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In 1656, a planter in colonial Maryland tortured and killed one of his slaves, an Angolan man named Antonio who refused to work the fields. Over three centuries later, a Detroit labor organizer named Simon Owens watched as strikebreakers wielding bats and lead pipes beat his fellow autoworkers for protesting their inhumane working conditions. Antonio and Owens had nothing In 1656, a planter in colonial Maryland tortured and killed one of his slaves, an Angolan man named Antonio who refused to work the fields. Over three centuries later, a Detroit labor organizer named Simon Owens watched as strikebreakers wielding bats and lead pipes beat his fellow autoworkers for protesting their inhumane working conditions. Antonio and Owens had nothing in common but the color of their skin and the economic injustices they battled—yet the former is what defines them in America's consciousness. In A Dreadful Deceit, award-winning historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of these two men and four other African Americans to reveal how the concept of race has obscured the factors that truly divide and unite us. Expansive, visionary, and provocative, A Dreadful Deceit explodes the pernicious fiction that has shaped American history.


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In 1656, a planter in colonial Maryland tortured and killed one of his slaves, an Angolan man named Antonio who refused to work the fields. Over three centuries later, a Detroit labor organizer named Simon Owens watched as strikebreakers wielding bats and lead pipes beat his fellow autoworkers for protesting their inhumane working conditions. Antonio and Owens had nothing In 1656, a planter in colonial Maryland tortured and killed one of his slaves, an Angolan man named Antonio who refused to work the fields. Over three centuries later, a Detroit labor organizer named Simon Owens watched as strikebreakers wielding bats and lead pipes beat his fellow autoworkers for protesting their inhumane working conditions. Antonio and Owens had nothing in common but the color of their skin and the economic injustices they battled—yet the former is what defines them in America's consciousness. In A Dreadful Deceit, award-winning historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of these two men and four other African Americans to reveal how the concept of race has obscured the factors that truly divide and unite us. Expansive, visionary, and provocative, A Dreadful Deceit explodes the pernicious fiction that has shaped American history.

30 review for A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Robert Owen

    I was disappointed by Jacqueline Jones’s “A Dreadful Deceit”. Her thesis- that “black” is a sociological construct - while not necessarily new, is nonetheless exciting insofar as contemporary racial dogma insists that while race is a figment of social imagination it nonetheless somehow matters. When I started reading I was looking forward to seeing how she argued her point. As it turns out, she didn’t. I picked up the book because I was hoping gain an understanding how the concept of “race” had I was disappointed by Jacqueline Jones’s “A Dreadful Deceit”. Her thesis- that “black” is a sociological construct - while not necessarily new, is nonetheless exciting insofar as contemporary racial dogma insists that while race is a figment of social imagination it nonetheless somehow matters. When I started reading I was looking forward to seeing how she argued her point. As it turns out, she didn’t. I picked up the book because I was hoping gain an understanding how the concept of “race” had evolved throughout the 400 year history of Europeans in North America and, moreover, to learn what the implications of those definitional transitions might be. What Jones provided, instead, were a series of essays that meticulously explored lives of six individual black people at six different epochs of American history. While each exploration was thorough and, of themselves, inherently interesting, the narratives seldom, and then, only tangentially, seemed to relate to her professed theme. This is not to say that the book is not valuable. In providing these compelling portraits, she has served to breathe life into times past and to make clear that the challenges, opportunities, depredations and suffering experienced by blacks were not static and changed over time. Knowledge of this sort dispels any inclination to think of blacks as a temporal monolith of indistinguishable suffering and makes real the humanity of people who are frequently presented as cardboard cutouts. The whole awarding-of-stars thing in rating books is inherently sketchy when reviewing historical non-fiction as, unless it’s just poorly written or presented, there are inevitably insights to be won from reading what different writers have to say about common historical topics. I have awarded this book three star-thingies because, as I’ve said, Jones failed to make her point. Had Jones, however, rewritten her introduction and her conclusion to reflect the material she actually presented, I probably would have declared it a much better book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elliott Bignell

    This is an important book in a contemporary political discussion of one important country. As nationalism is again on the march, it is also a timely interjection in discussions of importance to most of the Western world. Racism is sometimes described as the USA's "original sin", but it cannot be denied that it played a role in shaping the psychologies of all the European imperial powers, most of which lack America's ingrained historical animus against their own minority cultures but some of whos This is an important book in a contemporary political discussion of one important country. As nationalism is again on the march, it is also a timely interjection in discussions of importance to most of the Western world. Racism is sometimes described as the USA's "original sin", but it cannot be denied that it played a role in shaping the psychologies of all the European imperial powers, most of which lack America's ingrained historical animus against their own minority cultures but some of whose crimes against Africa and elsewhere are much fresher in the memories of the colonised. The case for the social construction of "race" is made in more formal terms elsewhere, for instance via DNA analysis which shows that we are basically all Africans anyway. What this book does is to deconstruct a small series of case studies from American history, cases of concrete men and women and the social context which shaped their treatment by society. Slavery is still a resonant word in American political culture, and black people still live with the entrenched injustices they inherited from it. The fact is, though, that slavery was a near-universal human institution until modern times. White Christians served as slaves in Muslim galleys, or at the Sultan's court, prisoners of war were routinely enslaved since classical times, Slaves ruled Egypt and could inherit property in some countries. There is nothing about slavery that says, "black". let alone "whips". But the slaves were the foundation of the antebellum agricultural economy of the United States - not to mention many other countries to the South. And at some time "black" most certainly came to mean "slave". This book's thesis - striking until fairly recently, and still heretical to many an internet ranter - is that the notion of "black" itself was literally constructed around slavery, and sustained ever since by its legacy. In a similar way the notion of the "savage" was constructed in the colonial powers to fit a mission civilatrice which happened to suit the national interests of the "civilisers". While the book does not make quite as forceful a theoretical argument as I was hoping for, it is forcefully written and the cases cited will probably make your blood boil and your ears steam. The case is made, alright, but it is made in a way that reflects the real complexity of the legacy, by looking at cases which are incendiary but not theoretically clear. Coming on the heels of "12 Years a Slave", this was one of those books that leaves a taste of anger. While science has spoken, social consciousness has mostly not woken up to the reality: Race is illusion, racism is real. This work is an important contribution to the true shift of paradigm that is now required. We have been sold a vicious fraud intended to drive a wedge between us and our neighbours, the "others" who are nothing of the sort, except in that society makes them so.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vannessa Anderson

    A Dreadful Deceit is about physical force flowing from the law, the barrel of a gun, or the fury of a mob; but it is also about the struggle for justice and personal dignity waged by people of African Descent in America. Their fight for human rights in turn intensified policies and prejudices based on so-called racial difference. A Dreadful Deceit demonstrates how the white supremacists politicians brainwashed the masses to marginalized and dispossessed Africans who were enslaved not because of t A Dreadful Deceit is about physical force flowing from the law, the barrel of a gun, or the fury of a mob; but it is also about the struggle for justice and personal dignity waged by people of African Descent in America. Their fight for human rights in turn intensified policies and prejudices based on so-called racial difference. A Dreadful Deceit demonstrates how the white supremacists politicians brainwashed the masses to marginalized and dispossessed Africans who were enslaved not because of their race or their status as nonwhites or non-Christian’s rather, Africa’s diverse ethnic groups lacked membership in a robust nation-state that could rescue, protect, or redeem them on the high seas or in a foreign land. A Dreadful Deceit was an interesting read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    It's economics and class, rather than race. Fascinating profiles of the people through the generations. Each story explained different aspects of the struggle and development. The period from WWI through the labor unions of the '70s and into the current area were parts of history few would be aware of. It's economics and class, rather than race. Fascinating profiles of the people through the generations. Each story explained different aspects of the struggle and development. The period from WWI through the labor unions of the '70s and into the current area were parts of history few would be aware of.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    The book was well-conceived. It follows a few stories in each era to demonstrate the myth of race in each era. But in the end, it did not deliver. There was too much detail in the stories--especially the historical ones and not much payoff in terms of thesis and insight. It was well written though.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Disappointing. Some interesting information but not an overly compelling argument.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elliott

    Jacqueline Jones has an good grasp for anecdote to prove her very excellent thesis that "race" is a construct of society, whilst the real conflict is one of power: economic, and political, who has it, who doesn't, and how it's used. The problem is that this is not a new revelation. Howard Zinn was well aware of this fact and indeed included it in his canonical A Peoples History which he learned from previous Marxist and social analysts. Zinn acknowledges those sources, while Jones does not. This Jacqueline Jones has an good grasp for anecdote to prove her very excellent thesis that "race" is a construct of society, whilst the real conflict is one of power: economic, and political, who has it, who doesn't, and how it's used. The problem is that this is not a new revelation. Howard Zinn was well aware of this fact and indeed included it in his canonical A Peoples History which he learned from previous Marxist and social analysts. Zinn acknowledges those sources, while Jones does not. This is not to imply plagiarism necessarily, only I believe that even a cursory glance at say Ida B. Wells would reveal much the same. It felt as if Jones is taking credit for "discovering" this purely by virtue that those works that have already stated this are not being read and ought to be.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tiantian Zha

    Does an excellent job of putting today's issues in historical context and makes it easier to see how racial narratives and tactics of disenfranchisement have evolved over time. What makes this book exceptionally well-written is that it starts with a modern simplified story of race in America and shows how it's an oversimplification that serves a "colorblind" view of the world. Each chapter tells the story of a black American at a different point in history, without historical context (so we inev Does an excellent job of putting today's issues in historical context and makes it easier to see how racial narratives and tactics of disenfranchisement have evolved over time. What makes this book exceptionally well-written is that it starts with a modern simplified story of race in America and shows how it's an oversimplification that serves a "colorblind" view of the world. Each chapter tells the story of a black American at a different point in history, without historical context (so we inevitably interpret from a modern perspective). The author then provides the context, which totally changes the way you look at the story. This happens repeatedly, from the early settlers to the Civil Rights era to the present.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This book is the perfect gift for that hard-to-disarm bigot on your list who can’t grasp the idea that race is a construct. Note that I said construct, not social construct, because the author does not fully grasp what a social construct is. Her book's a series of interesting vignettes... My full review at: http://theorangepress.com/woid/woid21... This book is the perfect gift for that hard-to-disarm bigot on your list who can’t grasp the idea that race is a construct. Note that I said construct, not social construct, because the author does not fully grasp what a social construct is. Her book's a series of interesting vignettes... My full review at: http://theorangepress.com/woid/woid21...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    A look at the slippery notions of race in this country's history told through the lens of 6 individuals at different points in history. Well researched and told with style, but the book loses focus at certain points. 3.3 Martinie glasses A look at the slippery notions of race in this country's history told through the lens of 6 individuals at different points in history. Well researched and told with style, but the book loses focus at certain points. 3.3 Martinie glasses

  11. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    The author uses 6 lives at points in history to demonstrate the use of race as a rationalization of socioeconomic oppression. Periods include early colonial MD, the revolutionary war in SC, pre-civil war RI, reconstruction Alabama, early 20th century Mississsippi, and 1970's Detroit. The author uses 6 lives at points in history to demonstrate the use of race as a rationalization of socioeconomic oppression. Periods include early colonial MD, the revolutionary war in SC, pre-civil war RI, reconstruction Alabama, early 20th century Mississsippi, and 1970's Detroit.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    The stories Jones shares are fascinating pieces of fairly obscure history, but the book falls short in showing "the contradictory and inconsistent fictions of 'race' that various groups of people contrived for specific political purposes." The stories Jones shares are fascinating pieces of fairly obscure history, but the book falls short in showing "the contradictory and inconsistent fictions of 'race' that various groups of people contrived for specific political purposes."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Higginbotham

    Wonderful historical treatment that unravels the use of race that can obscure the exploitation of a people. Jones is a great labor historian and it is nice to see how she focuses on the lives of individuals and the nature of racism and racial barriers during their lives.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    305.80097 J775 2013

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    A detailed look at the lives of 4 African Americans from different periods of American history offer insights into the systems of oppression that have been in effect in the USA since its inception.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill Finley

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  19. 4 out of 5

    Yessi

  20. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  22. 5 out of 5

    Debra Glassco

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Ellis

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rob Sullivan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Annemariem

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pamela E. Brooks

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Neuhengen

  28. 4 out of 5

    Younhi {[*൦*}]

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

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