Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The Invention of
the White Race:
The Origin of Racial Oppression
and Social Control in Anglo-America
By Theodore W. Allen
Verso, in two volumes
[A note from Carl Davidson: Ted Allen was a teacher and friend of mine. I've often said three books are critical to understanding our country: Black Reconstruction by WEB Du Bois, Blues People by Amiri Baraka, and the Invention of the White Race by Ted Allen. Ted would have agreed about the first two, but may have been unduly modest about his own. In any case, our study group went through both volumes, and learned a great deal, especially what original historical materialism in the Marxist tradition looks like when done extremely well on a burning question. Here is a brief description of the books. The first two comments are a long review putting the work in a wider context, and an appreciation of Allen following his death.]
The Meaning of White
By Dara Bryne
Black Issue Book Review
One of the best ways to understand the workings of "whiteness studies" is to read some of its landmark books. These are essential readings that must not be overlooked by anyone who is interested in race, identity, gender, economics, politics, culture and American history. The most compelling and widely cited among them are Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control (Verso Books, 1994), Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1995), and David R. Roediger's The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (Verso Books Irevised], 1999) and Towards the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working Class History (Verso Books, 1994).
Each author traces the development of "whiteness" to the 19th-century white working class in America. The Irish play a central role in each of these writings. One can look to the history of the Irish in America as a clear example of what "whiteness" means ideologically, materially and culturally. After reading these works, one understands why whiteness is not simply about having white skin. Rather economic and political processes serve as the dominant structural force in this society.