The Invention of Race
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Harriet Powers, Bible Quilt, 1895-1898.











Isaac Jefferson (former person enslved by Thomas Jefferson), tinsmith, nail maker, and blacksmith, Daguerreotype, c. 1845.
An aerial view of Monticello shows Mulberry Row to the right of Thomas Jefferson's house, 1772.












Slavery at Monticello app











Thomas Jefferson enslaved more than 600 people over his lifetime, including his wife's half sister, Sally Hemings (who was 25 years younger than Martha). Sally and Martha's father was the slave trader John Wayles. Sally (who was an infant at the time of Wayles' death) and her siblings were given to Martha as part of an inheritance.


Curiously, Sally Hemings and her brother James accompanied Jefferson's youngest daughter to London and Paris in 1784. At this time, Thomas Jefferson and Sally may have entered into a concentual intimate relationship when she was just 16 years old, and he was 46. Jefferson was working in Paris as the U.S. envoy to France, where slavery had been made illegal. Sally became pregnant and returned to the U.S. with Jefferson in 1789. Hemings would have six children, and in 1997, a genetic link to Jefferson's recognized descendents was found with one of her boys. It is generally assumed today that Jefferson fathered all six of Sally Heming's children, four of whom survived into adulthood.


Harriet Hemings Jefferson in 1926 & 1934











Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln's Dress, 1861.
Velvet, satin, lace.
Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt, c. 1861 - 1871.











Elizabeth Keckley











Federalist = Neoclassic

David Drake "Dave the Potter" for Lewis Miles Pottery, Storage Jar, c. 1860.
Thomas Day, Bedstead, 1853.
Inscribed "When you fill this jar with pork or beef / Scot will be there to get a piece - Dave" Edgefield County, South Carolina.











"The Enslaved Artist Whose Pottery Was an Act of Resistance"











As Dr. Nell Irvin Painter affirms in the Introduction to The History of White People, "race is an idea, not a fact, and its questions demand answers from the conceptual rather than the factual realm." Beginning with the question of why white people are called "Caucasian," Painter traces the routes of Enlightenment theories on beauty that would eventually be used to categorize humans into increasingly specific, and often absurd, groupings.











In Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (1764) Johann Winckelmann argued, “the whiter the body is, the more beautiful it is,” and that “color contributes to beauty, but it is not beauty.” (Painter, The History of White People)
"Winckelmann “championed an ideology of ancient Greek beauty based on his own gay male aesthetic" and "declared the Apollo Belvedere, already the most famous statue in Europe, the embodiment of perfect human beauty." (Painter, The History of White People)
Beyond Winckelman’s overt Eurocentrism, his opinions obfuscate abundant evidence that white marble was used by Ancient Greek and Roman sculptors for practical reasons: its softness, durability, and uniform color offered a perfect ground for bright and lively painted patterns, not because ancient Romans (the Greeks preferred bronze) saw themselves in the light color of the material.
Apollo Belvedere, 120 - 140 CE











Born into poverty in Prussia, Winckelmann was able to secure an education, then a position working for the aristocrat and renowned collector of ancient art, Allesandro Cardinal Albani in Rome. Now considered the founder of modern archaeology and art history, Winckelmann established a chronological basis and canon for ancient art.
As Nell Irvin Painter argues, “unaware that the Greek originals were often dark in color, he did not know–or glossed over the knowledge–that the Greeks routinely painted their sculpture. He saw only Roman versions of beautiful young men carved of hard Italian marble that shone a gleaming white” and projected on to the works the self-serving belief that the Greeks and Romans preferred to sculpt in marble because they too equated lighter skin with beauty.
Gods in Color
The myth of whiteness in classical sculpture
Polychrome reconstruction of the Prima Porta statue of Augustus from the 1st century AD, 2004. Painted plaster cast made after a prototype by P. Liverani, Vatican Museums, Rome.











Sir John Chardin traveled extensively, and frequently, to Persia and the East Indies during the 1670s and 1680s seeking precious gems and unusual objects for King Louis XIV's court. During a trip detailed in The Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies, 1673-1677, Chardin was rerouted through the Black Sea region to the Caucasus (today's Chechnya and Georgia).
Although he described the people of the region as vulgar thieves, and "complete savages" his description of the Georgian people as nonetheless, "the most beautiful in the Orient," and Georgian women enslaved in the sex trade as being "impossible to look at...without falling in love with them" because of their "charming faces" and "tall, graceful, slender, and poised" figures would be cited frequently to establish slave women from the Black Sea region as the western ideal of beauty.
Jean-Léon Gérome, Slave Market, 1866.











One of the earliest thinkers to become interested in comparative anatomy, Petrus Camper developed a measurement of the human face that quantified "the relationship between the projection of the forehead, mouth, and chin." Sometime in the 1770s Camper drew an illustrated chart comparing the faces and skulls of a chimpanzee, a Black person, a Kalmuck, a European, and the Apollo Belvedere. While he intended the chart to demonstrate the nearly equal measurements between humans when compared to the chimpanzee, the chart is difficult to read, and has been used extensively to support arguments contrary to Camper's egalitarian view. In particular, his placement of the Negro face next to the chimpanzee face, and the European face next to the Apollo Belvedere was taken to confirm white supremacy.
Petrus Camper, Facial Angles of Chimpanzee, Humans and the Apollo Belvedere, 1791.











Johann Blumenbach's hugely influential classification of humans, On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1781) argues that “climate produces differences in skin color.” As a monogenesist, Blumenbach worked against a number of contradictory observations as he identified five groups of humans: Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian, and American.

Although, Painter notes, "scholars could never agree on how many varieties of people existed, where the boundaries between them lay, and which physical traits counted in separating them. Nor have two hundred and more years of racial inquiry diminished confusion on this issue."

Nonetheless, over time, Blumenbach's five categories would somewhat arbitrarily gain acceptance, while also offering the name, "Caucasian" to describe certain lightly pigmented groups living in Europe. The idea that began with beauty, and was inextricably coupled with sexual enslavement, would be used to describe white people for generations to come, and make skin color a crucial factor in deciding race.

Johann Blumenbach, Principle Varieties of Mankind, 1779











Phrenology = the study of the shape and physical features of the skull and head that is based on the belief that these features can determine character and personality traits

Physiognomy = the study of facial characterisitcs based on the belief that these features can determine character and personality traits

Phrenological Head

Buchanan's Organology

Spurzheim’s Phrenological Head from Phrenology or the Doctrine of Mental Phenomenon, 1832.











Samuel G. Morton "claimed in his Crania Americana (1839) that Caucasians had the biggest brains, averaging 87 cubic inches (1,426 cc), Indians were in the middle with an average of 82 cubic inches (1,344 cc) and Negroes had the smallest brains with an average of 78 cubic inches (1,278 cc). Morton believed that the skulls of each race were so different that a wise creator from the beginning had created each race and positioned them in separate homelands to dwell in." (Wikipedia)