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The rise and fall of whiteness studies
Andrew Hartman Race Class 2004 46: 22 DOI: 10.1177/0306396804047723 The online version of this article can be found at: http://rac.sagepub.com/content/46/2/22

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whether they like to admit it or not. researching a PhD provisionally entitled Education in the Age of Consensus: imperial and working-class pedagogies in the United States. of Ignatiev.sagepub. For while the study of whiteness as a social construction – which takes its starting point from Du Bois – has demonstrated more clearly than ever how racism is at the core of US history and society. DC.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. Intellectual work is not produced in a vacuum and is thus relevant beyond the narrow domain of the Andrew Hartman is in the department of history at George Washington University. for the most part. Thousand Oaks. Hale. Racism. 1945–60. attracting hostility from neo-conservative commentators. in particular. Hale. London The rise and fall of whiteness studies ANDREW HARTMAN Abstract: Over the last decade or so. the study of whiteness in the US has grown in both cultural and academic significance. it has. Third World Quarterly and Zmagazine. Ignatiev. aspire to influence the world outside the ivory tower. But there is also a critique to be had from the Left. failed to take the issue of class into account. Roediger and Saxton. Saxton Most academics. 46(2): 22–38.1177/0306396804047723 Downloaded from rac. Jim Crow. How and why this is is closely analysed here. he has also published in Socialism and Democracy. Race & Class Copyright & 2004 Institute of Race Relations 0306-3968 Vol. 047723 10. in an examination of the work. Keywords: Class. Washington. Roediger.SAGE Publications New Delhi. 2011 .

com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. and the use of whiteness as a psychological wage. He theorised that even white workers enjoyed a ‘public and psychological wage’. assertions that immigrant groups such as the Irish had to become white on arrival. the effects of which he described as follows: ‘Black studies celebrates blackness.2 Arneson and Kolchin’s critiques. have made a splash in the wider world of American mass culture. a notable milestone along the road to notoriety. and thus few intellectuals are able to recognise the extent of their influence. serious scholars such as historians Eric Arneson and Peter Kolchin have also offered severe – yet sympathetic – critiques of the field. Second. found in many interrelated disciplines. B. reactionary cultural critic David Horowitz deemed whiteness studies worthy of his attention. As correlative forces within a larger social formation. new academic fields transcend the perceived division between academia and mass culture. are sound in respect of much of this work. their criticisms suffer from one very serious oversight: neither of them examined the best work in the field. and white studies attacks white people as evil. Whiteness studies is one such field: scholars working on ‘whiteness’. although at times overstated. that was derived Downloaded from rac. Two accurate barometers of recognition support this claim. very few academic trends are noticed beyond the university. regardless of their position in the social hierarchy. Horowitz conflates whiteness studies with what he considers a rogue leftism. First. Alexander Saxton’s The Rise and Fall of the White Republic. on occasion. all historical investigations of whiteness must be measured against The Rise and Fall of the White Republic. Despite this encouraging scenario. described there as ‘a controversial and relatively new academic field that seeks to change how white people think about race’. and intellectuals working in such fields are able to appreciate their work as having societal impact. Yet. 2011 . Chicano studies celebrates Chicanos. whose Black Reconstruction elevated the concept of ‘whiteness’ as an analytical problem in determinations of class and stratification.’ 1 Horowitz is not alone in his criticism of whiteness studies. They argue that whiteness studies has been plagued by three deficiencies: a problem of definition.3 * * * The beginning of the study of whiteness as a socially constructed phenomenon should be traced back to W. whiteness studies was recently featured on the front page of the Washington Post. However. Du Bois.Hartman: Whiteness studies 23 university. formed twelve years after Saxton published his masterpiece. As such. Saxton – one of the first scholars to publish an explicit examination of whiteness – anticipated the Arneson and Kolchin interventions. E. intellectual change and social change are mutually dependent.sagepub. women’s studies celebrates women. a work so good and so far ahead of its time that I believe it will render obsolete the very thing that it sought to build – whiteness studies.

the first in a virtual explosion of works on the topic of whiteness. who writes on whiteness in education. For example. argues that new pedagogies of whiteness should be created that ‘refigure whiteness in antiracist. including anthropology and biology – that race is a construct rather than an objective. antihomophobic. particularly within the historical context that gave rise to whiteness studies. By adding whiteness to the list of racial constructions worthy of historical excavation. race is made to seem ahistorical. scholarship on whiteness explicitly targets public policy. Scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould rejected the biological determinacy of race and so helped scholars to understand that ‘race’ is a reified concept: despite the specific history of its construction. whose Wages of Whiteness was. omnipresent. the scholarship of whiteness studies was not just a continuation of earlier work: whereas previous scholars primarily centred their investigations on how race had been constructed for blacks and other groups deemed racial minorities throughout American history. marked the beginning of a new genre of scholarship.4 Saxton’s and Roediger’s works. The optimism that accompanied the civil rights movement abated as it became clear that the movement had failed to assemble Downloaded from rac. whiteness scholars focused their attention on the construction of the white race. Such an achievement can only be labelled a success.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12.6 Historians of whiteness built upon the commonplace notion – commonplace in an array of other disciplines. Since then.7 Such knowledge was commonplace prior to the advent of whiteness studies and numerous American historians were unearthing the construction of race prior to its rise. from history to cultural studies to legal studies. the focus of this paper. and was validated by. much more so than previous scholarship on race.sagepub. natural. along with Saxton’s The Rise and Fall.5 In the discipline of history. and antisexist ways’.24 Race & Class 46(2) from their whiteness and reinvested in it. Nelson Rodriguez. whiteness scholarship has positioned race as the core narrative of American history. whiteness studies is to be found almost everywhere in the humanities. have undertaken a wide variety of approaches. racism. whiteness studies emerged as a continuation of a previous scholarly project – the deconstruction of race. Many scholars of whiteness have used Du Bois’s concept of the psychological wage as their analytic starting point. 2011 . In many disciplines apart from history. particularly in the US. tangible ‘thing’. However. Whiteness studies scholars.8 This had the effect of unmasking the construction of a ‘race’ that was seemingly a non-race: the nonspecificity of whiteness was determined to be every bit as much a human construction as the specificity of blackness. including David Roediger. published within a few months of each other in 1990. White privilege validated. Whiteness studies was born in the context of persistent racial inequality. who almost exclusively identify with the political Left.

The former liberal intellectuals. many of whom supported the early civil rights movement. as was made obvious by the rise of the ‘Reagan Democrats’. breaking with the Democrats once and for all. Glazer and his fellow neo-conservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In both cases. They were disdainful of black leaders such as Stokely Carmichael who openly pronounced their support for Third World liberation movements.sagepub. they were in a sense celebrating their whiteness. understood blacks to be tangled in a ‘web of pathology’. slowly migrated to the ideological Right. Writers like Norman Podhoretz. For example. including the infamous ‘Moynihan report’. Italians and Eastern Europeans had done. a celebration that crowded out black demands on the welfare state. ignoring the sometimes violent sit-down strikes of the 1930s that they and their fellow ethnic minorities had undertaken to leverage political power in America.Hartman: Whiteness studies 25 an alliance of working-class whites and blacks. 2011 . but a number of former liberal intellectuals. which Moynihan and Glazer determined to be an outgrowth of slavery. Blacks’ pathological condition stemmed from a family structure rooted in matriarchy. Not only did hundreds of thousands of white workers betray their economic interests and vote for Reagan during the 1980s. They formed what might be termed a ‘cult of ethnicity’: by sublimating their racism in the form of a celebration of their ethnic identities. Sidney Hook. white southerners reacted by voting Republican in much higher numbers. numerous northern whites – many of whom were unionised workers – also broke with the party that better represented their economic position and voted instead for Reagan. most of whom lived and worked in New York City and most of whom considered themselves members of an ethnic minority – more often than not Jewish – became increasingly less tolerant of black political protest. They wondered aloud why blacks rioted in the streets rather than pick themselves up by their bootstraps and climb the social ladder as they and the Jews. Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer viewed the ghetto uprisings and the black power movement as offensive and immoral. when the Democratic Party became closely associated with the civil rights movement. allegiance to the white race was the overwhelming consideration. who conducted studies of the ghettoes for the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Their conclusion was barely distinguishable from old-fashioned racism because it implied. The neo-conservatives – once vociferous proponents of liberal progress – wanted an end to such liberal progress once it had sufficiently benefited them. when the movement transferred its efforts from the de jure segregation of the South to the economic misery of northern urban ghettoes. Likewise. including the Palestinian – a particularly offensive position to neo-conservative Jews who pledged allegiance to the policies of Israel.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. since there was nothing that could be done about Downloaded from rac.

In short.26 Race & Class 46(2) slavery a century after the fact. And these setbacks represented another decisive intimation that Americans. although central to an understanding of national identity. scholars tend to ignore power relations. continued to favour racial progress and radicals who favoured interracial economic egalitarianism suffered one disappointment after another during the 1970s and 1980s. For Hale.sagepub. when push comes to shove.9 For Marxists. culture over economy.11 * * * Making Whiteness is about the cultural construction of race in the southern United States during the Jim Crow years of 1890–1940. in studying cultural discourses rather than the formation of class. responses to this question have obviously been rooted in attempts to understand the peculiarity of American class formation. is just one of a multiplicity of discourses in which power and oppression are located. they have a different understanding of power.10 This is precisely the manner in which Grace Elizabeth Hale’s Making Whiteness delineates the construction of race in the segregated South of the Jim Crow era: the discourse of race. when white southerners collectively defined themselves according to what they were not: black. choose race over class. white over black. an examination of the discourse of race is an altogether different scholarly enterprise from a study of class. Critics of post-structural studies of whiteness (who are often also critics of the current patterns of cultural history) argue that. according to Foucault. 2011 . But many whiteness scholars. rather than attempt a more sophisticated analysis of American class. nominalist understanding of power in which power is understood to be everywhere in which there are non-egalitarian and mobile relations. In studying a discourse. in the history discipline. This binary construction – what Hale refers to as the dialectic of segregation – reinforced white supremacy Downloaded from rac. one is studying the ‘polymorphous techniques of power’ – a relativist. ‘Why is there no socialism in the United States?’. the rise of whiteness studies should be understood as another attempt to answer the question first posed by Werner Sombart in 1906. this is associated with what is usually thought to be a shift from the pre-eminence of social history to the centrality of cultural history. In these circumstances. This critique is founded on a misunderstanding of post-structuralism: poststructuralists do not ignore power relations. chose instead to ignore class altogether. unlike the neo-conservatives.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. For many scholars of whiteness. rather. rooted in Foucault’s theory of discourse. class analysis – a structural approach – gave way to what has been described as post-structuralism or postmodernism. that there was no prescription for the agonies of life in the black ghettoes – and no government policy able to solve the black culture of poverty. liberals who.

Hale indiscriminately blurs the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. thus entrenching it and confirming its power. This is an aspect of her scholarship that is particularly troublesome to the critics of post-structural approaches (which Kolchin has referred to as an ‘American Studies approach’ 14 ). national denial of whiteness: white Americans identified with their whiteness by denying that whiteness was a specific race. Harris transgresses social norms by prioritising age over race on the scale of hierarchy: Uncle Remus gently scolds his young white student for not paying close enough attention to his tale. urbanisation and industrialisation. in true whiteness studies fashion. further entrenched the culture of segregation by re-imagining slavery to have been something that it was not.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12.13 In her examination of the discourse of segregation. he wraps his rebuke in a romanticisation of the antebellum South. actually became a larger. For Hale. when whites were benevolent and blacks were happy. Remus recites allegorical African tales that shed a subversive light on slavery. which. This utopian past is remembered as a time free from racial antagonism – a time of mutual obligation. Phillips was part and parcel of the project Downloaded from rac. This discourse evinced power not only because it was a master narrative. Thus. Rather. building upon the fictional literature of the era. B. Hale’s strategy is explicitly post-structuralist: an explanation of the culture of segregation for Hale requires a close reading of the discourse of segregation. the literary resistance of Harris further validates the oppressive discourse of segregation. a time when people knew their place. Hale unmasks this tension between resistance and validation in Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus.12 But she does not limit her project of unmasking the making of whiteness to the South. Historian U. Remus may very well be a stereotype but. even when subversive. Hale complicates such a simple understanding. there is no marked difference between the literature of Harris and the historiography of the era. According to Hale. Remus solidifies the oppressive construction of segregation by imagining a utopian slave past.Hartman: Whiteness studies 27 by bolstering black inferiority in order to solve the problems of the post-Civil War era: the coming changes of modernisation. writes that her book ‘is about racial making. but also because resistance was firmly within the discourse.sagepub. Although the character of Uncle Remus adheres to the stereotypical conception of blackness in very much the same vein as the subjects of the blackface minstrelsy shows. 2011 . However. although its extremities were manifested in the South. truth and perception. Hale. while sharing an oral history of slavery with an inquisitive young white ‘student’. ‘his work contributed to the pitting by whites of an ‘‘integrated’’ plantation pastoral against current racial conflict as justification for a segregated future’. Nevertheless. not racial meaning’. again. description and explanation. whiteness was a nationality: American. She argues that the culture of segregation.

But this binary was not without its contradictions. The ‘making whiteness’ programme could not reconcile itself with the presence of Du Bois.’ 17 White mainstream America has historically and rather consistently misrepresented and falsely dichotomised black culture as either over-accommodationist. Du Bois. integrated past. B. was itself an inconsistency. In the South. a fact not lost on Du Bois.15 This imaginary past was vital to the construction of the culture of segregation: the mythical construction of the benevolent plantation ensured that an integrated future on any grounds other than the plantation-complex would be impossible. rather than a continuation of. who travelled throughout the Jim Crow South in the early 1930s while doing research for Black Reconstruction in America.16 The antidote to this impossibility was racial segregation. 2011 . When the book was published in 1935. In this sense. previous racial constructions. exemplified by the mythical longing for a return to the safety of slavery. E. realizing that this attitude will from the first seriously curtail my audience. Du Bois bears the same relation to the blackwhite binary of segregation as a photographic negative does to a print: the areas of darkness and light have been reversed. Phillips. increasingly imagined the slave plantation to be an ideal. these contradictory misrepresentations were particularly important to the culture of segregation. Rather than merely ‘flipping the racist coin’. who prefaced his work with the following caution: ‘I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings. or as hostile and segregationist. like Harris.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. she relies quite a bit on the observations of W. illustrated by black nationalists such as Marcus Garvey. The discourse of segregation was one of polar opposites. and thus race was constructed dialectically: according to Hale. for his presence was less a contradiction in his native North than it was in the South. Blacks could not be posited within a common plane of universal humanity that confronted and exemplified the inequalities and the contradictions of segregation. although competition for such a designation was great. the black intellectual riding and describing the uncomfortable Jim Crow train-cars.sagepub. The very existence of Du Bois in the South. Du Bois’s counter-discourse serves to illustrate that race as a binary was more stark in the segregated South than elsewhere. most Americans were not ready for it. To clearly portray the contradictions of segregation and the incongruities of the white literature. who wrote American Negro Slavery in 1918. the culture of segregation was the pinnacle of the black-white binary. especially in contrast to the ‘criminal’ era of Reconstruction.28 Race & Class 46(2) to mute the hard facts of bondage. Hale includes an analysis of black literature. He was perhaps the historian during the Jim Crow era most responsible for such a promotion of the plantation pastoral. Hale Downloaded from rac. Not surprisingly. the Du Bois account is universally humanistic. In presenting the culture of segregation as a departure from.18 For Hale.

Because Hale isolates the years of her study. allows for ‘the adjustment of the accumulation of men to that of capital’. of previous constructions of whiteness and blackness. Hale considers the black-white binary – essential to the making of whiteness – to have been important to the national identity. although Hale’s black-white binary can be linked to a specific era (the era of ‘separate but equal’) this binary transcends the South. The arguments that Hale considers new were cooptations and adjustments of discourses previously fabricated in real social relations. historians such as Phillips were certainly not the first to label Reconstruction criminal. Hale can more accurately be criticised as not being a good post-structuralist – or perhaps more appropriately. necessitating a further creation of whiteness in opposition to people of colour beyond America’s borders.19 This highlights the glaring weakness of Hale’s theoretical framework: although the plantation was glorified during the era of Hale’s study. as apart from social formation. such as whiteness. The making of whiteness – rather than shifting alongside the metamorphosing edifice of class struggle – is seen as new. This dubious claim is grounded in an obvious misunderstanding: the myths of a utopian antebellum era and a dystopian Reconstruction era were not products of the late nineteenth-century imagination. Foucault. further Downloaded from rac. traitorous scalawags and ignorant blacks. northern journalist James Pike’s widely read book The Prostrate State. as Hale would have us believe. rather than in interests and politics. Hale explains the construction of whiteness as something new to the culture of segregation.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. In explicitly avoiding a discussion of class and by seeking to find power in representation alone.sagepub. the South was the ‘playground of America’s racial drama’. makes it clear that a dominant trope.21 National whiteness became compulsory as the United States embarked upon imperialist adventures in the Caribbean and the Philippines.20 But strangely enough. which portrayed Reconstruction rule as the corruption-ridden dominion of foreign carpetbaggers. was written during Reconstruction. a conception of power that Hale purposefully avoids. whom Hale cites as theoretical support. it was also contemporaneously embellished before and after the years between 1890 and 1940.Hartman: Whiteness studies 29 argues that the separation of whiteness from blackness was less concrete during slavery and Reconstruction than during Jim Crow. 2011 . Although critics might highlight this incongruity as inherent in post-structuralist approaches. Thus Hale is guilty of that which scholarship on race should seek to explode: an understanding of race as transcendent. For example. it is as if the culture of segregation existed in a vacuum and was not a re-appropriation of previous cultures of racism. a poor Foucauldian. For Hale. the South was not different from the larger nation in its conception of race. Whiteness could now be defined by a binary opposite at home and overseas.

Although it was undoubtedly true that most white nineteenth-century Americans were racist. third. obviously. that white supremacy originated as a rationalisation and justification of the slave trade. 2011 . sweeping generalisations with regards to the construction of race. Hale destroys this advantage by making generalisations about the nation as a whole. She validates the critics of whiteness studies who claim that the concept of whiteness is far too elastic.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12.sagepub.22 Although. a strength because of the fuzziness of racial identity in general. undertaking this task through a historical investigation into the interrelations between class politics and mass culture. came to represent the distinct forms of racism that emanated from contrary class alliances. Three assumptions govern his study: first. Adams was a racist. * * * Saxton examines the changing conceptions of whiteness as an ideological construction throughout the nineteenth century. pivotal to syntheses of ideas that legitimised the rule of dominant groups in fluctuating class coalitions. Hale makes no allowances for the subjectivity of specific surroundings and particular social relations. in so doing. as leaders of their respective political parties.24 Saxton’s framework does not allow for broad. inconsistent and arbitrary: that the field has a problem of definition. and attitudinal mix of world-reality as perceived’. white supremacy continued as a theory. it would be false to consider the South a bastion of racism in the midst of a non-racist America. Saxton demonstrates the different constructions of whiteness by contrasting the racisms of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. who. slavery and the theft of land from non-whites. his ideological explanation of race and historical change is firmly rooted in a Marxist analysis of class relations and ideology: Saxton is expressly interested in how adjustments of conceptualisations of race conformed to shifts in class structure and to changes in ‘the scientific. In failing to distinguish between Southern whiteness and American whiteness. these legitimising syntheses ‘remained in flux through ongoing processes of modification and readjustment’. in fact.30 Race & Class 46(2) entrenching the whiteness of American identity.23 In sum. Hale’s analysis does indeed suffer from an over-elastic definition of whiteness. Second. whiteness varied according to region and class. and. Although it can also be argued that a fuzzy definition of whiteness is not a weakness but. yet his racism was markedly different from that of Andrew Jackson because whiteness was constructed in Downloaded from rac. Whereas she enjoys the rare advantage among whiteness studies colleagues of writing about the region of the nation where race most pervasively shaped social relations. religious. has a much clearer conception of the construction of whiteness. the extension of Hale’s analysis from the South to the rest of the nation is unconvincing. Alexander Saxton avoids this mistake and.

2011 . on occasion. as were most National Republicans of his generation. However. Adams was the consummate National Republican and this shaped his racial ideology. However.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. the whiteness of Andrew Jackson. although necessary. racial superiority. republican society would have been better ensured with blacks as part of a lower class that included poor whites.Hartman: Whiteness studies 31 specific relation to class needs. An orderly. Thus.27 As a result. Adams always supported Jackson’s violent incursions into Florida. despite these commonalities. Whigs wanted to create order wherever they could – orderly commerce translated into expanded profits for themselves and their constituents. This was the consensus view of race held by Quincy’s elitist north-easterners in the National Republican Party. indistinguishable in their politics. and beneath a class of people who would rightfully govern the republic. Representing the commercial capitalists of the north-eastern seaboard. however trivial they might seem. he was in principle against slavery: the institution of slavery was a violation of the basic tenets of republicanism. As James Monroe’s secretary of state. who were deemed biologically inferior to whites and thus naturally fitted for a life of slavery. Influenced by Thomas Jefferson’s racist Notes on Virginia. was not sufficient in the creation of Indian policy. The differences between Whig and Democratic whiteness. and in superiority to blacks. were. were real and the policies that stemmed from such differences were consequential. what Saxton refers to as ‘a gospel of continental nationalism grounded in whiteness’. which later became the Whig Party. a basic tenet of Whiggism. although different. in which Jackson – as a military commander – was putting white egalitarianism into action by killing the non-white Seminoles who stood on the land that represented white upward mobility. Saxton does not conflate Whig and Democratic whiteness. in the 1820s.26 The two forms of whiteness. Adams supported Indian policies that would withdraw federal protection of Indian lands inside the states – a concession to white Georgians who wished to expel the Cherokees from their state – in Downloaded from rac. Order was to be created wherever the federal government could ensure it.25 In contrast to Adams. Adams was the most persistent promulgator of the Monroe doctrine. was characterised by Saxton as ‘white egalitarianism’. Adams and the Whigs eventually considered slavery a threat to order and thus a possible threat to their class position. Jacksonian Democrats were fierce champions of white male upward mobility – mobility grounded in the westward expansion of white settlement at the expense of Indians and Mexicans. Adams believed that blacks were inferior to whites. and Adams’s class commitments were different from the class obligations of Andrew Jackson. who came to power on a wave of universal white male suffrage. Furthermore. For Adams.sagepub. Adams worked to ensure North-South compromise by accentuating whiteness and downplaying sectionalism.

This was exemplified by their desire for the federal regulation of westward expansion.32 Race & Class 46(2) return for the federalisation of the territories.29 Thus. which would place whites and non-whites alike under the same umbrella of an elite Whig order. 2011 . Jacksonian Democrats also wanted the federal government to support the westward expansion of slavery. Rather than maintaining a consistent federal policy regarding the Indians in the territories. Whigs and Democrats deviated on the vital issue of their day – slavery – because of the different conceptions of whiteness that accompanied their divergent class expectations. we can rightly assume that European immigrants defined their whiteness in accordance with the Democratic Party’s hard racism and in Downloaded from rac. proposals that became the national policy of manifest destiny and a guarantor of white social mobility. the ‘white male egalitarian’ desire for the western territories was similar to the ‘state rights’ argument in relation to slavery: white southerners preferred to deal with slaves on their own terms. Hence the Whigs proposed that the federal government become the benefactors of Indian land in the territories. Whigs’ ‘compassion’ for nonwhites was rooted in their lack of compassion for working-class and immigrant whites and. a platform that Adams and the Whigs increasingly came to oppose by the late 1830s. As opposed to the Democrats with their ‘hard’ racism.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. the Whig plan smacked of elitism. This distinction derived from three class-related realities: non-whites posed no conceivable threat to upper-class privilege. Jacksonians proposed not only an end to federal protection of Indians inside the states. But to the Jacksonian Democrats. a racially divided labour force circumscribed the economic aggression of lower-class whites. if Saxton is correct. A similar political struggle was occurring in the urban areas. Whigs were what Saxton described as ‘soft’ racists. where Whig resentment of immigrant working people was countered by the Democratic Party. in their class interests. Adams anticipated and guided the Whig ideological shift from a vague dislike of slavery to the Whig goal of excluding the planter class from power. paradoxically. Jacksonian Democrats preferred white settlers to be allowed to deal with the Indians as they saw fit. and non-white populations could be used as tools of the establishment.sagepub. an approach consistent with their continental nationalism and their fears of internal disruption. Thus. and would thus serve to limit the ever-expanding power and resources of the constituents of the Democracy. in much the same fashion as the Georgians ‘dealt’ with the Cherokees. a perception that put the Whigs at a colossal political disadvantage in the new era of universal white male suffrage. which welcomed working-class white immigrants into the Jacksonian fold. Whig whiteness was less racist because of Whig class bias. more broadly. but also unlimited westward expansion. Thus.28 This shift occurred as a result of a convergence of political and economic goals. without national interference.

the Irish had to become white. the nativist Know-Nothings. according to Roediger ‘it was by no means clear that they were white’. evidenced in their horrific working and living conditions. anti-slavery activists were purged from Irish-American organisations and Irish-American immigrants quit funding O’Connell’s political activism. This is. Hence European immigrants defined their whiteness according to political and class realities. according to Roediger. Unlike Saxton. White workers rejected the term ‘servant’ in favour of ‘hand’ or ‘help’ because. they had to prove themselves to be good Americans. who describes whiteness as being constructed within concrete political relations.sagepub. who opposed the existence of a politically empowered immigrant labour force. which both assume that European immigrants were not white on arrival. Ignatiev and Roediger ignore the role of the Democratic Party in helping to form Irish opposition to abolition. this assumption runs counter to most of the whiteness studies scholarship. Irish abolitionists did not become white. being associated with the anti-slavery movement would not help their cause. because he understood the anti-slavery movement to be similar to the Irish liberation movement in its resistance to tyranny and thus formed an alliance with American abolitionists. seeking out instead Irish liberation groups that did not maintain ties to abolitionists. Ignatiev details how Irish immigrants turned their backs on one of their heroes. Roediger pays particular attention to the discourse of whiteness. Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell. how the Irish proved themselves as Americans and thus became white.31 Such efforts to distinguish themselves from slaves were especially important for Irish immigrants. This assumption is considered by whiteness studies critics to be the second of three deficiencies in the field.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12.Hartman: Whiteness studies 33 opposition to the Whigs. Thus. And. at the height of Irish immigration to America. including Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness and Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White.32 In order to prove their Americanness. Irish Catholicism was probably far more alarming to the majority of Americans than Irish colour or race.30 In Roediger’s view. who faced such extreme prejudice that. And since the Irish were at or near the bottom rung of society. white workers defined themselves according to what they were not: slaves and black. However. the descriptive ‘servant’ was too closely associated with ‘slave’. in part. In the 1840s and 1850s. because the making of the American working class occurred within a slaveholding republic. but whether this conception was based on a supposition that they were not white is debatable. 2011 . ‘good’ Americans were rarely outspoken opponents of slavery. just as the Democratic Party was pro-immigration and pro-slavery.33 There is no doubt that many Americans saw the Irish as uncivilised savages. Because the Irish immigrants wanted to ‘become white’. including William Lloyd Garrison. who later became major Downloaded from rac.

were anti-immigration and anti-slavery. it had great effect upon their personal treatment . and cost anywhere from twice to ten times colored schools. because nobody else had more clearly understood the dialectics of race and class in America than had Du Bois. White schoolhouses were the best in the community. if not to the black race. then to an intermediate race between white and black’. dependent on their votes. all discrimination has racist roots and whiteness becomes an all-purpose explanation. Du Bois’s brilliant and poetic work Black Reconstruction ‘was . . . In this sense. and conspicuously placed. with all classes of white people.37 Downloaded from rac. Their votes selected public officials and while this had small effect on the economic situation. Du Bois saw the psychological wage of whiteness as a necessary supplement to crude monetary wages that permitted white workers to rationalise their interests in terms of race rather than class. the Irish were never non-white: a 1790 law that limited naturalisation to ‘free white persons’ listed the Irish as white.34 Furthermore. for Ignatiev. it is by no means clear that the Irish were not white upon arrival.sagepub. frames his manuscript as a continuation of Du Bois’s project in both form and content. . . Their third criticism of whiteness studies – the treatment of whiteness as a psychological wage – is. The police were drawn from their ranks and the courts. Roediger quotes Du Bois’s description of the wages of whiteness at length. . because they were white. neither undertake the reverse discursive analysis: did Americans think the Irish to be black or white? Ignatiev writes that there was a ‘strong tendency to consign the Irish. the beginning of the study of whiteness as an historical problem’. although not natural. .com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. moral and intellectual problem complicated the standard Marxist approach. like the second. also primarily a critique of Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness. Roediger.34 Race & Class 46(2) constituents within Lincoln’s Republican Party. . They were admitted freely. Roediger’s study of how white workers in the antebellum South came to identify themselves as white furthers the examination of what Du Bois had termed ‘a public and psychological wage’. Although both Roediger and Ignatiev analyse how the Irish conceptualised their race in America. .35 Thus. . Ignatiev’s treatment of whiteness as omnipresent lends credence to Kolchin and Arneson’s second critique of whiteness studies: Ignatiev and Roediger’s studies notwithstanding. . treated them with leniency . was an authentic political. both Roediger and Ignatiev ignore the fact that in terms of legal and political rights. hence Du Bois’s study was post-Marxist. For Roediger. to public functions and public parks . by combining a traditional class analysis with psychoanalysis.36 Du Bois’s awareness that whiteness. 2011 . a quote worth repeating here because it is central to Roediger’s thesis: They were given public deference .

com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12.39 However. uninhibited selves. it propagandized metaphorically the alliance of urban working people with the planter interests of the South’. the same whiteness that lynched blacks during the 1863 New York City draft riots. minstrelsy was more than metaphorical. not necessarily that different from Roediger’s. the enjoyment derived from blackface minstrelsy was one of the psychological wages of whiteness and so helped to construct whiteness in opposition to the atavistic blacks. White workers came to view blacks as their former. It was rooted in social relations: the contents of minstrelsy were shaped by the social experiences and class interests of its founders and proprietors.sagepub. They are right to criticise Roediger’s use of the psychological wage as an explanation for the construction of whiteness.Hartman: Whiteness studies 35 Roediger furthers Du Bois’s psychoanalysis: as the country industrialised. on the surface. For Saxton. blackface minstrelsy was more than a psychological wage. for Roediger. Minstrelsy for Saxton was whiteness in theatrical form. the critics of whiteness studies are both right and wrong.41 Thus. unless of course Saxton’s work is considered Downloaded from rac. most of whom were Jacksonian Democrats. except in the historian’s mind. whites were subjected to intensifying discipline and control. unlike Roediger. and that psychoanalysis relies on a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. (While it is difficult to deny that whiteness is a psychological wage. such an analysis needs to be rooted in class relations. The difference between Roediger and Saxton’s dissection of blackface minstrelsy is directly correlated with their differences of opinion regarding the usefulness of psychoanalysis as an interpretative method. whites could. Rather than projecting their new-found anger at those who were causing their misery. Hence. Through it. ‘both display and reject their natural selves’. in the words of Roediger. by faithfully reproducing the white slave-owners’ viewpoint. white workers sublimated their displeasure into a form of art and entertainment: blackface minstrelsy. 2011 . Saxton argues that there is no such thing as a collective psyche. as representation. However. blackface minstrelsy served the purposes of the Democratic Party. masking the central antagonism of the party – a party composed of both wealthy Southern aristocrats and struggling Northern workers.40 Thus.38 Thus. Minstrelsy was the mass culture equivalent of the ideological synthesis of Jacksonian Democracy and its emphasis on white egalitarianism. Saxton grounded the culture of minstrelsy in class politics: ‘through its stylized form. the construction of whiteness effectively results from internal human processes rather than political economic causes. Saxton’s examination of blackface minstrelsy was.) Yet they are wrong to extend their criticism of Roediger to a reproach of whiteness studies more broadly. a perception highlighted in the ‘acting out’ of blackface minstrelsy. Whereas Roediger views the external actions of minstrelsy as a metaphor for the internal processes of working-class whites.

There were in fact substantial grounds for attributing almost superhuman characteristics to the working classes of England and Western Europe. A01. ‘Hue and cry on ‘‘whiteness studies’’: an academic field’s take on race stirs interest and anger’. 2011 . I believe. 2002). he unmasks the processes of capitalist expansion and in so doing comes as close as any American historian has yet to answering the question. like whiteness studies more generally. In the long span of worldwide industrialization. 62. 2 Peter Kolchin.42 References 1 Darryl Fears. although Saxton’s study is specific to American history. the labor force moved quickly and massively to class organization. ‘Scholarly controversy: whiteness and the historians’ imagination’. Journal of American History (Vol. But. the American workingclass experience will probably prove closer to the norm than that of Western Europe. ‘Whiteness studies: the new history of race in America’. and thus how power is wielded. whiteness is an examination of how class works in America. For although The Rise and Fall of the White Republic signalled the rise of whiteness studies in 1990. Also. another corroboration of American exceptionalism? I would prefer to place the matter differently.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. for Saxton. his findings have global implications. it also requires a rationalising ideology. then. pp. Saxton places his research at the heart of a study of global capitalism and the global proletariat: Is this study. Thus. establishes the centrality of white racism to American history. 89. However.sagepub. their mistake was in supposing it to be normative. his version of whiteness studies cannot simply be cordoned off as specific to any one field.36 Race & Class 46(2) outside the boundaries of whiteness studies. the rationalising ideology of the American nation was one of whiteness. 154–73. p. ‘Why is there no socialism in the United States?’. Saxton does not merely excavate the making of whiteness. as is often the case in this era of specialisation. pp. Under the special conditions prevailing at the onset of industrialization in those countries. And because American capitalism (and thus American nationalism) expanded at the expense of Indian land dispossession and African slave labour. In his conclusion. The Rise and Fall of the White Republic is more than a study of whiteness: it is a study of American capitalism. Saxton’s work. Because capitalism is an expansionary economic system that requires both the conquering of non-capitalist lands and a massive labour force. which is perhaps the proper way to frame it. it will. Downloaded from rac. 2002). 189–93. because. Early Marxists were right to celebrate this transition. before long also prove the demise of whiteness studies. for a description of a panel on whiteness studies that included Eric Arneson. see Michael Spear. International Labor and Working Class History (Vol. Washington Post (20 June 2003).

1990). The Rise and Fall of the White Republic. p. op. 40. p. cit. 18 Ibid..134. 17 W. 94. pp.) et al. E. Verso.. 21 Hale. pp. cit. and Reconstruction: essays in honor of C. p. Making Whiteness. 1996). p. White Reign: deploying whiteness in America (New York. Norton. Vann Woodward (New York. W. ‘Emptying the content of whiteness: toward an understanding of the relation of whiteness and pedagogy’. 30 Roediger. op. The Wages of Whiteness: race and the making of the American working class (London. 15 For more on Phillips. 29 Ibid. ‘Whiteness studies’. 28 Ibid. volume 1. op. cit. J. 26 Ibid..W. America’s Right Turn: from Nixon to Clinton (Baltimore. 23–76. Greenwood Press. Simon and Schuster. 1982).. 31 Roediger.. 1860–1880 (New York. The Mismeasure of Man (New York. The History of Sexuality: an introduction. 4 David R. 141. 5 Nelson M.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12.. in Joe L. 22 Ibid. see Tyler Anbinder. op. p. Patricia M. ‘Whiteness studies’.. 11.. Wages of Whiteness. cit. 14 Kolchin. The Prostrate State: South Carolina under Negro government (New York. 33. Downloaded from rac. 49. cit. 7 Stephen Jay Gould. 27 Ibid. 71–2. 13 Ibid. Appleton & Co. 34 For more on Know Nothing anti-slavery. see: John David Smith and John Inscoe. cit. McPherson (eds).. Husbands (1906. 1998). cit. as cited by Kolchin. 1998). 54–5. trans. Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?. 6 For a great example of work in this area prior to whiteness studies. Robert Hurley (New York. 33 Ignatiev. The History of Sexuality. 16 Ibid. Fields. pp. 1935). pp. 6–33. How the Irish Became White (New York. Noel Ignatiev. 10 Michel Foucault. pp. 2011 .sagepub. How the Irish Became White. Berman. Oxford University Press. Race. 127–64. 81–2. in J... Why Americans Hate Politics (New York. Verso. 1991).. 66.. 24 Ibid. 1. Wages of Whiteness. Rodriguez. Ulrich Bonnell Phillips: a Southern historian and his critics (Westport. T. D. 20 Foucault. 1991). and E.. CT. pp. p. 1998). p. 1976). 55–76. 25 Ibid. 52. 9 For more on the rise of the Reagan Democrats and neo-conservative intellectuals.Hartman: Whiteness studies 37 3 Alexander Saxton. Roediger. B. trans. Routledge. p. Pantheon Books. Dionne. pp. Pike. Russell & Russell. See also Werner Sombart. pp. Nativism and Slavery: the northern Know-Nothings and the politics of the 1850s (New York. 1978). 1990). The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: class politics and mass culture in nineteenth-century America (Londo. Jr. ‘Ideology and race in American history’.. xi. 8 Kolchin. 19 James S. 1992). Vintage. ‘To the Reader’ in Black Reconstruction in America: an essay toward a history of the part which black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America. 32 Ibid. Morgan Kousser and James M. op. 1890–1940 (New York. op. p. The Johns Hopkins Press. Region. 1995). 11 Grace Elizabeth Hale. op. op. White Plains. pp. see William C.17. cit. Making Whiteness: the culture of segregation in the South. ‘Whiteness studies’. Hocking and C. see Barbara J. 23 Saxton.. p. 1874). Kincheloe (ed. p. Du Bois.. 12 Ibid. 61–6.. 282.

October • ISSN 1470-3572 www. cit.com at NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIV on September 12. posture and interaction the built and landscaped environment role of the visual in relation to language. 165. ‘Foreword’. cit.. op. 37 Roediger. 2011 . Black Reconstruction in America. UK Ron Scollon Georgetown University. op. p. professional vision. pp. Saxton. op. op. 12. Roediger. 11–13. historical and scientific research areas explores the structures and histories of the languages and technologies of visual communication.. 12. 76. Wages of Whiteness. cit. The Wages of Whiteness. p. represented and contested in visual discourse examines the use of the visual in a range of sociological. UK Visual Communication is an exciting new journal that provides an international forum for the growing body of work in visual communication. UK Theo van Leeuwen Cardiff University.. 116. culturally and historically) the use of these visual languages and technologies in visual and multimodal genres. 38 Roediger. sound and action Visual Communication: critically investigates how the social world is constructed. 389. Du Bois. The journal’s definition of the visual is broad and includes: still and moving images graphic design and typography visual phenomena such as fashion. 710–11.. texts and communicative events searches for ways of expanding the resources of visual communication and their uses Three times a year: February. cit. Wales. music.. p. Du Bois. 41 Ibid..sagepub. Black Reconstruction. UK Review Editors Philip LeVine Georgetown University. cit. Free online sample now available on our website! Visual Communication Editors Carey Jewitt Institute of Education. op.. USA David Machin Cardiff University.. op.B. p. and their relation to those of other modes of communication describes and contextualizes (socially. p.uk Subscription Hotline +44 (0)20 7324 8701 Email subscription@sagepub. 180.38 Race & Class 46(2) 35 Ignatiev.. 36 Roediger. anthropological.uk Downloaded from rac. W. cit.. June. cit. The Rise and Fall of the White Republic. pp.E. Wages of Whiteness. 40 Ibid. cit. op.sagepub. Wales. p. op. The Rise and Fall of the White Republic. USA Teal Triggs Kingston University. 39 Saxton. p. University of London. How the Irish Became White. xiii.co. 42 Ibid. p.co.

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