Great News with More to Come! The University of Massachusetts-Amherst Special Collections Library has acquired The Theodore W. Allen Papers. The Library is home to (and has put online) the W.E.B. Du Bois Papers and they will be similarly placing important Allen materials online. See HERE for a very preliminary description of the Allen materials – much more will follow. Stay Tuned and Spread the Word!
April 27th Marks 135th Anniversary of Birth of Hubert Harrison:
“Father of Harlem Radicalism” and
Founder of the First Organization and First Newspaper of the Militant “New Negro Movement”
by Jeffrey B. Perry
Hubert H. Harrison (April 27, 1883-December 17, 1927) was a brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and radical political activist. Historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color, described him as “perhaps the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” Civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Bibliophile Arthur Schomburg, outstanding collector of materials on people of African descent, eulogized at Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was “ahead of his time.”
Harrison’s views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical A. Philip Randolph and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a key link to two great trends of the Black Liberation Movement – the labor and civil rights trend associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the race and nationalist trend associated with Malcolm X. (Randolph and Garvey were important links to King marching on Washington, with Randolph at his side, and to Malcolm (whose father was a Garveyite preacher and whose mother wrote for the “Negro World”), speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.
Harrison was not only a political radical, however. Rogers described him as an “Intellectual Giant and Free-Lance Educator,” whose contributions were wide-ranging, innovative, and influential. He was an immensely skilled and popular orator and educator who spoke and/or read six languages; a highly praised journalist, critic, and book reviewer (who reportedly started "the first regular book-review section known to Negro newspaperdom"); a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; and a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who was an officer on the committee that helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what has become known as the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Harrison was born on Estate Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies, on April 27, 1883. His mother was an immigrant worker from Barbados and his father, who had been born enslaved in St. Croix, was a plantation worker.
In St. Croix Harrison received the equivalent of a ninth grade education, learned customs rooted in African communal traditions, interacted with immigrant and native-born working people, and grew with an affinity for the poor and with the belief that he was the equal to any other. He also learned of the Crucian people’s rich history of direct-action mass struggles including the successful 1848 enslaved-led emancipation victory; the 1878 island-wide “Great Fireburn” rebellion (in which women such as “Queen Mary” Thomas played prominent roles); and the general strike of October 1879.
After the death of his mother Harrison traveled to New York as a seventeen-year-old orphan in 1900. In his early years in New York he attracted attention as a brilliant high school student, authored over a dozen letters that were published in the New York Times, involved in important African American and Afro-Caribbean working class intellectual circles, and became a freethinker.
In the United States Harrison made his mark by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans, and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of those he affectionately referred to as “the common people.” He consistently emphasized the need for working class people to develop class-consciousness; for “Negroes” to develop race consciousness, self-reliance, and self-respect; and for all those he reached to challenge white supremacy and develop an internationalist spirit and modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation.
A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas, and Europe and he wrote and lectured indoors and out (he was a pioneering soapbox orator) on these topics. More than any other political leader of his era, he combined class-consciousness and anti-white supremacist race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism. He opposed capitalism and imperialism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States. He emphasized that “politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea”; that “as long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race” were “downright lying” and “the cant of ‘Democracy’” was “intended as dust in the eyes of white voters”; that true democracy and equality for “Negroes” implied “a revolution . . . startling even to think of”; and that “capitalist imperialism which mercilessly exploits the darker races for its own financial purposes is the enemy which we must combine to fight.”
Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and played signal roles in the development of what were, up to that time, the largest class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the “New Negro”/Garvey movement) in U.S. history. His ideas on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy anticipated the profound transformative power of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s and his thoughts on “democracy in America” offer penetrating insights for social change efforts in the twenty-first century.
Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday; spoke at Broad and Wall Streets in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 1912 on socialism for over three hours to an audience that extended as far as his voice could reach (in a clear precursor to “Occupy Wall Street”); was the only Black speaker at the historic Paterson silk workers strike of 1913; founded the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper (The Voice) of the militant, race-conscious, World War I-era “New Negro” movement and led a giant Harlem rally that protested the white supremacist attacks on the African American community of East St. Louis, Illinois (which is only twelve miles from Ferguson, Missouri) in 1917; edited "The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort" (“intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races – especially of the Negro race”) in 1919; wrote "The Negro and the Nation" in 1917 and "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" in 1920; and served as the editor of the Negro World and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920.
After leaving the "Negro World" and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1922, Harrison wrote and lectured widely. He published in the "Amsterdam News," "Interstate Tattler," "Modern Quarterly," "New Republic," "Nation," "New York Times," "New York Tribune," "Boston Chronicle," "New York World," "Negro Champion," "Opportunity," and the "Pittsburgh Courier." He also lectured for the New York City Board of Education from 1922-1926; served as the New York State Chair of the American Negro Labor Congress and taught World Problems of Race at the Workers (Communist) Party’s Workers’ School and at the Institute for Social Study in Harlem; and spoke at universities, libraries, community forums, and street corners throughout New York City, as well as in New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, and Massachusetts. Maintaining his political independence, he worked with Democrats, the Single Tax Movement, Virgin Island organizations, the Farmer Labor Party Movement, and Communists. A bibliophile and advocate of free public libraries, he was also a founding officer of the committee that helped develop the “Department of Negro Literature and History” of the 135th Street Public Library into a center for Black studies, subsequently known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In addition, though he was a trailblazing book reviewer and literary critic during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance, he questioned the “Renaissance” on its willingness to accept standards from “white society” and on its claim to being a rebirth, a claim that he felt ignored the steady flow of works by “Negro” writers since 1850.
In 1924 Harrison founded the International Colored Unity League (ICUL), which emphasized “Negro” solidarity and self-support, advocated “race first” politics, and sought to enfranchise “Negroes” in the South. The ICUL attempted “to do for the Negro the things which the Negro needs to have done without depending upon or waiting for the co-operative action of white people.” It urged that “Negroes” develop “race consciousness” as a defensive measure, be aware of their racial oppression, and use that awareness to unite, organize, and respond as a group. Its economic program advocated cooperative farms, stores, and housing, and its social program included scholarships for youth and opposition to restrictive laws. The ICUL program, described in 1924 talks and newspaper articles and published in "The Voice of the Negro" in 1927, had political, economic, and social planks urging protests, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and collective action and included as its “central idea” the founding of “a Negro state, not in Africa, as Marcus Garvey would have done, but in the United States” as an outlet for “racial egoism.” It was a plan for “the harnessing” of “Negro energies” and for “economic, political and spiritual self-help and advancement.” It preceded a somewhat similar plan by the Communist International by four years. The journalist and activist Hodge Kirnon from Montserrat was one of the ICUL officers and in 1924 Harrison and Rogers spoke on behalf of the organization in the Midwest and in New England.
In 1927 Harrison edited the International Colored Unity League’s "Embryo of the Voice of The Negro" and then "The Voice of the Negro" until shortly before his unexpected December 17 death at Bellevue Hospital in New York from an appendicitis-related condition. His funeral was attended by thousands and preceded his burial in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, a gift of his portrait for placement on the main floor of the 135th Street Public Library, and the (ironic) establishment of The Hubert Harrison Memorial Church in Harlem in his honor.
Hubert Harrison lived and died in poverty. In 2015, after eighty-seven years, a beautiful tombstone was placed on his shared and previously unmarked gravesite. His gravesite marker includes his image and words drawn from Andy Razaf, outstanding poet of “New Negro Movement” – speaker, editor, and sage . . . “What a change thy work hath wrought!” That commemorative marker, as well as the notable increase in books, articles, videos, audios, and discussions on his life and work reflect a growing recognition of his importance and indicate that interest in this giant of Black history will continue to grow in the twenty-first century and that Hubert Harrison has much to offer people today.
Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry is an independent, working class scholar and archivist who was formally educated at Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia University. He was a long-time rank-and-file activist, elected union officer with Local 300, and editor for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (div. of LIUNA, AFL-CIO). Perry preserved and inventoried the Hubert H. Harrison Papers (now at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library); edited of A Hubert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 2001); authored Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press, 2008); wrote the introduction and notes for the new, expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison, When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the New Negro in the Western World (1920; Diasporic Africa Pres, 2015); and wrote the new introduction and supplemental material for the expanded edition of Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 2 vols. (1994, 1997; Verso Books, 2012). He is currently working on volume two of the Hubert Harrison biography and preparing his vast collection of Theodore W. Allen Papers and Research Materials on Hubert Harrison for placement at a major repository.
For comments from scholars and activists on "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press) see HERE
For information on "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press) see HERE
For information on the new, Diasporic Africa Press expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison's “When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” see HERE
For a video of a Slide Presentation/Talk on Hubert Harrison see HERE
For articles, audios, and videos by and about Hubert Harrison see HERE
For a link to the Hubert H. Harrison Papers at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library see HERE
The Invention of the White Race - Theodore W. Allen - Presented By Jeffrey B. Perry YOU CAN HELP GET IT ON PUBLIC ACCESS TV
The two 58 minute shows, Part 1 and Part 2, are now available for broadcast by local public access TV stations. It will be broadcast to Spokane's 105,000 households in the next couple weeks and it has been picked up in Wisconsin.
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P1 - The Invention of the White Race - Theodore W. Allen - Presented By Jeffrey B. Perry HERE
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The Invention of the White Race - Theodore W. Allen - Part 1 HERE
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PEGMedia - Short Description
''The Invention of the White Race'' presents a full-scale challenge to ''The Great White Assumption... as natural ... rather than a social construct.''
PEGMedia Full description
P1 - The Invention of the White Race - Theodore W. Allen - Presented By Jeffrey B. Perry
P2 - The Invention of the White Race - Theodore W. Allen - Presented By Jeffrey B. Perry
The book "The Invention of the White Race" by Theodore W. Allen presents a full-scale challenge to what Allen refers to as "The Great White Assumption" -- "the unquestioning, indeed unthinking acceptance of the 'white' identity of European-Americans of all classes as a natural attribute rather than a social construct." Its thesis on the origin and nature of the "white race" contains the root of a new and radical approach to United States history, one that challenges master narratives taught in the media and in schools, colleges, and universities. With its equalitarian motif and emphasis on class struggle it speaks to people today who strive for change worldwide.
"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." - Theodore W. Allen (Written after searching through 885 county-years of Virginia's colonial records)
Allen's book on racial oppression and social control, is one of the twentieth-century's major contributions to historical understanding. This two-volume classic (Vol. 1: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" and Vol. 2: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America") details how the "white race" was invented as a ruling-class social control formation and a system of racial oppression was imposed in response to labor solidarity in the wake of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77), how the "white race" was created and maintained through "white race" privileges conferred on laboring class European-Americans relative to African-Americans, how these privileges were not in the interest of African-Americans or laboring class European-Americans, and how the "white race" has been the principal historic guarantor of ruling-class domination in America. ( See a longer more detailed presentation - HERE)
These two talks, by Jeffrey B. Perry, are about Theodore W. Allen and his thoroughly researched book "The Invention of the White Race" (Verso Books) - especially Vol. II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America."
These talks, presented in two 58 minute shows, are for public access TV stations to broadcast - phone your local public access TV station to request these two shows be broadcast to your local community.
Part 1 and the beginning of Part 2 is Jeffrey B. Perry's slide presentation/talk on “Theodore W. Allen and ‘The Invention of the White Race’" by Jeffrey B. Perry was presented on Sat., June 18, 2016, at a "Multiracial Organizing Conference" on "Organizing Poor and Working Class Whites: The Challenge of Building a Multiracial Movement," at the Beloved Community Center, Greensboro, NC. HERE
In the rest of Part 2 Jeffrey B. Perry's elaborates further on Theodore W. Allen and ‘The Invention of the White Race’ and U.S. Labor History. Excerpts from an interview conducted with Caeser Pink and staff of Arete Living Arts Center (Brooklyn, NY) on Saturday, June 8, 2013, at the Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA) National Conference, at Brooklyn - CUNY Center for Worker Education, 25 Broadway, 7th floor, New York, NY, 10004. HERE
Jeffrey B. Perry contributed new introductions, back matter, internal study guides, and expanded indexes to Verso Books' new expanded edition of "The Invention of the White Race." See more - HERE
For information on Dr. Perry and his work on Hubert Harrison "the father of Harlem radicalism" (1883-1927) and Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) see HERE
1) For comments by scholars and activists About “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” HERE
2) For information by and about Hubert Harrison see HERE
3) For information by and about Theodore W. Allen HERE
4) For information on Hubert Harrison’s “When Africa Awakes: The ‘Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” see HERE
For the video “Hubert Harrison, Theodore W. Allen, and the Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy” see HERE
For a video on Hubert Harrison the “Father Harlem Radicalism” and Founder of the “New Negro Movement” -- in 2016 see HERE
For videos of an interview with Theodore W. Allen by Stella Winston see HERE
and at HERE
For the article “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” by Jeffrey B. Perry, which offers the fullest treatment of the development of Allen’s thought,
see HERE(Top Left)
or see HERE
The Invention of the White Race - Theodore W. Allen - Part 2 HERE
More from - Films For Justice - on YouTube HERE
More PEGMedia Films From - Film For Justice - For Public Access TV Stations HERE
Again, please phone your local public access TV station and ask them to broadcast this film to your local community.
All best wishes,
Jeffrey B. Perry
c 201 981 9675
Jeffrey B. Perry discusses Hubert Harrison, “The Father of Harlem Radicalism” and founder of the militant “New Negro Movement” (Part 2) as a guest of host Utrice Leid on Leid Stories. The show can be heard on Progressive Radio Network. TO LISTEN LIVE (GO TO www.PRN.FM, THEN CLICK "LISTEN LIVE."). To LISTEN BY PHONE dial 605-562-5119 and to DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF THE SHOW AND LISTEN ANYTIME. GO HERE . The CALL-IN NUMBER IS 888-874-4888.
Jeffrey B. Perry discusses Hubert Harrison, “The Father of Harlem Radicalism” and founder of the militant “New Negro Movement” (Part 1) as a guest of host Utrice Leid on Leid Stories. The show can be heard on Progressive Radio Network. TO LISTEN LIVE (GO TO www.PRN.FM, THEN CLICK "LISTEN LIVE."). To LISTEN BY PHONE dial 605-562-5119 and to DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF THE SHOW AND LISTEN ANYTIME. GO HERE . The CALL-IN NUMBER IS 888-874-4888.
In this week’s edition of Black Agenda Radio Bruce A. Dixon, Managing Editor of Black Agenda Report, makes reference to the work of Jeffrey B. Perry on Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen (7:50-8:30), Black Agenda Radio co-host Nellie Bailey references that work (19:12-19: 42), and Black Agenda Radio co-host Glen Ford interviews Perry (19:42-39:40) on that work and on the centrality of struggle against white supremacy to class struggle efforts for social change. Listen at - HERE
This Video on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of White Race”
Has Just Passed the 115,000-Views Mark.
115,000 VIEWS -- This Video on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of White Race” Has Just Passed the 115,000-Views Mark. It opens with some insights from the life and work of Hubert Harrison.
Please take time to watch the video, to share it with friends, and to call the work of Theodore W. Allen and Hubert Harrison to the attention of others.
Theodore W. Allen’s “Invention of the White Race” has been referred to as a “classic” by historians Nell Painter, Gerald Horne, Wilson J. Moses, and Gregory Meyerson and by social anthropologist Audrey Smedley.
Labor historian Joe Berry says it “is one of the most important books of U.S history ever written.”
Historian Mark Solomon of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, says, “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.”
Long time activist Carl Davidson emphasizes that “You simply can’t understand America and who we are without this [“The Invention of the White Race”] book.”
Special thanks to those who contributed to the book launch event that was the basis of this video on Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” – including filmmaker Fred Nguyen; Muriel Tillinghast and Sean Ahern of “The Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen Society”; Kazembe Balagun, Max Uhlenbeck, and Liz Mestres of the Brecht Forum; and Jessica Turner of Verso Books.
A second video on “The Invention of White Race,” recently filmed at a “multi-racial” worker organizing conference in Greensboro, NC, has exceptionally clear slides and is also attracting increased attention – see HERE Special thanks to organizer Ben Wilkins, who coordinated the two-day conference, and to Eric Preston (and Fusion Films) for work on the video.
For information on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” Volume I: “Racial Oppression and Social Control" (including comments from scholars and activists, Table of Contents, and an overview of the volume) see HERE Note – the new, expanded Verso Books edition of this volume includes new introductions and notes, an expanded index, and a lengthy and detailed internal study guide.
For information on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” Volume II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America" (including comments from scholars and activists, Table of Contents, and an overview of the volume) see HERE Note – the new, expanded Verso Books edition of this volume includes new introductions and notes, an expanded index, and a lengthy and detailed internal study guide.
For information on Theodore W. Allen’s “Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race” Part 1 see HERE and for Part 2 see HERE
For additional writings by and about Theodore W. Allen see HERE
For an in-depth treatment of the development of the work of Theodore W. Allen see “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” in PDF format at the TOP LEFT at HERE
or at “Cultural Logic” at HERE
For a video interview with Theodore W. Allen on “The Invention of the White Race” conducted by New York City schoolteacher Stella Winston and viewed by over 105,000 people see HERE
For information on “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press, 2008) see HERE
For information on “A Hubert Harrison Reader” (Wesleyan University Press, 2001) see HERE
For information on Hubert H. Harrison, “When Africa Awakes: The ‘Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World,” New Expanded Edition (Diasporic Africa Press, 2015) see HERE
For a video on Hubert Harrison based on a presentation at the Dudley Public Library in Roxbury, Massachusetts – see -- HERE
Special thanks to Mimi Jones, Friends of the Dudley Library, Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, Massachusetts Global Action. Mirna Lascano, Umang Kumar, and Charlie Welch for making the event possible and to Boston Neighborhood News TV's "Around Town" -- Channel: Comcast 9 / RCN 15 -- Justin D. Shannahan, Production Manager, Ted Lewis, cameraman, and Laura Kerivan, copy editor, Nia Grace (Marketing and Promotions Manager), and Scott Mercer for helping to make the video available.
For a recent video on Hubert Harrison done at the St. Croix Landmarks Society, Estate Whim, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands – see Be the first to comment
Theodore W. “Ted” Allen (1919-2005) was an anti-white supremacist, working class intellectual and activist. He developed his pioneering class struggle-based analysis of “white skin privilege” beginning in the mid-1960s; authored the seminal two-volume The Invention of the White Race in the 1990s; and consistently maintained that the struggle against white supremacy was central to efforts at radical social change in the United States.
Born on August 23, 1919, in Indianapolis, Indiana, he grew up in Paintsville, Kentucky and Huntington, West Virginia (where he graduated from high school), and then went into the mines and became a United Mine Workers Local President. After hurting his back in the mines he moved to New York City and lived his last fifty-plus years in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
The Invention of the White Race
Allen's two-volume The Invention of the White Race (1994, 1997: Verso Books, new expanded edition 2012) with its focus on racial oppression and social control is one of the twentieth-century's major contributions to historical understanding. It presents a full-scale challenge to what he refers to as "The Great White Assumption" -- the unquestioning acceptance of the "white race" and "white" identity as skin color-based and natural attributes rather than as social and political constructions. Its thesis on the origin, nature, and maintenance of the "white race" and its understanding that slavery in the Anglo-American plantation colonies was capitalist and enslaved Black laborers were proletarians, contain the basis of a revolutionary approach to United States labor history.
On the back cover of the 1994 edition of Volume 1, subtitled Racial Oppression and Social Control, Allen boldly asserted "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 statement, based on 20-plus years of primary research in Virginia's colonial records, reflected the fact that Allen found no instance of the official use of the word "white" as a token of social status prior to its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691. As he later 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 context he offers his major thesis -- that the "white race" was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the "white race" and to implement a system of racial oppression, and 2) the consequence was not only ruinous to the interest of African Americans, it was also disastrous for European-American workers.
In Volume II, on The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, Allen tells the story of the invention of the “white race” and the development of the system of racial oppression 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. Of great significance is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion when thousands of laboring people took up arms against the ruling plantation elite, the capital (Jamestown) was burned to the ground, rebels controlled 6/7 of the Virginia colony, and Afro- and Euro-American bond-servants fought side-by-side demanding an end to their 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 free 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.
Key to understanding the virulent racial oppression that develops in Virginia, Allen argues, is the formation of the intermediate social control buffer stratum, which serves the interests of the ruling class. 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. This difference was rooted in a number of social control-related factors, one of the most important of which was that in the Anglo-Caribbean 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.
In The Invention of the White Race Allen challenges what he considers to be two main ideological props of white supremacy -- the argument that "racism" is innate (and it is therefore useless to challenge it) and the argument that European-American workers “benefit” from "white race" privileges and white supremacy (and that it is therefore not in their interest to oppose them). 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: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812. The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan’s influential American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, which maintains that in Virginia, as slavery developed in the eighteenth century, “there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter.” Allen points out that what Morgan said about “too few” free poor was true in the eighteenth century Anglo-Caribbean, but not in Virginia.
“white race” privilege
The article "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" (Cultural Logic, 2010) describes key components of Allen's analysis of "white race" privilege. The article explains that as he developed the "white race" privilege concept, Allen emphasized that these privileges were a "poison bait" (like a shot of “heroin”) and he explained that they "do not permit" the masses of European American workers nor their children "to escape" from that class. "It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than he must have to support himself," but "the Black worker gets less than the white worker." By, thus "inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure."
As one example, to support his position, Allen provided statistics showing that in the South where race privilege "has always been most emphasized . . . the white workers have fared worse than the white workers in the rest of the country."
Probing more deeply, Allen offered additional important insights into why these race privileges are conferred by the ruling class. He pointed out that "the ideology of white racism" is "not appropriate to the white workers" because it is "contrary to their class interests." Because of this "the bourgeoisie could not long have maintained this ideological influence over the white proletarians by mere racist ideology." Under these circumstances white supremacist thought is "given a material basis in the form of the deliberately contrived system of race privileges for white workers."
Thus, writes Allen, "history has shown that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers, it also shows that the concomitant racist ideology has blinded them to that fact."
Allen added, "the white supremacist system that had originally been designed in around 1700 by the plantation bourgeoisie to protect the base, the chattel bond labor relation of production" also served "as a part of the 'legal and political' superstructure of the United States government that, until the Civil War, was dominated by the slaveholders with the complicity of the majority of the European-American workers." Then, after emancipation, "the industrial and financial bourgeoisie found that it could be serviceable to their program of social control, anachronistic as it was, and incorporated it into their own 'legal and political' superstructure."
Allen felt that two essential points must be kept in mind. First, "the race-privilege policy is deliberate bourgeois class policy." Second, "the race-privilege policy is, contrary to surface appearance, contrary to the interests, short range as well as long range interests of not only the Black workers but of the white workers as well." He repeatedly emphasized that "the day-to-day real interests" of the European-American worker "is not the white skin privileges, but in the development of an ever-expanding union of class conscious workers." He emphasized, "'Solidarity forever!' means 'Privileges never!'" He elsewhere pointed out, "The Wobblies [the Industrial Workers of the World] caught the essence of it in their slogan: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.'"
Throughout his work Allen stresses that "the initiator and the ultimate guarantor of the white skin privileges of the white worker is not the white worker, but the white worker's masters" and the masters do this because it is "an indispensable necessity for their continued class rule." He describes how "an all-pervasive system of racial privileges was conferred on laboring-class European-Americans, rural and urban, exploited and insecure though they themselves were" and how "its threads, woven into the fabric of every aspect of daily life, of family, church, and state, have constituted the main historical guarantee of the rule of the 'Titans,' damping down anti-capitalist pressures, by making 'race, and not class, the distinction in social life.'" That, "more than any other factor," he argues, "has shaped the contours of American history -- from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the Civil War, to the overthrow of Reconstruction, to the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, to the Great Depression, to the civil rights struggle and 'white backlash' of our own day."
Allen also addressed the issue of strategy for social change. He emphasized, “The most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck against bourgeois rule in the United States is white supremacy.” He considered “white supremacy” to be “both the keystone and the Achilles heel of U.S. bourgeois democracy.”
Based on this analysis Allen maintained, “the first main strategic blow must be aimed at the most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck, namely, white supremacism.” This, he argued, was the conclusion to be drawn from a study of three great social crises in U.S. history – “the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s.” In each of these cases “the prospects for a stable broad front against capital has foundered on the shoals of white supremacism, most specifically on the corruption of the European-American workers by racial privilege.”
Groundbreaking Analysis Continues to Grow in Importance
Ted Allen died on January 19, 2005, and a memorial service was held for him at the Brooklyn Public Library where he had worked. Then on October 8, 2005, his ashes, as per his request, were spread in the York River (near West Point, Virginia) close to its convergence with the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers – the location where the final armed holdouts, "Eighty Negroes and Twenty English," refused to surrender in the last stages of Bacon’s Rebellion.
Allen’s historical work has profound implications for American History, African-American History, Labor History, Left History, American Studies, and “Whiteness” Studies and it offers important insights in the areas of Caribbean History, Irish History, and African Diaspora Studies. With its meticulous primary research, equalitarian motif, emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history, and groundbreaking analysis his work continues to grow in influence and importance.
For writings, audios, and videos by and about Theodore W. Allen and his work see HERE
For information on The Invention of the White Race Vol. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control [Verso Books] (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see HERE
For information on The Invention of the White Race Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see HERE
For the fullest treatment of the development of Theodore W. Allen’s thought see “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” (Cultural Logic, 2010) HERE
In his personal and political life Theodore W. Allen tried not to think or act “white.” He explained -- “the white race is now, and always has been nothing other than a bourgeois social control formation in this country.”
He considered it “the special obligation of the European-American worker” to act by “resigning from the white race, joining the human race as, if you will, a born-again proletarian free of the incubus of the ‘white’ identity.” He added that “resigning . . . Does not entail . . . entering some other ‘racial’ or nationality category; such a European-American remains a European-American.”
For the fullest treatment of the development of Theodore W. Allen’s thought see “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy” at HERE
For information on “The Invention of the White Race” Vol. II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America" (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see http://www.jeffreybperry.net/_center__i__font_size__3__font_color__sepia___b_6__the_invention_of_the_br_white_116387.htm> HERE
For information on “The Invention of the White Race” Vol. I: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" [Verso Books] (including comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents) see