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Study Group 8 - Imperialism & Racial Formation in the United States

Study Group 8 - Imperialism & Racial Formation in the United States

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Published by: IsaacSilver on Jan 03, 2011
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1.Jonathan Scott, “Before the White Race Was Invented” (1998)2.Bob Wing, Crossing Race and Nationality: The Racial Formationof Asian Americans 1852-1965 (2005)3.Elizabeth Martinez and Enriqueta Longeaux y Vasquez, “Viva LaRaza, Raza, Raza...” (1974)4.Arnoldo Garcia, “Toward a Left without Borders: The Story of theCenter for Autonomous Social Action-General Brotherhood of Workers” (2002)5.Mike Davis, “Buscando America” from
Magical Urbanism: LatinosReinvent the US City 
(2000)6.René Francisco Poitevin, “Latinos and David Roediger’s
WorkingToward Whiteness
” (2006)
 Jonathan Scott, “Before the White Race WasInvented”
 THERE ARE FOUR main theses advanced by Theodore Allen in his two-volume history of racial oppression,
The Invention of the White Race
. The burden of his study is to show:(1)that racial oppression is a “sociogenic” rather than a“phylogenic” phenomenon;(2)how the introduction of racial oppression was a deliberate ruling-class decision;(3)the way in which the propertyless classes in continental Anglo-American and United States society have been recruited into the“intermediate buffer control stratum” (the so-called “middleclass”) through anomalous white-skin privileges; and(4)the nature of class society under the capitalist mode of production.As far as his first thesis, there is no item of American “common sense”more popular than the idea that race is the same as “phenotype” orskin color. From white racist conceptions of athleticism -- that AfricanAmericans dominate certain sports because of distinctively “black”features and attributes -- to the renewal of eugenics in American socialscience to justify the lop-sided rate of incarceration for AfricanAmericans, this bit of “racial” common sense -- Allen terms it “psycho-culturalism” -- has insinuated itself into every aspect of life in theUnites States.
One of the great contributions of Allen’s study is a complete debunkingof the myth that race and skin color are the same thing.Conversely, one thing that has made the psycho-culturalist myth soenduring is the idea that American slavery was a “peculiar” or“paradoxical” or “exceptional” phenomenon -- terms deeply ingrainedin the mainline of American social science. The task for Americanhistorians has been to explain away the fact that democraticdevelopment in continental Anglo-American and United States historycoincided with centuries of racial slavery, racial oppression, and whitesupremacy.While the psycho-culturalists argue that racism is impossible toeradicate because of the permanence of alleged skin color, theparadox theorists contend that racial slavery and racial oppressiongave birth to American democracy, but that race today is nothing morethan a vestige of plantation economics.Edmund Morgan, for instance, made this his departure point inAmerican Slavery, American Freedom, where his thesis is that racialslavery and racial oppression were necessary flaws in the unfoldingtelos of American democracy. Through racial slavery and racialoppression, poor whites were shown by their rulers the differencebetween enslavement and freedom, between labor bond-servitude andwage labor. Yet his “paradox” argument is actually the corollary of the skin colorobsession, since race for Morgan is a ephemeral -- it existed only as atemporary measure designed to “separate dangerous free whites fromdangerous slave blacks,” and therefore once the numbers of “dangerous free whites” went down, race withered away and classbecame the dominant feature of American history.For the psycho-culturalists everything is racial, from the clothes wewear and the food we eat to the way we walk, talk, think, dream, anddesire. For the psycho-culturalists, anything not determined by race isabnormal and peculiar.Strange bedfellows these twin ways of thinking, and their manycombinations and encounters in U.S. history -- the march of democracyand supraracialism --attest to how truly “peculiar” the ideology of white supremacy really is: the absent center of Morgan’s work.For example, the Eisenstein of the United States, D.W. Griffith, servedas a national advocate for the re-enslavement of African Americans;many of the largest mass uprisings in U.S. history were pogromsagainst African Americans; the first and most enduring U.S. national-popular art form is blackface minstrelsy; and campaigns for the
presidency continue to be decided on “the race question,” whether itbe in the form of “getting the Southern vote,” or where the candidatestands on national policies and programs such as integration andaffirmative action, and his record in either enforcing or opposing andrepealing them.It is in this world of the surreal that historians of the “white race”conduct their researches and publish their theses and documentation. The experience of reading Allen is like leaving this dream room andslamming the door shut on the way out. It is “white race” which is“peculiar,” not racial slavery and racial oppression.“White-skin privileges,” the basis of the “white race” form of oppression, are peculiar precisely because they depend for theirpersistence on the shakiest of assumptions and thus the wildest of fantasies: that in America social mobility is guaranteed by the color of your skin. This was the slogan of the “white race” rioters and lynch mobs in July1863, as they set about burning alive African Americans in New Yorkand destroying millions of dollars of their property (vol. 1, 188-192).Comprised mainly of Irish Americans, the white lynch mobs of New York are known in history texts euphemistically as the “New York DraftRioters.”
Colonialism As A Model
Examples such as this allow Allen to establish his definition of racialoppression, and to cast out various lines of inquiry. For example, wheredid the Catholic Irish immigrants get the idea that they would gain if African Americans were made to lose? And how were Irish Americansable to perform their function so well, with such precision andexpertise?Allen’s research shows that all the major Irish American newspapers inNew York were clamoring for the repeal of laws entitling AfricanAmericans to the same employment opportunities afforded laboring-class Euro-Americans. They fought tirelessly to make white-skinprivilege a basic right of U.S. citizenship. Moreover, the Irish Americanestablishment was fervently pro-slavery.For example, they threw their political influence behind the campaignto renew the international slave trade; they argued that the rights andprivileges sanctified by the U.S. Constitution were white-only rights andprivileges -- that non-whites were non-persons and should be treatedthat way by every court in the land -- and they mobilized thousands of newly arrived Catholic Irish immigrants against their own national

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