By Charles B Dew. The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade. Along with every white person he knew, the author believed without question in the inherent inferiority of black Americans and in the need for segregation. In this memoir, Dew, one of America’s most respected historians of the South, turns the focus on his own life, which began not in the halls of enlightenment but in a society unequivocally committed to segregation. He re-creates the midcentury American South of his childhood--in many respects a boy’s paradise, but one stained by Lost Cause revisionism and, worse, by the full brunt of Jim Crow.
Through entertainments and "educational" books that belittled African Americans, as well as the living examples of his own family, Dew was indoctrinated in a white supremacy that, at best, was condescendingly paternalistic and, at worst, brutally intolerant. The fear that southern culture, and the "hallowed white male brotherhood," could come undone through the slightest flexibility in the color line gave the Jim Crow mindset its distinctly unyielding quality. Dew recalls his father, in most regards a decent man, becoming livid over a black tradesman daring to use the front, and not the back, door. Dew's redemption back from the dark side results from both life experience and and a specific sobering discovery of a price circular from 1860--an itemized list of humans up for sale. Contemplating this document becomes Dew’s first step in an exploration of antebellum Richmond’s slave trade that investigates the terrible--but, to its white participants, unremarkable--inhumanity inherent in the institution. University of Virginia Press (2016), English, 200 pages.