The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity

By Bruce Baum | Go to book overview

Preface

One of the better answers I have heard regarding the question of “race” came from my uncle, David Widrow. Several years ago, as I began thinking about this study, I asked him if he thought there were different “human races.” He smiled and said, “Sure. There are running races, auto races, boat races.” I thought it was a great answer, but at other times my uncle, like most people in the United States, has accepted the current “common sense” view that there are also distinct human races in the biological sense.

Part of my argument is that this commonsense view is a historical artifact of the social and political history of the modern world. All ideas about “race,” like many other beliefs and theories, need to be understood in relation to their historical contexts, including the view of “race” that I advance here. (Yet, as I will explain, this does not mean that all accounts of “race” are equally valid or invalid.) In the present case, my examination of the “Caucasian race” idea has been motivated by my time and place, as a U.S. citizen, born during the Civil Rights movement. (One of my early memories is of an assembly at my Stamford, Connecticut elementary school in 1968, right after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.)

This book joins many related efforts in the post–Civil Rights movement era to understand how much and in what way we—citizens of the United States and members of a would-be global community—need to take account of “race” to move beyond to nefarious legacy of racism. It is largely a history of the Caucasian-race idea written by a scholar of politics. It is also a political theorist's inquiry into the meaning of race, and therefore a few sections are theoretically dense.

I wish to thank several people who helped me complete this book. Sandy Schram read most of the manuscript, provided ongoing encouragement, and pointed me to New York University Press. David Roediger offered important feedback when I began the project. Charles Mills and Joel

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