Race: The History of an Idea in America

Race: The History of an Idea in America

Race: The History of an Idea in America

Race: The History of an Idea in America

Synopsis

When Tom Gosset's Race: The History of an Idea in America appeared more than a generation ago, it explored the impact of race theory on literature in a way that anticipated the entire current scholarly discourse on the subject. Though it has gone out of print, it has never been rendered obsolete. Its reprinting is a boon to younger scholars in particular who are unfamiliar with its rich presentation of fact and its clear, efficient analysis, from which so much later theorizing has developed. With a new afterword by and about the author, and an introduction by series editors Arnold Rampersad and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, this edition should find a wide readership among young scholars and students working in African-American, literary, and cultural studies.

Excerpt

I had two different but complementary purposes in writing this book. Primarily, I meant to produce a history of race theory as it developed in this country. Such theory nearly always was developed by whites and almost as often was indistinguishable from racism. Sometimes race theory developed by Anglo-whites was used against other white groups such as German, Irish, Jewish, and other European immigrant groups. More commonly it was directed against such non-white groups as Indians, blacks, Hispanics, and Asiatics.

Because race theory in European thought had a great effect upon American race theory, it was necessary to trace in some detail the nature of that influence. In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin, though scarcely a racist at all himself, had developed an evolutionary theory which could be and often was used to "explain" the backwardness of non-white races. This so-called backwardness was often an excuse for discrimination against these peoples.

My other purpose in the book was to examine the history of race relationships in this country. This meant, for the most part, a history of the relations of the other ethnic groups with the dominant Anglo-whites. How did Indians, for example, fare in their contacts with whites? And how did blacks, Hispanics, various European immigrant groups, and Asiatics fare? With this many subjects I knew that my treatment of any one of them would have to be brief if I did not mean to write a long book. I could only hope that the examples which I chose would be similar enough to the experiences of other ethnic groups which I had discussed more briefly or sometimes had omitted altogether. The purpose of the book, then, was to . . .

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