Jeffrey B. Perry -- Slide Presentation/Talk on The Invention of the White Race (Verso Books) by Theodore W. Allen
with special emphasis on Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America.
Hosted by “The Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen Society”
Filmed by Fred Nguyen on January 31, 2013
Brecht Forum, New York City.
The Special Shrinkwapped 2 volume set of The Invention of the White Race
Is Available at Reduced Price
What's "New" in the "New Edition"?
To assist individual readers, classes, and study groups this new edition includes a new introduction, some new appendices with background on Allen and his other writings, an expanded index, and a new internal study guide. The internal study guide follows the volume chapter-by-chapter and the index includes entries from Allen's extensive notes based on twenty years of primary research. The "Table of Contents" for the volume is included below, towards the bottom of this column.
Introduction to Volume II The Invention of the White Race:
The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America
“When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.” That arresting statement, printed on the back cover of the first volume of The Invention of the White Race by Theodore W. Allen, first published in 1994, reflected the fact that, after twenty-plus years of research in Virginia’s colonial records, he 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.”
In this second volume . . . Allen elaborates on his findings in order to develop the ground-breaking thesis that the “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the later, civil war stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-7). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite, in its own class interest, deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges in order to define and establish the “white race,” and 2) the consequences were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, but was also “disastrous” for the European-American workers.
In Volume I, subtitled Racial Oppression and Social Control, Allen prepared the conceptual groundwork for Volume II free of what he called the “White Blindspot.” He offered a critical examination of the two main lines of historiography on the slavery and racism debate: the psycho-cultural approach, which he strongly criticized; and the socio-economic approach, which he sought to free from certain apparent weaknesses. He then proceeded, using the mirror of Irish history, to develop a definition of racial oppression in terms of social control, a definition free of the absurdities of “phenotype,” or classification by complexion. The volume offered compelling analogies between the oppression of the Irish in Ireland (under Anglo-Norman rule and under “Protestant Ascendancy”) and white supremacist oppression of African Americans and Indians. Allen showed the relativity of race by examining the sea-change in which Irish haters of racial oppression in Ireland were transformed into “white American” defenders of racial oppression. In the course of that treatment he also described the differing outcomes of “Catholic Emancipation” outside of Ulster and “Negro Emancipation” in America in order to demonstrate the difference between national oppression and racial oppression.
In . . . Volume II, on The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, Allen tells the story of the invention of the “white race” in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Anglo-American plantation colonies. His primary focus is on the pattern-setting Virginia colony, and he pays special attention to the reduction of tenants and wage-laborers in the majority English labor force to chattel bond-servants in the 1620s. In so doing, he emphasizes that this was a qualitative break from the condition of laborers in England and from long established English labor law, that it was not a feudal carryover, that it was imposed under capitalism, and that it was an essential precondition of the emergence of the lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude imposed upon African-American laborers under the system of racial slavery. Allen describes how, throughout much of the seventeenth century, the status of African-Americans was indeterminate (because it was still being fought out) and he details the similarity of conditions for African-American and European-American laborers and bond-servants. He also documents many significant instances of labor solidarity and unrest, especially during the 1660s and 1670s. Most important is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion when "foure hundred English and Negroes in Arms" fought together demanding freedom from bondage.
It was in the period after Bacon's Rebellion that the “white race” was invented as a ruling-class social control formation. Allen describes systematic ruling-class policies, which conferred “white race” privileges on European-Americans while imposing harsher disabilities on African-Americans resulting in a system of racial slavery, a form of racial oppression that also imposed severe racial proscriptions on free African-Americans. He emphasizes that when African-Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia and Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order "to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos," it was not an "unthinking decision." Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie and was a conscious decision in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it entailed repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.
The key to understanding racial oppression, Allen argues, is in the formation of the intermediate social control buffer stratum, which serves the interests of the ruling class. In the case of racial oppression in Virginia, any persons of discernible non-European ancestry after Bacon's Rebellion were denied a role in the social control buffer group, the bulk of which was made up of laboring-class "whites." In the Anglo-Caribbean, by contrast, under a similar Anglo- ruling elite, "mulattos" were included in the social control stratum and were promoted into middle-class status. For Allen, this was the key to understanding the difference between Virginia’s ruling-class policy of “fixing a perpetual brand” on African-Americans, and the policy of the West Indian planters of formally recognizing the middle-class status “colored” descendant and other Afro-Caribbeans who earned special merit by their service to the regime. This difference, between racial oppression and national oppression, was rooted in a number of social control-related factors, one of the most important of which was that in the West Indies there were “too few” poor and laboring-class Europeans to embody an adequate petit bourgeoisie, while in the continental colonies there were '’too many’' to be accommodated in the ranks of that class.
The references to an “unthinking decision” and “too few” poor and laboring class Europeans are consistent with Allen's repeated efforts to challenge what he considered to be the two main arguments that undermine and disarm the struggle against white supremacy in the working class: (1) the argument that white supremacism is innate, and (2) the argument that European-American workers “benefit” from “white race” privileges and that it is in their interest not to oppose them and not to oppose white supremacy. These two arguments, opposed by Allen, are related to two master historical narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period. The first argument is associated with the “unthinking decision” explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by historian Winthrop D. Jordan in his influential, White Over Black. The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan’s similarly influential, American Slavery, American Freedom, which maintains that, as racial slavery developed, “there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter.” Allen’s work directly challenges both the “unthinking decision” contention of Jordan and the “too few free poor” contention of Morgan.
Allen convincingly argues that the “white race” privileges conferred by the ruling class on European-Americans were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans; they were also against the class interest of European-American workers. He further argues that these “white-skin privileges” are “the incubus that for three centuries has paralyzed” the will of European-American workers “in defense of their class interests vis-à-vis those of the ruling class.”
With its meticulous primary research, equalitarian motif, emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history, and groundbreaking analysis The Invention of the White Race is a recognized classic. Allen felt that its theory on the origin and nature of the “white race” contains the root of a new and radical approach to United States history. Readers will find that it has profound implications for American History, African-American History, Labor History, American Studies, and “Whiteness” Studies and that it offers important insights in the areas of Caribbean History, Irish History, and African Diaspora Studies. Its influence will continue to grow in the twenty-first century.
Jeffrey B. Perry
In an effort to assist readers and to encourage meaningful engagement with Allen’s work this new edition of The Invention Of the White Race Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America offers some important new additions. First, minor corrections based mostly on Allen’s notes have been incorporated. Second, two new appendices are added: Appendix II-G -- “A Guide to The Invention of the White Race Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America,” which is drawn in part from Allen’s unpublished “Synoptic Table of Contents,” and Appendix II-H -- “Select Bibliography on Theodore W. Allen.” Finally, a new and expanded index is provided at the end of this volume.
Attentive audience members at January 31, 2013, Slide Presentation/Book Talk on the new expanded edition of Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race (Verso Books, 2012) at the Brecht Forum in New York City. The event was sponsored by "The Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen Society."
"THERE WERE NO WHITE PEOPLE THERE" -- 1619
“When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619"
On the back cover of the 1994 first edition of The Invention of the White Race Vol. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control, author Theodore W. Allen writes, “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.” He based this statement on the fact that, after twenty-plus years of meticulous research and examination of 885 county-years of pattern-setting Virginia’s colonial records, he found “no instance of the official use of the word ‘white’ as a token of social status” prior to 1691.
As he subsequently 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 another sixty years before the word “would appear as a synonym for European-American.”
"THERE WERE NO WHITE PEOPLE THERE" -- 1640
The men who ran away with John Punch (Barack Obama's ancestor) in 1640
were "Victor, a [D]utchman" and "a Scotchman called James Gregory"
The Journal of the Executive Council of Colonial Virginia dated 9 July 1640 discusses the case of John Punch, President Barack Obama's ancestor. It is the only known account of the case and it reads as follows:
"Whereas Hugh Gwyn hath by order from this Board brought back from Maryland three servants formerly run away from the said Gwyn, the court doth therefore order that the said three servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a [D]utchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired ... the third being a Negro named John Punch shall serve his said master and his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere."
In this 1640 document the two servants captured with John Punch are described as "a [D]utchman” and “a Scotchman." They were not described as "white." The “white race” was not functioning in early Virginia.
"THERE WERE NO WHITE PEOPLE THERE" -- 1676-77
From Captain Thomas Grantham's Account
During Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77) Captain Thomas Grantham played a decisive role in bringing about the final defeat of the rebels. He procured the treachery of a new rebel general to help him in securing the surrender of the West Point (Virginia) garrison of three hundred men in arms. Then Grantham tackled the main stronghold of the rebels, which was three miles up country. In Grantham's own words:
" I there met about four hundred English and Negroes in Arms who were much dissatisfied at the Surrender of the Point, saying I had betrayed them, and thereupon some were for shooting me and others were for cutting me in peeces: I told them I would willingly surrender myselfe to them, till they were satisfied from His Majestie, and did engage to the Negroes and Servants, that they were all pardoned and freed from their Slavery: And with faire promises and Rundletts of Brandy, I pacified them, giving them severall Noates under my hand that what I did was by the order of his Majestie and the Governor....Most of them I persuaded to goe to their Homes, which accordingnly they did, except about eighty Negroes and twenty English which would not deliver their Armes."
Grantham tricked these one hundred men on board a sloop with the promise of taking them to a rebel fort a few miles down York River. Instead, however, he towed them behind his own sloop, brought them under the guns of another ship, and forced their surrender. In his account of the incident he wrote that the rebels "yeilded with a great deal of discontent, saying had they known my purpose they would have destroyed me."
Inventing the “white" Race
and Fixing “a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos”
In discussing the post Bacon’s Rebellion period, The Invention of the White Race describes how Virginia’s plantation elite contrived a new social status, a “‘white’ identity,” designed to set European-Americans at a distance from African Americans and “to enlist European-Americans of every class as . . . supporters of capitalist agriculture based on chattel bond-labor” of African-Americans.
They did this not by fostering social mobility, but by re-issung “long-established common law rights, ‘incident to every free man,’ . . . in the form of ‘white’ privileges.” These included “the presumption of liberty, the right to get married, the right to carry a gun, the right to read and write, the right to testify in legal proceedings, the right of self-directed physical mobility, and the enjoyment of male prerogatives over women.” “[T]he record indicates . . that laboring-class European-Americans in the continental plantation colonies showed little interest in ‘white identity’ before the institution of the system of ‘race’ privileges at the end of the seventeenth century.”
Invention makes the extremely important points that the successful function of this new “white” status required that all African Americans “be excluded from it” and that this decision was a conscious ruling-class policy.
“[W]hen African-Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia . . .Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order ‘to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos.” This was clearly not an ‘unthinking decision’! Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie” that repealed “an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.”
Not only was the invention of the "white" race ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, it was also ruinous to the interests of European-American poor and working people. As the author of The Invention of the White Race, Theodore W. Allen, points out -- “ . . . their (the poor “whites”) own position, vis–a-vis the rich and powerful . . . was not improved, but weakened, by the white-skin privilege system.”
“This ‘modern classic’ presents an essential reconstruction of concepts necessary to any understanding of the Western heritage in the context of World history.” --Wilson J. Moses, author of The Golden Age of Black Nationalism
In Volume One of The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control, Theodore W. Allen painstakingly sets out the historical precedents, the comparative case studies, the means to dissect threadbare explanations of contemporary racism, and then provides us with nimble heuristic devices to disentangle the snarled derivatives of the white supremacy ideology we face today.
But it is Volume Two (The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America) which so many of us working on civil rights in the South still carry in our mental knapsack into combat with the remaining diehard Confederistas who continue their sniping at people of color and insinuating their propaganda into the conservative legislative agenda. Volume Two in particular, with its penetrating narrative about the origins of white supremacy and slavery, much of it unfolding in Virginia, is of special inspiration to me and my civil rights comrades in the Old Dominion. It spells out hope and erases all doubt, even among former skeptics, that white supremacy is not an inherent condition, but a cruel contrivance created and nurtured by the powerful few to master the rest of us. And in Ted Allen’s analysis dwells the heartening prospect that this invention, like all such fabrications, can be dismembered and its fragments thrown upon the waste heap of history.
Edward H. Peeples, Ph.D., Associate Professor Emeritus, Virginia Commonwealth University; Civil rights activist; author, Twentieth Century Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism (in press, UVA Press)
“The notion of a ‘post racial’ society today has been obliterated by recurring assaults and killing of African Americans by whites virtually immune from prosecution – echoing the searing racism of the infamous Dred Scott decision that Blacks ‘had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’ That heinous white supremacy compels a need to understand its historic roots, so essential to fighting it. Theodore Allen’s The Invention of the White Race is a groundbreaking contribution to that understanding. With exhaustive scholarship, Allen demonstrates that there were no ‘white people’ in the early years of 17th century colonization. After labor unrest shook the Virginia colony, the ruling class responded by inventing the white race replete with ‘white skin privilege.’ It created a lethal means of social control by dividing workers, institutionalizing white supremacy as an historic source of class collaboration – producing the principal retardant to progressive social change. The profound insights in The Invention of the White Race are essential both to understand the origins and destructiveness of white supremacy and to provide the means to conduct struggle against it. Allen’s study is mandatory reading for everyone concerned with justice, equality and the liberation of all from the binds of white supremacy.” -- Mark Solomon, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University
“Decades before people made careers ‘undoing racism,’ Ted Allen was working on this trailblazing study, which has become required reading for students of Irish history, race theory, and U.S. labor-capital relations." -- Noel Ignatiev, co-editor of Race Traitor, author of How the Irish Became White
“A must read for educators, scholars and social change activist -- now more than ever! Ted Allen’s writings illuminate the centrality of how white supremacy continues to work in maintaining a powerless American working class.” -- Tami Gold, Professor & Filmmaker, PSC CUNY Chapter Chair, Hunter College
“Theodore W. Allen de-mystifies the architecture set by colonial elites to partition the worldviews and the successive political and economic interests of the European and African bond-servants and slave laborers from a period when their circumstances were indistinguishable. This standard has racialized every aspect of American life and consistently oppresses Black people and subjects all working class interests to the will of the ruling elites.” -- Muriel Tillinghast, SNCC activist and former Green Party candidate for Vice-President of the U.S.
“Theodore W. Allen’s two volume The Invention of the White Race, is an important book, the most important book on the origin of racism in what was to become the United States—and more important now perhaps than when it was first released in the mid nineties, given the recent attention to what the Occupy movement calls the one percent and Allen calls the ruling class. This book represents Marxist class analysis and comparative historiography at its best. It is a sharp and eminently readable corrective to the post modernist analysis of racism (or ‘race’)—including the majority of books and articles belonging to ‘whiteness’ studies—that still dominates the landscape. Allen’s work is a classic of anti-racist scholarship and Verso is right to re-issue it.” – Gregory Meyerson, co-editor of the Marxist Online Journal Cultural Logic
"Theodore Allen spent a good part of his adult life researching and explaining one of the central roots of capitalist exploitation: Race. He shows us with great clarity that this highest form of Organized Crime based on the rationalization and utilization of stolen land, stolen people and exterminated people could and can only work with the invention of a powerfully negative social construct: race centered on white supremacy. Allen's two volume masterpiece -- The Invention of the White Race -- is vital ammunition for those of us engaged in Revolutionary Change because his work helps to expose the current myth of a post-racial US society/world and reveal the underbelly of a dying capitalism's hyper-racial world of violence, terror and human and natural exploitation." – S. E. Anderson,, Retired Professor of Mathematics and Black History, author of The Black Holocaust for Beginners, and Co-Chair of the Brecht Forum/Marxist School
"When I first read Ted Allen's two volumes on racial oppression and white supremacy, the intensity and the integrity of the work took my breath away. As organizers of workers, we cannot effectively counter the depth of white racism in the US if we don’t understand its origin and mechanisms. Ted has figured something out that can guide our work—it’s groundbreaking and it’s eye-opening." -- Gene Bruskin, Co-Convener U.S. Labor Against the War and Former Director of the Justice@Smithfield Campaign
“Theodore Allen's The Invention of the White Race is essential reading for all students of race and power in America. This path-breaking research reframes and cuts across the disciplines of history, sociology and politics, shedding a dynamic new light on the important and often hidden phenomenon of race in America's cultural evolution.” -- Joseph Wilson, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College
"All of us who work to end racism in the United States owe a debt of gratitude to Theodore Allen. His historical analysis of how Race was created to separate oppressed people from one another so as to maintain white supremacy is essential reading today." -- Margery Freeman, Trainer/Organizer, The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond
"Theodore Allen's two-volume The Invention of the White Race is a fundamental work of scholarship on the history and foundation of race, racism, and white-supremacy in the class struggle between Indigenous, African, and European working men and women and the European ruling class of early modern times. The book is indispensable for a genuine understanding of these matters and merits serious study along with the great works of Hubert Harrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Martin Bernal, and others who have raised our understanding of these issues over the past 100 years. Perry performs a great service in helping to bring these volumes out in a new edition." -- Russell Dale, Ph.D., Philospher, The Brecht Forum, NYC.
"One of the most important books of U.S. history every written. It illuminates the origins of the largest single obstacle to progressive change and working-class power in the U.S.: racism and white supremacy." -- Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel an Dimed
“In the second volume of this acclaimed study, Allen explores the birth of racism in the American South . . . This, and the first volume of Allen’s study are essential readings for students of U.S. history and politics.” -- David Earl Jackson, Tri-State Defender
“Readers who prefer to study the past in its own terms and who are both accustomed to and comfortable with dispassionate monographs should not be put off by the overtly presentist concerns and polemical style of Theodore W. Allen’s book. The empirical data and analytical perspective challenge established approaches to the economic and social history of seventeenth-century Virginia, particularly to the development of slavery and race prejudice. This is a stimulating volume. Allen is openly anticapitalist and prolabor. Maintaining that he had his consciousness raised by the modern civil rights movement he places class struggle at the center of his inquiry into the origin of racial oppression in Anglo-America.” -- Martin H. Quitt, University of Massachusetts, Boston, in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
"'Whites' are a unique and historically evolved societal category. Racism is their singular, distinctive culture, art, literature, philosophy, science and activity---it is their social being. All of the facets of Allen's life work expressed in The Invention of the White Race are in opposition to both the societal category and the social being as the anathemas to a revolutionary working class movement." -- William C. Carlotti, Worker
“Theodore Allen has produced an intriguing book that will be cited in all future discussions about the origins of racism and slavery in America.” -- Glenn Feldman, University of Alabama at Birmingham, in Labor Studies Journal
“[Allen’s] scholarship frequently is impressive, especially in his log discussion of the breakdown in Virginia of traditional English protections of labor. Certainly, this adds considerably to our understanding of the evolution of bond servitude in this region.” -- Marvin L. Michael Kay, University of Toledo, in Journal of American History
“This is a carefully-researched and extensively-referenced work . . . Its contributions to the debates on notions of a ‘white race’ are unquestionable and its relevance not simply for scholars of American history but for those interested in notions of race and class in any historical and geographical setting is beyond doubt.” -- Kenneth Lunn, University of Portsmouth, in Labour History Review (UK)
Table of Contents The Invention of the White Race
Volume Two The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America
by Theodore W. Allen
Introduction to the Second Edition [by Jeffrey B. Perry]
PART ONE: Labor Problems of the European Colonizing Powers
1. The Labor Supply Problem: England a Special Case
2. English Background, with Anglo-American Variations Noted
3. Euro-Indian Relations and the Problem of Social Control
PART TWO: The Plantation of Bondage
4. The Fateful Addiction to “Present Profit”
5. The Massacre of the Tenantry
6. Bricks without Straw: Bondage, but No Intermediate Stratum
PART THREE: Road to Rebellion
7. Bond-Labor: Enduring . . .
8. . . . and Resisting
9. The Insubstantiality of the Intermediate Stratum
10. The Status of African-Americans
PART FOUR: Rebellion and Reaction
11. Rebellion – And Its Aftermath
12. The Abortion of the “White Race” Social Control System in the Anglo-Caribbean
13. The Invention of the White Race – and the Ordeal of America
Appendix II-A: (see Chapter 1, note 64 [re “Maroon communities” in the Americas])
Appendix II-B: (see Chapter 2, note 6 [re Wat Tyler’s Rebellion])
Appendix II-C: (see Chapter 5, note 46 [re the “’cheap commodity’ strategy for capitalist conquest and William Bullock])
Appendix II-D: (see Chapter 7, note 197 [re the bond-labor system])
Appendix II-E: (see Chapter 9, note 54 [re reduction in the supply of persons in England “available for bond-labor in the plantation colonies”])
Appendix F: (see Chapter 13, note 26 [re William Gooch and the discussion of white supremacy among the ruling classes in eighteenth-century Virginia])
Editor’s Appendix G: A Guide to The Invention of the White Race Volume II
Editor’s Appendix H: Select Bibliography on Theodore W. Allen
Index [Newly Expanded]
The "White" Race
as the Principal Historic Guarantor
of Ruling-class Domination
"The two-volume work presents a historical treatment of a few precisely defined concepts: of the essential nature of the social control structure of class societies; of racial oppression without reference to 'phenotype' factors; of racial slavery in continental Anglo-America as a particular form of racial oppression; of the 'white race' -- an all-class association of European-Americans held together by 'racial' privileges conferred on laboring-class European-Americans relative to African-Americans -- as the principal historic guarantor of ruling-class domination of national life."
Theodore W. Allen
"Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" 1998
Theodore W. Allen interviewed by Stella Winston on "The Invention of the White Race"
Jeffrey B. Perry on Hubert Harrison, Theodore W. Allen and the "white race" as a ruling class social control formation.
Interview conducted by Ingemar Smith at Morehouse College, March 4, 2010.