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The United States of the United Races

The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing

Greg Carter
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    The United States of the United Races
    Book Description:

    This provocative, ambitious, and important book rewrites U.S. history, placing foundational leaders, unheralded prophets, insurgent social movements, pivotal judicial decisions, and central cultural values within an unfolding story of ongoing appeals to interracial mixing as a positive good. Deeply researched, deftly argued, and impressively able to move beyond the two categories of black and white, The United States of the United Races makes the mixed race movements of the recent past resonate with their many antecedents, showing the complex ways in which an emphasis on mixture has both deployed and destabilized racial categories. - David Roediger, co-author of The Production of DifferenceBarack Obama's historic presidency has re-inserted mixed race into the national conversation. While the troubled and pejorative history of racial amalgamation throughout U.S. history is a familiar story, The United States of the United Races reconsiders an understudied optimist tradition, one which has praised mixture as a means to create a new people, bring equality to all, and fulfill an American destiny. In this genealogy, Greg Carter re-envisions racial mixture as a vehicle for pride and a way for citizens to examine mixed America as a better America.Tracing the centuries-long conversation that began with Hector St. John de Crevecoeur's Letters of an American Farmer in the 1780s through to the Mulitracial Movement of the 1990s and the debates surrounding racial categories on the U.S. Census in the twenty-first century, Greg Carter explores a broad range of documents and moments, unearthing a new narrative that locates hope in racial mixture. Carter traces the reception of the concept as it has evolved over the years, from and decade to decade and century to century, wherein even minor changes in individual attitudes have paved the way for major changes in public response. The United States of the United Races sweeps away an ugly element of U.S. history, replacing it with a new understanding of race in America.Greg Carteris Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9048-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In April 2010, the White House publicized Barack Obama’s self-identification on his U.S. census form. He marked one box “Black, African Am., or Negro,” settling one of the most prevalent issues during his 2008 presidential campaign: his racial identity. This choice resounded with the monoracial ways of thinking so prevalent throughout U.S. history. People who believed he was only black because he looked like a black person or because many others (society) believed so or because of the historical prevalence of the one-drop rule received confirmation of that belief. The mainstream media had been calling him the black president for...

  5. 1 Thomas Jefferson’s Challengers
    (pp. 19-44)

    In the late eighteenth century,racepossessed a much different meaning than it does now, denoting what we callvariety.Ethnicwas a term that stood for foreigners, with connotations similar togentilein the Old Testament, and its usage remained rare until the nineteenth century. The French natural scientist George Louis Leclerc, Count de Buffon, suggested six races with differences between them “arbitrary operations of our own fancy.”¹ The German Enlightenment scholar Johann Von Herder also believed in one human race, holding differences as superficial matters of lifestyle and physical appearance. Carolus Linneaus, who gave us scientific nomenclature, suggested...

  6. 2 Wendell Phillips, Unapologetic Abolitionist, Unreformed Amalgamationist
    (pp. 45-76)

    Upon the passage of the Missouri Compromise, Thomas Jefferson wrote John Holmes, a Massachusetts politician who had supported the legislation, reflecting on his life in retirement. The seventy-seven-year-old founder claimed to ignore public affairs and current events, but in regard to the 1820 act, he wrote, “But this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment.”¹ The Compromise admitted Maine, formerly part of Massachusetts, as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. It...

  7. 3 Plessy v. Racism
    (pp. 77-107)

    Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States’ acquisition of territory incorporated more types of people, complicating the master narrative of white supremacy that the Atlantic colonies established. Interracial encounters occurred in various paradigms, showing that mixture was relevant to more than just blacks and whites. Interracial intimacy with Hispanics, Indians, and Asians tested the borders of inclusion in different ways in the context of white supremacy, just as they do today. Even though the Civil War had ended, legal battles over the meanings of citizenship erupted throughout the Reconstruction era. These proved relevant to all racial minorities, even though the...

  8. 4 The Color Line, the Melting Pot, and the Stomach
    (pp. 108-143)

    Like all periods of U.S. history, the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century was a time of restriction as well as transformation. Through the publications of Herbert Spencer and others, social Darwinism influenced scholars, philanthropists, and politicians toward a view that individuals’ achievement or failure depended on their physical fitness. This retooling of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution emphasized “survival of the fittest,” maintaining that those who were more fit to succeed in society did, while the less fit remained at the bottom. Thus, the success of a society depended on the success of its members,...

  9. 5 Say It Loud, I’m One Drop and I’m Proud
    (pp. 144-160)

    Following Zangwill’s removal of blacks and Asians from the melting pot, it became a symbol of white consolidation, rather than the mixture of all people in the United States. Similarly, sociologists’ uncertainty about the role of racial minorities in American life led to the persistence of assimilation as a whites-only affair. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur had focused on Europeans because they were the only people eligible for American citizenship at the end of the eighteenth century. Assimilation theorists of the twentieth century did so because they mistook whites as the only shapers of American society. Beyond intellectual realms, white...

  10. 6 The End of Race as We Know It
    (pp. 161-191)

    After the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, census data became a tool to enforce fair voting, housing, and employment. However, the 1970 decennial missed 2.5% of the population, approximately 5.3 million people. The percentage undercount for African Americans was 7.7%, while the rate for whites was 1.9%. Only ten thousand of the questionnaires had any question asking about Hispanic or Latino descent, as the decision to count them arose very late in the planning. These were the long versions of the form that the bureau decided to use as a sample to estimate the percentage of the population originating...

  11. 7 Praising Ambiguity, Preferring Certainty
    (pp. 192-216)

    At the beginning of the 2000s, Gallup polls indicated a higher acceptance of interracial marriage than in past decades. Public conversations about the Multiracial category made front-page news. The success of mixed celebrities seemed to prove that racial prejudice had crumbled. However, three centuries of racial thinking that relied on firm categories conditioned Americans into needing to know each other’s racial identity in order to process him or her. Since racialization by origin, appearance, and custom has exerted such a force on life in the United States, knowing a person’s race is a prominent way to understand his or her...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-228)

    Even with a cursory knowledge of U.S. history, many people are familiar with prohibitions to interracial marriage and the characterization of racially mixed people as a threat to society. This project has focused on the lesser-known position, which casts these as benefits to the nation as a whole. Although those voices have been in the minority, they have deployed their message in every period of the nation’s history. Evoking our founding documents, they argued that racial mixing was the way to fulfill our destiny as a multicultural democracy. They often addressed the issues of their time but had the goal...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 229-258)
  14. Index
    (pp. 259-264)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 265-265)