Race is a “social concept, not a scientific one” claimed geneticist J. Craig Venter following the discovery that humans share 99.9% of the same genetic code irrespective of our skin color. “But as Nell Irvin Painter explains in ‘The History of White People,’ her exhaustive and fascinating new look at the history of the idea of the white race, it’s a social construct that goes back much further and is much more complicated than many people think. In the book, Painter, a professor of American history at Princeton, chronicles the evolution of the concept of whiteness from ancient Rome — where, she points out, the slaves were largely white — to the 21st century America and explains how, in the era of Obama, our once-narrow concept of whiteness has become at once far broader and less important than ever before. The elevation of some ethnic groups — Germans and Scandinavians — as ‘whiter’ than others can largely be tied to a small number of scientists who shared an obsession with both measuring people’s skulls and pinpointing the world’s ‘most beautiful’ people. As Painter writes, a number of social and demographic upheavals (which she dubs ‘enlargements of whiteness’) over the last two centuries have gradually thrown many of those assumptions into question.”
Who — or what — really controls your mind?