It is tempting to tell ourselves that we’re on the verge of an inclusive, multicultural new age.
An era where colour doesn’t matter all that much, where race doesn’t define us. After all, society is changing. Radically. The Conservative Party’s first-ever black female MP, Helen Grant, has just been elected. And across the pond, there is a black man in the White House. Or is there?
A controversial new book, The History of White People, claims that Barack Obama is, to all intents and purposes, white. Not because he had a white mother but because of his educational background, his income, his power, his status. The book’s author, the eminent black American historian Nell Irvin Painter, has written a fascinating, sprawling history of the concept of race, looking specifically at the idea of a white race and at why and how whites have dominated other, darker-skinned races throughout recent centuries. The conclusion of Painter’s book – which has taken more than a decade to research and write – is explosive. Race, she argues, is a fluid social construct, entirely unsupported by scientific fact. Like beauty, it is merely skin-deep.