Race and Democracy

Race was created to resolve the contradiction between Enlightenment ideals and the economic reality of slavery. Throughout American history, we have re-enacted this fateful choice over and over again through policies, language, and decisions that preserve inequality and exclusion.

recently added
Origin of the Idea of Race
by Audrey Smedley
Anthropologist Audrey Smedley explains how race was institutionalized in the 19th century as a worldview to justify slavery, inequality, and establish who should have access to privilege, power, status, and wealth, and who should not.
The Historical Origins and Development of Racism
by George M. Fredrickson
Historian George M. Fredrickson provides a brief overview of how ideas of race and racism evolved throughout the centuries, tied to interpretations of the bible, science, and culture.
expert connection
film clip
Images of the Horror of American Race Relations: Interview with Michael Mark Cohen
Michael Mark Cohen, Associate Teaching Professor of American Studies and African American Studies at UC Berkeley, discusses his use of visual imagery to teach about racial terrorism and race as socially constructed, incorporating Stephen Jay Gould's scholarship to demonstrate how whiteness was created, and how a shift away from color blindness led to the current resurgence of white nationalism amid a shrinking white demographic.
Why was a racist ideology so easy for white America to accept and internalize?
episode 2
Why were only Africans enslaved?
episode 2
Has race always been with us?
episode 2
Robin D.G. Kelley
How did early American peoples see themselves? How is race socially constructed? How is racism more than just individual prejudice and fear?

Robin D.G. Kelley is currently (2019) Distinguished Professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in US History at UCLA. He is also author of Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class; and Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression.

Ira Berlin
What was early colonial Virginia like? How are race and freedom tied together? What is the tension in American history with regard to race?

Ira Berlin (1941-2018) was a Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Maryland.  Among his many books are, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves and Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in America.

Audrey Smedley
How is race a modern concept? Why were Africans enslaved? What role did 19th century ethnologists and race scientists play in shaping our understanding of race?

Audrey Smedley is currently (2019) Professor Emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University in anthropology and African-American studies. She is the author of Race in North America: Origins of a Worldview.

Karen Ordahl Kupperman
How did the English and Native peoples of America view themselves and each other at the time of their first encounter? Why did the English colonize North America?

Karen Ordahl Kupperman is currently (2019) Professor of History at New York University. She is author of Indians and English: Facing Off in North America and Roanoke: The Lost Colony.

James O. Horton
A look at the fluidity of racial identities in early colonial America, the long history of slavery not based on race, and how the rationalization of slavery continues to affect us today.

James O. Horton (1943–2017) was Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History at George Washington University, and Director of the Afro-American Communities Project of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.