A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's Americaby Jacqueline Jones
In 1656, a planter in colonial Maryland tortured and killed one of his slaves, an Angolan man named Antonio who refused to work the fields. Over three centuries later, a Detroit labor organizer named Simon Owens watched as strikebreakers wielding bats and lead pipes beat his fellow autoworkers for protesting their inhumane working conditions. Antonio and Owens had
In 1656, a planter in colonial Maryland tortured and killed one of his slaves, an Angolan man named Antonio who refused to work the fields. Over three centuries later, a Detroit labor organizer named Simon Owens watched as strikebreakers wielding bats and lead pipes beat his fellow autoworkers for protesting their inhumane working conditions. Antonio and Owens had nothing in common but the color of their skin and the economic injustices they battledyet the former is what defines them in America’s consciousness. In A Dreadful Deceit, award-winning historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of these two men and four other African Americans to reveal how the concept of race has obscured the factors that truly divide and unite us.
Expansive, visionary, and provocative, A Dreadful Deceit explodes the pernicious fiction that has shaped American history.
MacArthur Fellow and Bancroft Prize–winning historian Jones’s aim in this heartfelt book is to redefine our ideas of what constitutes “race” while arguing that the entire foundation of racial categorizing is unscientific and deeply injurious historically. While that argument is widely held by scientists and scholars, it still lacks widespread acceptance. So in what is the most persuasive and satisfying feature of this authoritative book, Jones relates the stories of six “black” Americans across different eras spanning nearly half a millennium. These riveting tales emerge from Jones’s deep knowledge of African-American history and her brilliant use of previously unexploited sources. If at times unsubtle—Jones finds it necessary to keep reminding us that “race” is mythic, not real—she leaves no doubt that ever-changing racial mythologies “have nothing to do with biological determinism and everything to do with power relations.” Racial ideologies, she shows, have long been a pretext for injustice, are always in flux, and while they deeply affect us all, have never extinguished the robust determination of the oppressed to gain safety, dignity, and a rightful place in the nation’s civic life. Agent: Geri Thoma, Writers House. (Dec.)
A powerful exploration of an enduring myth that has haunted America over the centuries, from one of our best chroniclers of America's struggle with racial inequality. Jones (History and Ideas/Univ. of Texas; Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War, 2008, etc.) claims that race is a construct that has little meaning in biology even if it has had tremendous and deleterious force in historical reality. Instead of a sweeping overview, the author focuses on six biographical sketches that illustrate the pernicious force of the myth of race that has nonetheless manifested in the realities of racism from the Colonial era onward. Thus, a Dutch master's killing of one of his slaves reveals the increasing tensions in a globalizing world. A fugitive slave in South Carolina embraces the teaching of religion in a Revolutionary era in which men spoke of ideals of freedom while protecting the institution of slavery. A free black businesswoman in post-Revolutionary Rhode Island navigates the treacherous waters of freedom in a world still deeply committed to perpetuating her subservience. A light-skinned black man in the Union Army becomes a loyal Republican in the postwar era and experiences the frustrations and disappointments of white racial solidarity. A Tuskegee Institute graduate founds his own vocational institution for blacks in Jim Crow Mississippi and manages to survive and sometimes thrive in arguably the most oppressive state in an oppressive region. And a black writer and union advocate in Detroit utilizes his relationships in organized labor to bridge racial divides. A graceful writer and natural storyteller, Jones draws meaning from these six tableaux, maintaining the thread of her argument without hammering away at it. She brings the story up to the present by revealing the ways in which the election of Barack Obama has hardly served to mask the ways in which the racial myth has done real harm. From the "dreadful deceit" of race comes a masterful book about its history.
2014 Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Publishers Weekly, Best of 2013
“Jones forcefully demonstrates how racial ideologies are used to uphold existing power relations and perpetuate injustice, denying some citizens their rightful place in civic life.”
New York Times Book Review
“These six stories, told in vivid detail, are fascinating and a pleasure to read...her book is a call to renounce the very idea of race as a dangerous misconception.”
Wall Street Journal
“Her book is a moving and painstakingly researched, at times almost novelistic, group portrait of five black men and one woman from different eras that, taken together, lays bare the ideology buttressing the notion of race and the ‘peculiar institution’ it justified.... Ms. Jones’s achievement is substantial.”
Chronicle of Higher Education
“[An] arresting and engrossing new book...few historians have written more powerfully or impressively about very large, and racially diverse, sections of the American working class.”
“[A] smart, provocative new book a persuasive, deeply researched, readable argument so intricately researched as to feel novelistic.... Though she never quite acknowledges how a biological myth becomes real cultural identity, Jones gives a lot to chew on.”
“Provocative fascinating The strength of Dreadful Deceit lies in its wealth of detail and the precise picture it offers of specific places and times.”
ESPN.com, Tuesday Morning Quarterback
“[This] volume may have a lasting impact on American thought.... A Dreadful Deceit may put into the national conversation the notion that categorizing by ‘race’ is an obsolescent idea. Skin color tells nothing more about a person than eye color; there is simply one human race. That is a powerful, progressive idea.”
Kirkus, starred review
“A powerful exploration of an enduring myth that has haunted America over the centuries, from one of our best chroniclers of America’s struggle with racial inequality.... [Jones is] a graceful writer and natural storyteller...a masterful book about its history.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Heartfelt.... In what is the most persuasive and satisfying feature of this authoritative book, Jones relates the stories of six ‘black’ Americans across different eras spanning nearly half a millennium. These riveting tales emerge from Jones’s deep knowledge of African-American history and her brilliant use of previously unexploited sources.”
Kirkus, "Best of the Year"
“For readers who wonder about the impact, for better or worse, of racial framing and discourse in America, Jacqueline Jones weaves a powerful narrative argument against the construct of race.”
“Jones offers a provocative analysis of ‘race’ and the abuse of power.”
Thomas J. Sugrue, David Boies Professor of History and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North
"Jacqueline Jones is one of the most distinguished scholars on race in America and this book shows why. A Dreadful Deceit is both sweeping and intimate, exploring the long history of racial injustice in America and the inspiring struggle against it through beautifully drawn biographical vignettes. Powerful, eye opening, and original, it reminds us that race and power are the central themes of American history."
Edward L. Ayers, author of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America
"'Race' is one of the most charged words in Americans' public vocabulary, and Jacqueline Jones dismantles it century by century, life by life. The revealing and memorable stories she tells show how the language of race became so pervasive, so deceptive, and so damaging over four centuries of American life."
Darlene C. Hine, Northwestern University, co-author of The African American Odyssey
“A masterful work of history, biography, and searing analysis of America’s race conundrum. By skillfully unraveling the fiction of race and its use to rationalize institutional oppression and exploitation over the past four hundred years, Jacqueline Jones has produced an important book of uncommon grace and grit. It is essential to understanding America’s racial legacy and the true calculus of lives that have been diminished and destroyed by the dreadful deceit of race. This book is absolutely required reading.”
Joe W. Trotter, Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice, Carnegie Mellon University
“In a variety of settings at different moments in time, this extraordinary book shows just how contingent, malleable, and resilient the notion of race has been in U.S. capitalist development. It also underscores how contemporary usage of race, shorn of its specific historical contexts, obscures more than it explains. Most important, through a meticulous reexamination of myriad permutations of race in American society, this book advances a powerful alternative narrative of U.S. history itself.”
- Basic Books
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- 6.56(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.28(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Meet the Author
Jacqueline Jones is Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas and Mastin Gentry White Professor of Southern History at the University of Texas at Austin. Winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Bancroft Prize for American History, among many other awards and distinctions, she lives in Austin, TX.
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