By Katharine Capshaw Smith

About Katharine Capshaw Smith

Katharine Capshaw Smith is Associate Professor of African American Literature and Children’s Literature at the University of Connecticut. She is the author of Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, which won the 2006 Book Award from the Children’s Literature Association. She is editor of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly.


A term with a variety of charged meanings and purposes, “race” arose in English in the sixteenth century from the French “race” and the Italian “razza” and has been employed as a means of grouping individuals by ethnic, social, or national background. While the term has been applied generally to a range of collective identities—including the “human race” (Williams 1976) or the “German race” (Murji 2005)—at present the term invokes categorization attached to imagined physical similarities or to a group’s own sense of collective ideals and history. “Race” as a term points both backward toward injurious histories of eugenics and physiognomic pseudoscience (Gombrich 1970; Rivers 1994), and forward in its reclamation and revision within liberationist social movements, like the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s and postcolonial movements in the Caribbean and Africa.

Within children’s literature and culture, representations of “race” …

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