The Myth of Race & Its Historical Consequences

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

People hold posters near the Lincoln Memorial while thousands gather to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I have a Dream' speech. 08/24/13 (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty)

Race is embedded the fabric of American culture, and racial categories and their implications persist today—from the U.S. Census to the way we understand our politics and our president. 

In "A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America," Jacqueline Jones, professor of history at the University of Texas, Austin, argues against our continued use of racial categories—at least in the ways Americans have used these categories since the country's founding. 

Race, Jones writes, is often used as a shorthand to distinguish between those whose ancestors were enslaved and those whose were not. The harm of this categorization, she continues, is that "problems labeled racial are in fact historical, and persistent use of the word keeps the fiction of race alive in all its adaptable destructiveness."

Racial categories as Americans use them today allow us to imagine that some of the "racial" problems in our society are inherent traits of a particular race, rather than as a problem stemming from historic, structural inequalities.

Today on The Takeaway, Jones describes her research into the fluid and changing nature of race in America, from colonial Maryland and Virginia, to postwar Detroit, and President Obama's Administration.


Jacqueline Jones

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [4]


We are but ONE race, the Human Race.

I love what L. Drury, from Boston wrote.

Dec. 12 2013 10:15 AM
Linda Drury from Boston

From Into the Looking Glass, a book of essays by Alberto Manguel, from an essay entitled On Being Jewish…"Who am I? Alice, a human child, and the fawn, one of the hunted, echo this last question, and like me are tempted to answer it not with words born from what they know themselves to be, but with words coined by those who stand outside and point. EVery group that is the object of prejudice has this to say: we are the language in which we are spoken, we are the images in which we are recognized, we are the history we are condemned to remember because we have been barred from an active role in the present. But we are also the language in which we question these assumptions, the images with which we invalidate the stereotypes. And we are also the time in which we are living, a time from which we can't be absent. We have an existence of our own, and we are no longer willing to remain imaginary.

Dec. 10 2013 12:45 PM

Even the notion that President Obama -- with 50% of his DNA coming from his white mother -- is a "black" person, is an artifact of the white supremacist theory of race.

Dec. 10 2013 12:32 PM
Noah from Brooklyn

I think it's a little misleading to locate the formation of racial language in the U.S. European thinkers as early as Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist, were dividing the four or five races of mankind, each with particular "attributes" that we still live with as stereotypes today.

Dec. 10 2013 09:46 AM

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