Theodore Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Verso 2012

To learn and grow through history, one must first look at it.

That arresting statement, printed on the back cover of the first (1994) volume, reflected the fact that, after poring through 885 county-years of Virginia’s colonial records, Allen found “no instance of the official use of the word ‘white’ as a token of social status” prior to its appearance in a 1691 law. As he explained, “Others living in the colony at that time were English; they had been English when they left England, and naturally they and their Virginia-born children were English, they were not ‘white.’” “White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades” that the word “would appear as a synonym for European-American.”

Allen was not merely speaking of word usage, however. His probing research led him to conclude – based on the commonality of experience and demonstrated solidarity between African-American and European-American laboring people, the lack of a substantial intermediate buffer social control stratum, and the “indeterminate” status of African-Americans – that the “white race” was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.

It is in the context of such findings that he offers his major thesis — the “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the later, civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77).  To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite, in its own class interest, deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the “white race” and 2) the consequences were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, they were also “disastrous” for European-American workers, whose class interests differed fundamentally from those of the ruling elite.

 

https://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/21/the-invention-of-the-white-race/

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