I recently opened an online order and discovered an unexpected bonus: As a buffer against damage, the seller had included a 1906 elementary school textbook called Frye’s First Steps in Geography. Written by Alexis Everett Frye, an American who served as Cuba’s first superintendent of schools, the book was filled with facts that would now be considered false and even pernicious.
To the left, for instance, is an illustration from a chapter that explains the world’s five racial groups. Although this “ideal head” happens to look exactly like mine, its implications are troubling.
According to this textbook, the white race is the most advanced in the world. Most other races, schoolchildren were taught, tended to have a “savage” character, living in remote areas without industry and Western-style education.
As I read these century-old pages, I wonder how quaint and outdated today’s racial theories will seem in 100 years. What fundamental beliefs will have been long abandoned as advances in sciences and social sciences rendered them obsolete?
Let me venture a few guesses. Barack Obama, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Drake, and Halle Berry each have one white parent and one black parent. But by today’s definitions, each of them is generally classified as African American: The 2010 U.S. census form defines “black” as “having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.”