The Myth of Race & Its Historical Consequences

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People hold posters near the Lincoln Memorial while thousands gather to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I have a Dream' speech. 08/24/13
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Race is embedded the fabric of American culture, and racial categories and their implications persist today—from the U.S. Census to the way we understand our politics and our president. 

In "A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America," Jacqueline Jones, professor of history at the University of Texas, Austin, argues against our continued use of racial categories—at least in the ways Americans have used these categories since the country's founding. 

Race, Jones writes, is often used as a shorthand to distinguish between those whose ancestors were enslaved and those whose were not. The harm of this categorization, she continues, is that "problems labeled racial are in fact historical, and persistent use of the word keeps the fiction of race alive in all its adaptable destructiveness."

Racial categories as Americans use them today allow us to imagine that some of the "racial" problems in our society are inherent traits of a particular race, rather than as a problem stemming from historic, structural inequalities.

Today on The Takeaway, Jones describes her research into the fluid and changing nature of race in America, from colonial Maryland and Virginia, to postwar Detroit, and President Obama's Administration.