Skip to main content

Race: A History Beyond Black and White

Review

Race: A History Beyond Black and White

Many teens are thinking about their future. While those possibilities are being considered, it is only natural to reflect on the past as well. Who are your ancestors? When did they come to America? Are you descended from Native Americans, or African slaves, or Jewish people fleeing Germany and Europe during World War II? Did your ancestors struggle in this country? If so, why? Who was against them?

RACE offers a fascinating look at the way humans have tried to sort themselves from the beginning of time. Marc Aronson, the award-winning author of WITCH-HUNT: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials, delves into his own attitudes toward race in the context of history. Aronson had a cousin who was killed in a German concentration camp; is married to a woman who has mixed Jewish and Indian heritages; and saw himself make racial assumptions about teens in his hometown. He decided to examine the whys and hows of racial prejudice in this important look at history and its impact on issues related to race.

Aronson has collected stories of current race issues to explore and discuss, but he has also traced racism back to its possible roots. In ancient times, people had slaves and felt that some human beings were better than others; many used God as justification for their behavior. Then the Holy War and the Crusades led to new and stronger ways to classify individuals. The Crusades brought lighter skinned people into battle with those who had darker skins. The author makes a case for how religion and the start of a Christian movement began to divide people into warring factions. Those ideals were then misused to justify dominance of one group over another.

The pictures and sketches in this book are truly startling. Throughout history, things that modern readers can clearly see as ignorance were commonly accepted. For example, many “scientists” of earlier times tried to show that the shape of the skull indicated what animal people descended from and how some races descended from different animals. That “study” was used to identify supposed superiority. Photos of art throughout history will demonstrate how attitudes toward different races changed, how some became more accepted at different times.

American history is thoroughly explored, from Irish immigration to African slavery, through the Civil Rights Movement to today. During the Civil War and beyond, lynchings were popular, and Aronson captures how people sent postcards of these events. Who would want to receive or send them? Looking back at history it’s easy to see that these people were wrong, that no one race is better than another. But it’s harder to apply those lessons to today’s questions of race. Aronson gives modern examples of these issues interspersed with the history in one of the book’s strongest messages. History is relevant, and readers will be able to see the past messages and mistakes that can be repeated and crop up today, in different scales.

Discussion of the Holocaust can be viewed with the same moral clarity. We know it was wrong to kill Jewish people, torturing them in those camps. But what about the United States putting Japanese people in internment camps? That was also wrong. How did these things come to happen? Aronson gives the background of these events and shows how one led to another over time.

Readers will want to stick with the history through to modern times, where race is still a headline issue. The Jena 6 case and the appearance of nooses throughout the country tell us that there is a lot more to be discussed and addressed in relation to racial issues here and elsewhere in the world. Aronson cites a New York Times report called “How Race is Lived in America,” in which teens in his hometown of Maplewood, New Jersey, were interviewed. One of these participants mentioned that “Black is a way of acting.”

As the parent of a mixed race child, I worry that others will tell my son to stick to Your Own Kind (YOK). Will he be expected to act more black, or white, or Latino? Will he have to choose a Kind to be his Own? He has all those heritages to honor and is a member of the fastest growing part of our population --- people of mixed race. Hopefully he will let his actions determine his future, not what others have determined for those with his appearance.

     -

Reviewed by Amy Alessio on October 18, 2011

Race: A History Beyond Black and White
by Marc Aronson

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2007
  • Genres: History
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0689865546
  • ISBN-13: 9780689865541