Review: The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing

The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing
The United States of the United Races: A Utopian History of Racial Mixing by Greg Carter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pros: Historical scholarship, Intriguing content, Great historical insight

Cons: Some parts remind me of college history textbook (though this book is a little more interesting!)

Carter’s book delves into a topic that American history and society has a hard time understanding-racial mixing. In this book, he confronts our (well most of us) limited view of the history of people of mixed race in the United States. It was not all tragic as commonly depicted, nor was it all optimistic (we have only to point to miscegenation laws for that), but it was as complicated as all human relations tend to be. Carter explores the complexity of race both in individuals and in society as a whole.

For example, Carter’s analysis of Thomas Jefferson’s understanding and actions regarding race reflect some of this. As Carter discusses, Jefferson was a firm believer in human rights for all, yet he retained slaves. Not only did he retain slaves, he fathered children with one in particular, Sally Hemmings. Throughout his life, Jefferson Others close to Jefferson took a different route.

Carter also demonstrated well that what is written in history books is not as simple as it appears. In Chapter 3, he discusses Plessy vs. Ferguson, a case I had assumed was between a “Black” person who wanted equality. In actuality, Plessy’s race was mixed. His race was used as part of the legal strategy to bring down the segregationist laws.

Throughout the book, Carter demonstrates that there is more to the issue of racial mixing. It’s not a simple issue of “Black/White” nor it is a “mixed versus not-mixed”. The history of race-mixing is much more complex. There are those in the past who have been adamantly (and sometimes violently) opposed to interracial marriage and then there are those who have been adamant supporters of interracial marriage to the point of idolizing people of mixed race descent. There have been places in the US where interracial marriages were violently opposed and places in the US where interracial marriages was a typical occurrence (Louisiana comes to mind).

In summary, this book does an excellent job at getting readers to revisit their own perceptions of race, whether they consider themselves mixed race or not. The categorization and labels that we use to describe us have a confusing and sometimes bright,sometimes painful history that we need to share in order to have a brighter future. You will need your “thinking cap” on because the book uses college-level vocabulary and historical anecdotes, but your mind will be blown away by the complexity behind even the simplest answers involving identity, love, and society.

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