In 1656, a Maryland planter tortured and killed an enslaved man
named Antonio, an Angolan who refused to work in the fields. Three
hundred years later, Simon P. Owens battled soul-deadening
technologies as well as the fiction of race" that divided him from
his co-workers in a Detroit auto-assembly plant. Separated by time
and space, Antonio and Owens nevertheless shared a distinct kind of
political vulnerability they lacked rights and opportunities in
societies that accorded marked privileges to people labeled white."
An American creation myth posits that these two black men were the
victims of racial" discrimination, a primal prejudice that the
United States has haltingly but gradually repudiated over the
course of many generations. In A Dreadful Deceit , award-winning
historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of Antonio, Owens, and
four other African Americans to illustrate the strange history of
race" in America. In truth, Jones shows, race does not exist, and
the very factors that we think of as determining it, a person's
heritage or skin colour,are mere pretexts for the brutalization of
powerless people by the powerful. Jones shows that for decades,
southern planters did not even bother to justify slavery by
invoking the concept of race only in the late eighteenth century
did whites begin to rationalize the exploitation and
marginalization of blacks through notions of racial" difference.
Indeed, race amounted to a political strategy calculated to defend
overt forms of discrimination, as revealed in the stories of Boston
King, a fugitive in Revolutionary South Carolina Elleanor Eldridge,
a savvy but ill-starred businesswoman in antebellum Providence,
Rhode Island Richard W. White, a Union veteran and Republican
politician in post-Civil War Savannah and William Holtzclaw,
founder of an industrial school for blacks in Mississippi, where
many whites opposed black schooling of any kind. These stories
expose the fluid, contingent, and contradictory idea of race, and
the disastrous effects it has had, both in the past and in our own
supposedly post-racial society.Expansive, visionary, and
provocative, A Dreadful Deceit explodes the pernicious fiction that
has shaped four centuries of American history.
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