (Norton, 2010), Creating Black Americans (Oxford University Press, 2006), and Southern History Across the Color Line (University of North Carolina Press, 2002). 

Nell Painter received a BFA degree in painting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers-the State University of New Jersey in May 2009 (while she was actually serving as a visiting professor at the University of Rome Tre).                                                                    A  section of Nell Irvin Painter's "Beauty + Sublime"

  She is currently an MFA student in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. Examples of her art work can be viewed here.

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Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

By Nell Irvin Painter

Because other biographies of Sojourner Truth, unusual even among ex-slave women as  itinerant preacher and political activist, have been published in recent years, Painter's compelling life loses some of its edge. Yet it has additional strengths as 19th-century social history. Isabella Van Wagenen, a Pentecostalist domestic born into slavery about 1797 but who reinvented herself at 59 as an abolitionist orator, then into a fiery suffragist, is seen here through the prism of the religious, social and political movements that animated her. A striking presence on the platform, the subject of an as-told-to autobiography that went through many editions and helped sustain her financially, she seemed a born survivor, shedding slavery, abuse, poverty and prejudice during her 80-odd years (admirers claimed 110?she died in 1883). . . . Cutting through the image-making of her contemporaries as well as later interpreters who envision Sojourner Truth as the symbol of the strong woman, "black or not," Painter persuasively offers us the real woman behind the myth.—Publishers Weekly

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Southern History Across the Color Line

By Nell Irvin Painter

The color line, once all too solid in southern public life, still exists in the study of southern history. As distinguished historian Nell Irvin Painter notes, historians often still write about the South as though people of different races occupied entirely different spheres. In truth, although blacks and whites were expected to remain in their assigned places in the southern social hierarchy, their lives were thoroughly entangled.

In this powerful collection, Painter reaches across the color line to examine how race, gender, class, and individual subjectivity shaped the lives of black and white women and men in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century South. Through six essays, she explores such themes as interracial sex, white supremacy, and the physical and psychological violence of slavery, using insights gleaned from psychology and feminist social science as well as social, cultural, and intellectual history. — Southern Literary Journal

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Creating Black Americans

By Nell Irvin Painter

Painter draws on early stories and official histories, biographical accounts and legends, well-known events and little known incidents. One person highlighted is Olaudah Equiano, one of the earliest of the African slaves to write his account. As one might expect, Painter's pieces on Sojourner Truth and others of her generation are particularly good.

Painter also draws on the official history of the quest for civil rights. She looks at famous court cases, like the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (which made 'separate but equal' a legal standard), Brown v. Board of Education (which knocked down the same 'separate but equal' as being unworkable), and other political and legal events in the quest for civil rights, even those sometimes viewed as separate from the Civil Rights Movement proper, which is also highlighted in good detail.

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Standing at Armageddon

By Nell Irvin Painter

The turmoil that attended America's shift from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, industrial one, described with a highly readable combination of scholarly thoroughness and stylistic verve. . . . A consistently engrossing, occasionally irreverent, always smoothly written history of America's painful entry into the modern age.— Kirkus Reviews

Lucid and compelling. . . . The first general treatment of this era that does full justice to the struggles of working people. It will provide future historians with a good model for how to do narrative synthesis "from the bottom up." — George M. Fredrickson, Stanford University

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Nell Irvin Painter is a leading historian of the United States. Until her recent retirement from teaching, she was the Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University. She was the director of Princeton's Program in African American Studies from 1997 to 2000. In addition to her doctorate in history from Harvard University, she has received honorary doctorates from Wesleyan University, Dartmouth College, State University of New York-New Paltz and Yale University.

As a scholar, Professor Painter has published numerous books, articles, reviews and other essays. Her most recent books are Creating Black Americans and Southern History Across the Color Line. Six earlier books are also still in print.

Professor Painter's prominence has been recognized by her selection to be the president of the Southern Historical Association for 2007 and the president of the Organization of American Historians for 2007-08. The Southern Historical Association promotes research in the history of the United States' South. The Organization of American Historians, which draws its members from around the world, is the largest learned society devoted to the study of American history.

Professor Painter has also served on numerous editorial boards and as an officer of many other professional organizations, including the American Historical Association, the American Antiquarian Society, the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History and the Association of Black Women Historians. She is currently a councillor of the prestigious Society of American Historians. For a full list of her publications and professional activities, see her personal site. It includes links to the full text of some of her articles and reviews

 

Nell Irvin Painter on C-Span / on Book-TV

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Published Articles

Who Decides What is History? The Nation, 6 March 1982, pp. 276-278.

Bias and Synthesis in History,” (in roundtable discussion on historical synthesis), The Journal of American History 74, no. 1. June 1987.

Writing Working Class Biography,” in Artist and Influence, The Challenges of Writing Black Biography, edited by Leo Hamalian and James V. Hatch, Hatch-Billops Collection, New York, 1986.

The New Labor History and the Historical Moment,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 2, no. 3, pp. 367-370. Spring 1989.

Malcolm X Across the Genres,” American Historical Review 98, no. 2, 396-404. April 1993.

What Fifteen Leading Historians Are Working on Now,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 January 1998.

Southerners, the Color Line, and Sex,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 June 2002.

Introduction: Claudia Tate and the Protocols of Black Literature and Scholarship,” Journal of African American History 88, No. 1 (Winter 2003).

Black History Month’s Most Important Lesson,” Newsday, 25 February 2003.

Mere Words Don't Do Slavery Justice,” Newsday, 10 July 2003.

posted 25 March 2010 

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Ratification

The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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The River of No Return

The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC

By Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell

Among histories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s there are few personal narratives better than this one. Besides being an insider's account of the rise and fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it is an eyewitness report of the strategies and the conflicts in the crucial battle zones as the fight for racial justice raged across the South.  This memoir by Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC volunteer, traces his zealous commitment to activism from the time of the sit-ins, demonstrations, and freedom rides in the early '60s. In a narrative encompassing the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), the historic march in Selma, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, he recounts the turbulent history of SNCC and tells the powerful story of his own no-return dedication to the cause of civil rights and social change.

The River of No Return is acclaimed as a book that is destined to become a standard text for those wishing to perceive the civil rights struggle from within the ranks of one of its key organizations and to note the divisive history of the movement as groups striving for common goals were embroiled in conflict and controversy.

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A Time To Speak, A Time To Act

The Movement in Politics

By Julian Bond

An exhortation to political involvement within the decrepit electoral system by the Georgia state legislator and former SNCC activist who stole the show in the 1968 Democratic Convention by becoming the first black man to receive Vice Presidential mention. Bond writes the balanced, sagacious prose of the would-be junior statesman casting about for a national constituency. A reformist who senses the limits of reformism, Bond sees the Nixon Administration (“the bland leading the bland”) endeavoring to strangle the “second Reconstruction” of the 1960s. What he is looking for is an “escape from the circle of politics that always escalates to protest, culminates in rebellion, and results in repression..” The diagnosis is astute enough but the solutions suggested are partial, problematic and equivocal. He plumps strongly for community control—including black-run rackets, prostitution and numbers if they must exist in the ghettos—and heralds the need for a nationwide organization “Negroes and Practical Politics, Inc.” (NAPPI) to channel information, political expertise and funds to prospective black candidates.

At present there are some 1800 black officials in the U.S. and Bond wants to double and triple their numbers but he shies away from any discussion of how unity is to be achieved among the highly fragmented leadership and black power ideologues from LeRoi Jones to Carl Stokes. Once or twice he raises the specter of violence and black guerrilla warfare in the cities but without any real conviction—it may be morally justified, but it won’t work. Despite the firm recognition that “representative democracy has yet to work for us,” Bond can endorse no other way: “I find it increasingly satisfying. It is a pleasure to be a politician.” In the end this is no more than a temperate and somewhat forlorn plea to “the young people” to return to the electoral mire at the grassroots level and combat the mounting apathy that threatens . . . 1972; 163 pagesGoogle Reviewer

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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