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Basic Books
  • Hardcover
  • $29.99 / $34.50 CAN
  • ISBN 13: 978-0-465-03670-7
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."

A Dreadful Deceit

The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America

By Jacqueline Jones

From a preeminent social historian, the stories of six African-Americans whose struggles reveal the strange evolution of the concept of race in America from the seventeenth century to the twentieth.

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 color—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.

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.

Also By Jacqueline Jones

Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow by Jacqueline Jones

Paperback

Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow by Jacqueline Jones

eBook

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