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Historian and Author, Dr. Carmen P. Thompson

Carmen P. Thompson is a historian and author of The Making of American Whiteness: The Formation of Race in Seventeenth- Century Virginia. She earned her PhD in U.S. History from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and her Masters of Arts in African American Studies from Columbia University in New York. 

Dr. Thompson is a highly sought expert on Race and Whiteness in America. Her scholarship was quoted in the December 2022 Oregon State Supreme Court decision, Watkins, Jacob Keith v. Ackley, in support of the Court’s conclusion of disparate racial impact of non unanimous jury decisions. She wrote the introduction to the forthcoming (2023) book, Protest City: Portland’s Summer of Rage, a photo book that chronicles the yearlong protests in Portland, Oregon after the murder of George Floyd by police in 2020. And she co edited and authored articles in the peer reviewed journal, Oregon Historical Quarterly, 2019 special issue on White supremacy in Oregon.

She has held visiting scholar appointments at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University in New York and in the Black Studies Department at Portland State University, and has taught a wide range of courses on the Black experience and Whiteness at Portland State University and Portland Community College.

In honor Women’s History Month, Dr. Thompson centers the experiences of free and enslaved Black women in early America in a discussion of her newly published book, The Making of American Whiteness: The Formation of Race in Seventeenth Century Virginia, to show how gender relations with White women and White men reveal the resiliency of Black people and the contours of race during the era.

About the Book

The Making of American Whiteness: The Formation of Race in Seventeenth-Century Virginia changes the narrative about the origins of race and Whiteness in America. With an exhaustive range of archival documents, Carmen P. Thompson demonstrates not only that Whiteness predates European expansion to the Americas—as evidenced by European participation in the transatlantic slave trade since the fifteenth century—but, more importantly, that Whiteness was the principal dynamic in the settlement of Virginia, the first colony in what would become the United States of America. And just as the system of White supremacy was the principal order that fueled the transatlantic slave trade, it was likewise the framework that drove the organization of civil society in Virginia, including the organization and structure of the colony’s laws, social, political, and economic policies, and its system of governance. This book shows what Whiteness looked like in everyday life in the early seventeenth century, finding it eerily prescient to Whiteness today.

“The Making of American Whiteness provides compelling corrections to received notions regarding the origins of institutionalized White supremacy. By shedding new light on a wide array of period documents within the context of transatlantic slavery, Carmen P. Thompson shows that in early Virginia, conceptions of West African peoples as inherently worthy of enslavement went hand in hand with a collective European self-conception as not only superior but also implicitly White. With its deep dives into such disparate realms as gender relations, built environments, and the maintenance of West African modes of resistance, this book will instruct and fascinate students and scholars working on both the origins of American racial formations and their obstinately enduring manifestations.”

Tim Engles, Eastern Illinois University

“A highly original challenge to the traditional historiographical wisdom on the North American origins of racial slavery and whiteness in colonial Virginia. Thompson has put together an unequalled archive on the subject of how ‘race’ operated in the period before Bacon’s Rebellion and policy changes made racial distinctions emerge with much greater clarity and elaboration. Subtle and deeply gendered, the project also draws insight and energy from Thompson’s study of very different forms of slavery in Africa. She places Virginia in a network of slave-trading transnationally in a way that brings into useful question the idea of an ‘invention’ of race there.”

David Roediger, author of How Race Survived U. S. History


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