Inventing The Concept of Race: There's Nothing Natural About Segregation

Presented with Strand Bookstore

Bar & Grill by Jacob Lawrence

Many people believe that racial segregation is natural. People simply want to be around others who look like them. This line of reasoning assumes there is something coded in our DNA that compels us to marry, live, and work around people from the same ethnic backgrounds. If this were true, why did the interracial marriage rate drastically increase after laws forbidding it were abolished? If a natural inclination to racially segregate existed, why were anti-miscegenation laws necessary in the first place?  


This Olio will trace the historical invention of the “race” concept as a step-by-step, intentional process designed to prevent interracial collaboration.  We will look at important laws and images that tell the story of how and why “race” was invented. This class will also address what happened to ethnic groups that did not fit within the “black/white” dichotomy, the performance of whiteness, and how these processes continue to impact us today.


Recommended Reading:
PBS interview with Audrey Smedley (based on her book Race in North America: Origins of a Worldview)




Location: Strand Bookstore

828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003

The Rare Book Room at Strand Bookstore boasts an elegant venue, the walls lined with leather-bound treasures from a book hand printed in 1480 to a limited edition Ulysses signed by Henri Matisse, the illustrator, and by James Joyce. 


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