The Invention of Race
This history special traces the development of racial, and racist, ideas, from the ancient world—when "there was no notion of race," as historian Nell Irvin Painter puts it—up to the founding of the United States as, fundamentally, a nation of and for white people (despite the "all men are created equal" language of the Declaration of Independence). Relying on the work of Painter, National Book Award-winning historian Ibram Kendi, and a recorded workshop presentation by the Racial Equity Institute, host and reporter John Biewen tells a story that names names: The Portuguese writer who, commissioned by the slave-trading leaders of his country, literally invented blackness, and therefore whiteness, in the 1450s, according to Kendi. The Enlightenment scientist who first divided humanity into five "races" and coined "caucasian." The black runaway indentured servant in 17th-century Virginia whose capture, and sentencing to lifelong servitude, marked the first official sanctioning of chattel slavery, and the first time a black person was treated differently from a white person in the law, in colonial America. And Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose "Anglo-Saxonist" thinking gets a fresh look.