How Was Race Constructed In the New South?

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This article focuses on the construction and reconfiguration of race in the U.S. South during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Much literature on race is designed to show that race is socially constructed, with the inference that race is merely a social construction. Thus, talk about race, which is not demonstrably grounded in human biology, must be akin to talk about unicorns. But so what? Does race being a social construction make any difference to the historical accounts we give of how racial practices work? This article suggests that it can if we focus on the process of construction itself, in a particular time and place, and ask how race was socially constructed. I trace how race was made, unmade, and remade in the years between 1865 and 1920. During the postemancipation era, Southern White elites constructed race as and through naturalized relations of dependence and independence. This construction was held in place and then undermined by the prevailing social order. I offer an account of the sharp increase in racist practices at the turn of the century, focused on the notion of mobility. I show how, in the decades since the war, mobility undermined race as it had been socially constructed.

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Du Bois Review





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