The Wages Of Whiteness : Race And The Making Of The American Working Class

1565 WordsOct 11, 20157 Pages
In The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, David Roediger examines the intensification of American racism in the white working classes in antebellum America. He maintains that, impelled by republican doctrine, the pressures and anxieties of industrialization and the longing for a preindustrial past, white workers constructed a notion of “whiteness” and of white supremacy in opposition to black slavery that characterized black slaves as their inferiors. Therefore, Roediger explains how whiteness was formed as a tragic response to industrialization and the subsequent anxieties of the white working class. Despite the influence of Marxist theory on his own historical development, Roediger informs the reader that material and class considerations are not sufficient to explain race and racism. While historians such as Barbara Fields or Oliver Cromwell Cox emphasized the naturalization of whiteness and top-down racism, they have ignored the agency of the white working class males themselves. Instead, Roediger draws upon modern labor history and upon the work of W.E. Du Bois’ theory of the “wages of whiteness,” to assert that whiteness formed as a tragic response to industrialization and the concomitant anxieties of the white working class. Roediger begins by examining the origins of racism in pre-Revolution America. Noting that, while white supremacism was not universal, racism did exist. The characterization of Native Americans as lazy
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