Nell Irvin Painter, an American historian discusses her newest work, The History of White People.
In The History of White People, 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 18th 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.
The History of White People closes a gap in a literature that has long focused on the nonwhite, and it forcefully reminds us that the concept of "race" is a human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed according to a long and rich history.