Saturday, March 27, 2010

on The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

There's another book about white people that appears to be a mishmosh of useful information and silly theory. And even the amount of useful information may be suspect. From Book Review - The History of White People - By Nell Irvin Painter:
Painter misses some crucial regional differences. While Jews and Italians were nonwhite in the East, they had long been white in San Francisco, where the racial “inferiors” were the Chinese. Although the United States census categorized Mexican-Americans as white through 1930, census enumerators in the Southwest, working from a different racial under standing, ignored those instructions and marked them “M” for Mexican.
I found another reason to be sceptical in "A Half-Read Interpretation of Emerson Casts Doubt on the Scholarship" at Customer Reviews: The History of White People, which includes this:
Nell Painter does not grasp, or seem to want to grasp, the dialectical nature of Emerson's work as she goes about building the case that he was the father of American whiteness theory. In a sustained passage, she says repeatedly that Emerson's passages on fate and race are confused and multi-handed, that he contradicts himself, but that in the end he supports some kind of white racial ideology. Ms. Painter quotes from Emerson's 'Fate' and a related journal entry to prove her point. What Ms. Painter does not do is work with 'Fate' as a whole. In it, to paraphrase a passage Painter used repeatedly to hammer her point home, Emerson wrote that races stripped from their land and forced by circumstance to move to America are prematurely used up in labor and turned into so much guano for American profit. This is hardly a celebration of Anglo Saxon virtues. Regardless, Painter says nothing about the concept of 'Power' that appears a few paragraphs later in Emerson's essay on 'Fate.' Power, Emerson writes, can trump and overturn fate. In other words, races are not pre-determined to any genetic outcome. All people can seize power. DuBois certainly agreed with this.