I haven't read the entire book, but this beginning is a great beginning: "Racism is based on the concept of whiteness....a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence." BOOM...there it is, succinct, accurate, and undeniable.
I am always looking for ways to introduce the topic of race here without eliciting the standard knee-jerk responses, so I may post this in GD later.
Racism is based on the concept of whiteness — a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence. Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to certain benefits from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.
Racism itself is a long-standing characteristic of many human societies. For example, justifying exploitation and violence against other peoples because they are inferior or different has a long history within Greek, Roman and European Christian traditions. The beginnings of biological racism go back to the Spanish Inquisition. Trying to root out false Muslim and Jewish converts to Christianity but unable to reliably do so, the courts ruled that anyone with a Jewish or Muslim parent or grandparent was not a Christian. Soon, the courts were ruling that any person with any Muslim or Jewish blood was incapable of being a righteous Christian because they did not have clean blood (limpieza de sangre).1
In more recent historical times in Western Europe, those with English heritage were perceived to be pure white. The Irish, Russians and Spanish were considered darker races, sometimes black and certainly non-white. The white category was slowly extended to include northern and middle European people, but still, less than a century ago, it definitely excluded eastern or southern European peoples such as Italians, Poles, Russians and Greeks. In the last few decades, although there is still prejudice against people from these geographical backgrounds, they have become generally accepted as white in the United States.2
The important distinction in the United States has always been binary — first between those who counted as
Christians and those who were pagans. As historian Winthrop Jordan has written:
Protestant Christianity was an important element in English patriotism …. Christianity was interwoven into conception of his own nationality, and he was therefore inclined to regard the Negroes’ lack of true religion as part of theirs. Being a Christian was not merely a matter of subscribing to certain doctrines; it was a quality inherent in oneself and in one’s society. It was interconnected with all the other attributes of normal and proper men.3