Colbert plays his usual bumbling role here, parodying in the process how poorly most white people talk about being white (while also highlighting how a person like himself is "the default American"). Painter gets in a few words edgewise about her book, and I suppose the best thing about the segment is that it brought some well-deserved attention to that book.
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Nell Irvin Painter|
[If anyone knows of a transcript of this interview, I would appreciate a link]
National Public Radio interview (includes a brief book excerpt)
From a review of Painter's The History of White People --
As Nell Irvin Painter, a professor of history emerita at Princeton University, reminds us, theories of race, grounded in heredity, that today seem bizarre, confusing and contradictory, were widely accepted throughout most of American history. And, although biologists and geneticists no longer believe in the physical existence of "races," the concept lives on, along with racism.
Designed for a popular audience, Dr. Painter's book is a useful synthesis of the evolution of ideas about "white races" from the ancient Greeks to the modern age.
Taxonomists, she demonstrates, never clearly defined race. They sometimes acknowledged the role culture and climate played in determining physical appearance, even as they claimed that the distinctive characteristics of groups were fixed and unalterable.
Sometimes, following the lead of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who in 1795 gave us the term "Caucasian," they transformed their own standards of beauty (like blue eyes and blond hair) into scientifically certified racial traits.
And sometimes, "even when the judgment of sound scholarship did not suffice," they turned languages into peoples, applying the word "arya," meaning noble or spiritual in Sanskrit, to an imagined superior race of Aryans.
Dr. Painter doesn't hide her contempt for her subjects. With the possible exception of Ralph Waldo Emerson, most of them deserve it.