Geraldine Heng delves into the sensitive topic of race with knowledge, experience and understanding. She divides her grand overview—507 pages on this “enormous and immensely complex” (p. 2) subject—of the invention of the concept of race in the European Middle Ages in seven chapters, all well documented and highly intriguing. Race has been and will remain a difficult, debatable and disturbing notion as it has a profound and pervasive impact on our daily interactions as human beings. While many of us celebrate diversity and embrace the idea of people being part of one human race, we cannot think away the concept of racial division. And so, it is important to question where it comes from, how it has evolved and where it will lead us. History, as my parents, who are both historians, would say is one of the ways—if not THE way—to understand contemporary issues, mindful too of the fact that “race is not as easily recognizable for those who inhabit a majority race” (p. 1). Heng takes us back to the European Middle Ages, to premodernity, in order to give us an insight on how certain stereotypes and misunderstandings started. It is not necessary here to remind us how much race and all its, mostly, negative aspects has had diverse and often scary consequences. We just have to think of the cruelties meted out to many Black, Asian and other ‘racial’ groups throughout the world.
Keywords: Race, Racism, Europe, Middle Ages