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.
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