The White Man's Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States

The White Man's Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States

The White Man's Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States

The White Man's Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States

Excerpt

This study deals with the historical origins of racism in the United States. I use the term racism with some reluctance, since it is very easy, and dangerous, to read present conditions into the past. Racial attitudes in this country are very different now from what they were three hundred years ago, and it is very important that we deal with our past, insofar as possible, on its own terms.

The relevance, if any, of this study to the present is left principally to the reader to determine, though I confess to having written several sentences on the subject. My assumptions about the value of historical study are similar to those of most historians. A comprehension of the past seems to have two opposite advantages in the present: it makes us aware of how different people have been in other ages and accordingly enlarges our awareness of the possibilities of human experience, and at the same time it impresses upon us those tendencies in human beings which have not changed and which accordingly are unlikely to, at least in the immediate future. Viewed from a slightly different vantage point, an understanding of the history of our own culture gives some inkling of the categories of possibilities within which for the time being we are born to live.

To say this is, I suppose, to make something of a claim for the value of studying current racial attitudes by taking, as they say, "the historical approach." What an historian contributes, inevitably, is a sense and appreciation of the important effect-- perhaps even the great weight--of prior upon ensuing experience.

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