Chapter 6: Johann Friedrich Blumenbach Names White People “Caucasian”

by Prof. Felicia Steele

Editor’s note: Prof. Felicia Steele revives the Beyond Black and White Discussion group discussion of Dr. Nell Painter’s History of White People with this helpful introduction to this pivotal chapter which not only explains the origin of the term Caucasian as a synonym for European ancestry. Here is our overview of the Beyond Black and White Discussion Group Book Club.

Chapter 6 marks a turning point in Nell Painter’s narrative, because she emphasizes the personal responsibility of individual scholars and their social networks in the development of racial ideologies. Since many of us have likely never heard of Blumenbach, it may be difficult to process how this chapter helps us to understand the history of constructions of race.

As I read the chapter, I was reminded of a couple of things: the Matter Museum in Philadelphia and discourses around beauty that talk about physiognomy and skeletal structure, even in situations as mundane as orthodontia. How does this chapter help us to understand the development of physical beauty ideals and how they relate to racial identity?


History of White People, Chapter 5

The White Beauty Ideal as Science

by Simona Brickers

Chapter 5 served its own personal challenges within a social structure that speaks to convince all ethnicities that white skin is preferred. This topic escapes no one, instead it infects the mere grasping that one self is important in all ways that we emerged because we are precious from a higher source. Reflection draws on the foundation Chapter 4 provided understanding that sexual slaves serviced the wealthy as precious purchases… Read the rest at the Beyond Black and White Facebook Discussion Group.

This page has an overview of the Beyond Black and White discussion of Nell Painter’s book, The History of White People.

History of White People Chapter 4

This is a part of an ongoing conversation sponsored by the Beyond Black and White discussion group. For more information about the book and discussion group see this page…  The Facebook discussion for this chapter is here:

Broaching chapter 4 surfaces mixed emotions, some confusing and others resistance.  I can admit my naivety about the history of white people, which is why I am reading this book and participating in this discussion.  But, this is my disconnect – Chapter 3 identified an active movement called white slavery where Europeans were banishing white undesirables into other spaces.  “Between the beginning of the trade and the ending during the American Resolution, some 50,000 convicts were forcibly transported to British North American.  Shortly after American independence, Britain, in need of another outlet, began shipping  its convicts⎯some 160,000 before 1868, with the practice ceased⎯the Australia, continuing the process for another ninety years” (p. 42).

For me, I am challenged to wrap my head about how this history went from undesirable white people that were shipped into slavery to the concept of White Slavey as Beauty Ideal!  So here we go delving into Chapter 4, which starts out describing Africans and Tartars as ugly and those values for sex and gendered as female – the Circassians, Georgians, and Caucasians of the Black Sea region-came to figure as epitomes of human beauty.  Nell used the word “odalisques” or  white slave women often appearing young, naked, beautiful, and sexually available throughout European and American art.

Yes, I personally could not connect with this image nor did I resonate with the idea of this image as beautiful or sexy, but we are talking about me.  So, let’s move on to discussing Francois Bernier (1625-88) the French traveler and personal physician of the last important Mughal (Persian) emperor of India, establishes an idiosyncratic taxonomy, one keying on four geographical divisions, which in Western literature gives pride to Bernier’s identifying four races.

Something excluded was the history of race in India and that it was the first space that Europeans violated with racist systems that remain deeply rooted through the caste system today in India.  Bernier is noted for identifying black woman as far more beautiful creatures; however, this footnotes disappeared into the fabric of the white story.

The inception of Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1643-1713) highlights behaviors of the Circassians “it is impossible to glimpse an opportunity for thievery without taking advantage of it.  They eat with their hands, go to the bathroom right next to where they eat, and then continue eating without washing.”  What a visual to record as characteristics of Circassians natural nature…powerful…

This characterization that Jean-Baptiste expanded to include Causacisn people, which he described as vile their neighbors are huge drunkards, worst than the Germans, not only do Migrelians consider assassination without compunction, they steal each other’s wives and the women were not much better wearing too much makeup.  The surprise was how Nell intertwined Christianity and the lack of human compassion or sensitivity for another that appeared in numerous unconscious acts of human trafficking…

Chapter 4 unravels with descriptions of white women beauty.

So my question surrounds how the idea of white slave women – Circassians, Georgians, and Caucasians begin a growing commodity to create supply and demand?

We intellectually understand the concept of commercial, advertisement, products and services – what influenced white wealthy men to buy into this new idea of white slave beauty, really?

The History of White People, Chapter 3

This post on Chapter 3 of Nell Painter’s book, The History of White People, is part of an online book chat sponsored by the Beyond Black and White Facebook discussion group. For more information on the book and the Beyond Black and White book club, follow this link.

Many thanks to Simone L. Brickers, for the following summary and discussion prompt:

Chapter 3
White Slavery
Nell Irvin Painter wrote, “A notion of freedom lies at the core of the American idea of whiteness.”
During the eleventh century Dublin was Europe’s largest slave market as Vikings slave traders fueled the slave trade.  The over arching implication for white slavery was dictated by the demand for labor in the fields on sugar plantations.  The history of white slavery fails to include incidents of brutality, poverty, or disenfranchisement at least no mention of abusive treatment was highlighted; however, the suggestion that people enslaved were different was implied.  John Wintrop, governor of Massachusetts, proclaimed that, “…mankind as in all times some must be rich, some poor, and some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection according to God Almighty.”  The social justification for slavery appears rooted within the Anglo-Saxon Christian belief of hierarchal order…  White slaves were primarily convicts those identified as socially unacceptable…
With this said, can you wrap your heads around white people being slaves?
Do you think that white slavery can compare to black slavery?
Does it appear that white slavery encroached upon the lives of whites people in ways making it challenging for them retain human dignity?

The History of White People, Chapter 2

Professor Painter begins this chapter with the statement:

“What we can see depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for.” She goes on to talk about how the Romans began to differentiate further among people who had formerly been known as “Celts” or “barbarians.”  But how might this statement challenge us as 21st century readers looking at this ancient history?

William F. Buckley wrote that, “History is the polemics of the victor,” and Painter’s presentation of the Roman historians views of the Gauls, Romani and Celts is certainly consistent with that. Here, we begin to see immutable traits being ascribed to various groups based on their willingness to be assimilated into a dominant culture. How might we imagine this history written from the perspective of the conquered?

For background on this Beyond Black and White book discussion, see the main page

The Facebook discussion of this chapter is here.

This post will take you to the prompts and Facebook discussion for the introduction and first chapter.