Book Review: White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro (1550-1812)

Growing up in the United States of America, it is damn near impossible to avoid the oft-difficult discussion of race relations in this country. As a young, African-American male, the historical, emotional, and sometimes physical impacts of such are legion, at multiple levels. However, it is important to understand that, with regard to this topic, the African-American experience in the United States is but one side of the coin. The Caucasian descendants of European settlers constitute the majority of America’s population and, as such, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of race relations as I mature, to not take both the experiences and perspectives of their ancestors into consideration would be utterly remiss.

As destructive as racist ideology is and has always been, interestingly enough, I find that I have developed a bit of a fascination with its ability to cling to the mind in the face of mounting evidence thoroughly refuting all its merits. This fascination engendered a genuine desire to understand not only how racism toward African-Americans came to be so pervasive, but also where it came from.  Answers to this query would, perforce, function as safeguards for my own psychological well-being when experiencing this sort of bigotry. It was at this point in my life, with this task in mind, that my cousin introduced me to the immaculate White over Black and its focus on the historically subliminal

An absolute challenge to read, Winthrop Jordan’s dense, historical inquiry regarding the mindset of White Americans toward Black Americans begins with their point of contact in Africa and stretches deep into the American era of slavery. How did the Europeans perceive Blacks upon introduction? How did Negro enslavement come to be? Why weren’t the Native Americans enslaved to the same degree? On what grounds did advocates for racial (in)equality stand? Why the animus toward miscegenation? Other than the obvious consequences (mixed-race or, to mark the time, mulatto offspring), what were the ramifications of interracial sex? These are the sorts of questions Mr. Jordan attempts to answer, and in my humble opinion, he thoroughly succeeds. What is perhaps the most important question posed by both Mr. Jordan and myself, however, is what White Americans, with seemingly all the power, had to fear from the subjugated, systematically debased Negro. This, in addition to the detrimental effects slavery had on everyone involved, is encapsulated within the pages of White Over Black. Anyone interested in a deeper understanding of American sociology would, without a doubt, greatly benefit from taking the time with this masterpiece.

Rating: 5/5

this post was written by Didact.

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