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''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
Twelve years ago, on January 19, 2005, Theodore W. Allen died at age 85 in Brooklyn, NY after a fifteen-year battle with cancer.
Allen, one of the twentieth century’s most important writers on class and race, and the struggle against white supremacy, pioneered his class struggle based analysis of “white skin privilege” in 1965 and offered seminal writings on class struggle, white supremacy, and racial oppression such as “Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race” ([1974; SUNY Center for the Study of Working Class Life, 2006) and the two-volume “classic” “The Invention of the White Race” (1994, 1997; Verso Books, 2012), Vol. I “Racial Oppression and Social Control” and Vol. II: ”The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America.”
After his death his ashes (as per his request), were spread over that area "three miles up country" from West Point, Virginia where the "foure hundred English and Negroes in Arms" demanded their freedom in Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77).
Shortly thereafter, an “In Memorium: Theodore W. Allen” Tribute was published online at HERE
Writings, videos, and audios by and about Theodore W. Allen are available at HERE
For a presentation viewed by over 104,000 people on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race,” at the Brecht Forum in New York see HERE
For a recent presentation on “Theodore W. Allen and ‘The Invention of the White Race’” at a “Multiracial Organizing Conference” in Greensboro, NC see HERE
For the fullest treatment of the development of Allen’s thought see Jeffrey B. Perry, “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy,”
Cultural Logic HERE
For information on “The Invention of the White Race” Vol. I: “Racial Oppression and Social Control" (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 some background information on how the U.S. Census uses “race” in regard to “Hispanics” see Theodore W. Allen’ "’Race’ and ‘Ethnicity’: History and the 2000 Census” at HERE
For Allen’s important review on “Roediger’s ‘Wages of Whiteness’” see HERE
People are encourage to become familiar with the work of Theodore W. Allen and to share this information with others as we continue to struggle for a better world.
Theodore W. Allen
Born 97 Years Ago
Offers Important Insights on
The Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy
Theodore W. Allen (August 23, 1919 – January 19, 2005), an autodidactic, anti-white supremacist working class intellectual and activist who pioneered a class struggle-based “white skin privilege” analysis in the mid-1960s and authored the seminal two-volume history The Invention of the White Race was born 97 years ago in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The "Introduction" to Volume I of the new expanded 2012 Verso Books edition of The Invention of the White Race explains:
Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race, with its focus on social control and the nature of racial oppression, is one of the twentieth-century's major contributions to historical understanding. This two-volume work, first published in 1994 and 1997, and considered a "classic" by 2003, presents a full-scale challenge to what Allen 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 and nature of the so-called "white race" contains the root of a new and radical approach to United States history, one that challenges dominant narratives taught in schools, colleges, universities, and the media. With its equalitarian motif and emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history it contributes mightily to our understanding of American, African American, and Labor History and it speaks to people desiring and struggling for change worldwide. Its influence can be expected to continue to grow in the twenty-first century.
Readers of the first volume of Invention were startled by Allen's bold, back-cover assertion that "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."
Allen was not merely speaking of word usage, however. His probing research led him to conclude that--based on the commonality of experience, the demonstrated solidarity between African-American and European-American laboring people, and the indeterminate status of African-Americans--the "white race" was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.
It is in this context that 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 interests of the African-American workers, but was also disastrous for European-American workers.
In developing these theses Allen challenges the two main ideological props of white supremacy--the notion 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 in their interest not to oppose them).
His challenge is both historical and theoretical. He counters these arguments through meticulous use of sources, through probing analysis of "Racial Oppression and Social Control" (the sub-title of this volume), and through important comparative study that offers analogies, parallels, and differences between the Anglo-American plantation colonies, Ireland, and the Anglo-Caribbean colonies. Allen chooses these examples, all subjected to domination by Anglo ruling elites, in order to show that racial oppression is a system of social control not based on phenotype, or skin color, and to show how social control factors impact how racial oppression begins and how it can be maintained, transformed, or ended.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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 (with documentation) key components of Allen's analysis of "white race" privilege:
As he developed the "white race" privilege concept, Allen emphasized that these privileges were a "poison bait" and 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 would provide 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 an additional important insight 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."
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."
Allen made clear what he understood as the "interests of the working class" and referred to Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto: "1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole." He elsewhere pointed out, "The Wobblies caught the essence of it in their slogan: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.'"
Throughout his work Allen emphasizes, "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."
Based on his research Allen wrote, "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." He emphasized, "'Solidarity forever!' means 'Privileges never!'"
It is hoped that these brief remarks will lead more people to explore the work of Theodore W. Allen.
For writings, videos, and audios by and about Theodore W. Allen CLICK HERE
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) CLICK 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 I: “Racial Oppression and Social Control" (including comments from scholars and activists, Table of Contents, and an overview of the volume) CLICK 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.
In 1997 Theodore W. Allen commented on his use of “Origin” in the sub-title of “The Invention of the White Race” Vol. 2: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America."
He wrote: “Here is an instance where less is more. ‘Origin’ has the desired specificity, as in Darwin's title “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” and Engels' “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.” In choosing this sub-title, I meant it to be consistent with the argument of the book, which shows class struggle to have been the origin of racial oppression, rather than ascribing racial oppression to ‘natural’ and/or pre-American ‘prejudices’ as proposed by Carl Degler and Winthrop Jordan, for example.”
For information on “The Invention of the White Race” Vol. 2: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America" HERE
For a video of a slide presentation/talk on Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of White Race” CLICK HERE
For an in-depth treatment of the development of Allen’s work see “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” at the top left CLICK HERE
Ten years ago, on January 19, 2005, Theodore W. Allen died at age 85 in Brooklyn, NY after a fifteen-year battle with cancer. Allen, one of the twentieth century’s most important writers on class and race, pioneered his class struggle based analysis of “white skin privilege” in 1965 and included among his many writings on class struggle, white supremacy, and racial oppression “Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race” ([1974; SUNY Center for the Study of Working Class Life, 2006) and the two-volume “classic” “The Invention of the White Race” (1994, 1997; Verso Books, 2012), Vol. I “Racial Oppression and Social Control” and Vol. II: ”The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America.” After his death his ashes (as per his request), were spread over that area "three miles up country" from West Point, Virginia where the "foure hundred English and Negroes in Arms" demanded their freedom in Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77).
Writings, videos, and audios by and about Theodore W. Allen are freely available HERE People are encourage to become familiar with the work of Theodore W. Allen and to share this information with others as we continue to struggle for a better world.
"Insights From the Work of Theodore W. Allen, on
'White Skin Privilege,' The Invention of the White Race,
and the Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy"
Slide Presentation/Talk by Jeffrey B. Perry, at “The Center for Marxist Education,” Cambridge, Massachusetts
Filmed by Doug Enaa Greene on October 25, 2014.
"The Invention of the White Race"
Jeffrey Perry Discusses Theodore W. Allen's Landmark Books
A G-Man Interview
Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry Discusses White Supremacy in America and the New Expanded Edition of Theodore William Allen's Landmark Books on "The Invention of the White Race" (Verso Books, 1994, 1997; new edition 2012). A G-Man Interview.
Allen was an anti-white-supremacist, proletarian intellectual and an autodidact whose research and writings, on the role of white supremacy in United States history and on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy, disposed Perry to be receptive to the life and work of Hubert H. Harrison (1883-1927), another independent, autodidactic, anti-white-supremacist, working class intellectual.
The segment was conceived, directed, edited and written by Gary Glennell Toms, also known as "The G-Man".
To see “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, CLICK HERE
Theodore W. Allen’s The Invention of the White Race is an extremely important and complex two-volume work. He believed that his thesis on “the origin and nature of the so-called ‘white race’” contained the “root . . . of a general theory of United States history, more consistent than others that have been advanced.” The work moves between historical, theoretical and statistical presentations; covers materials from four continents and from medieval times to the present; presents new theoretical concepts and definitions; and poses, in a very principled way, formidable challenges to much assumed history.
In a 1998 “Summary of the Argument of 'The Invention of the White Race'” Allen explains that the two volumes offer a historical treatment of a few precisely defined concepts including: (1) “the essential nature of the social control structure of class societies”; (2) “racial oppression without reference to ‘phenotype’ factors”; (3) “racial slavery in continental Anglo-America as a particular form of racial oppression”; and (4) “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.”
Allen’s “Summary,” which is over one-hundred pages long, was written one year after publication of the second volume in an effort to introduce readers to the subject matter of Invention. It is well thought out, well written, and highly recommended.
For reviewer comments on The Invention of the White Race CLICK HERE
For Theodore W. Allen, “Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race,” in 2 Parts, Cultural Logic, Vol. 1, no. 2 (Spring 1998) CLICK HERE).
For an in-depth treatment of Allen's work see Jeffrey B. Perry, "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" (Cultural Logic, July 2010) CLICK HERE
Each volume of The invention of the White Race is available from Verso Books at 40% off with free shipping and an e-book version bundled free.
Jeffrey B. Perry Discusses Theodore W. Allen on "The Invention of the White Race," Labor History, and the Centrality of Struggle Against White Supremacy
Excerpts from an interview conducted with Caesar 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.
For additional information on Jeffrey B. Perry Click Here
For key insights from Theodore W. Allen on U.S. Labor History Click Here
For information on Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" Click Here
For additional writings by and about Theodore W. Allen Click Here
"Hubert Harrison, Theodore W. Allen, the ‘white race’ as a Ruling Class Social Control Formation, and ‘white’ Identity”
Interview with Jeffrey B. Perry conducted and videoed by Ingemar Smith
Morehouse College, March 4, 2010, Atlanta, Georgia
For more on these topics see the longer video HERE and see the article “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” at the top left HERE
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 video is Courtesy Fansmiles Productions.
Note -- On this cold January night in 2013 the Brecht Forum, when it was still located in lower Manhattan, had no heat. The standing room only audience is testimony to the interest in Theodore W. Allen's important work and the struggle against white supremacy. For more on Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race CLICK HERE!
Hubert H. Harrison (1883-1927) and Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) were independent, anti-white supremacist working class intellectuals and activists and they are two of the most important thinkers on race and class of the twentieth century. The slide presentation/talk is an effort to share some important insights from Allen and Harrison. If you have not already seen the video, you are encouraged to give it a look. Whether, or not, you have seen it – you are encouraged to share it with others. All who view the video -- are also encouraged to read the introduction (with links) that accompanies the video.
Theodore W. Allen’s probing research and analysis led him to offer his major thesis -- that the “white race” was invented in the late 17th/early 18th century 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) that the ruling elite deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the “white race” as a ruling-class social control formation and to establish a system of racial slavery and racial oppression, and 2) that the consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, but was also “disastrous” for European-American workers.
For more on Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race CLICK HERE
In Vol. 2 of “The Invention of the White Race,” sub-titled “The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America,” Theodore W. Allen addresses the question of the differential treatment of John Punch at some length and with many footnotes from original sources. I strongly recommend that volume. Many of the key points he makes can be found online in Theodore W. Allen, “Summary of the Argument of the Invention of the White Race” available Here.
Drawing from Allen, I offer the following brief comments:
Status of African-Americans
Allen maintains that the relative social status of African-descended and European-descended people in a very “Volatile” Virginia society up through Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77) “can be determined to have been indeterminate.” It was indeterminate because “it was being fought out . . .in the context of the great social stresses of high mortality, the monocultural [tobacco] economy, impoverishment, an extremely high sex ratio - all based on or deriving from the abnormal system of chattel bond-servitude.” He argues that Bacon’s Rebellion was the critical moment of that social struggle and “posed the question of who should rule.” The answer, “contrived over the next several decades, would not only determine the status of African-Americans, but would install the monorail of Anglo-American historical development, white supremacy.”
Allen further argues that the General Court’s order relating to John Punch [see below] “is equally proof that he was not a lifetime bond-laborer when he ran away” and, by that act, “he was demonstrating his unwillingness to submit to even limited-term bond-servitude.” Thus, “The John Punch case . . . epitomized the status of African-Americans in seventeenth-century Virginia. On the one hand, it showed a readiness of at least some of the plantation elite to equate ‘being a negro’ with being a lifetime bond-laborer. On the other hand, development of social policy along this line was obstructed by several factors.” [italics mine]
Among those factors cited by Allen were the “institutional inertia presented by English common law, . . .and by . . . principles of Christian fellowship”; the many examples of “normal social standing and mobility for African-Americans”; and the “opposition of African-Americans, both bond-laborers and non-bond-laborers, with the general support - certainly without the concerted opposition - of European-American bond-laborers, and other free but poor laboring people, determined by a sense of common class interest.” Allen discusses all of these factors, along with the insubstantiality of an intermediate buffer social control stratum, at great length.
By 1640 the Virginia General Court was receiving daily complaints about “servants that run away from their masters” and, writes Allen, the problem “had reached such proportions that the Colony Council made the recapture of runaway bond-laborers a public concern, and ordered that the expense of recovering fugitives be borne, not by the owner, but by the public treasury of the respective counties.” This was the situation in June 1640 when three Virginia bond-laborers, “Victor, a Dutchman . . . a Scotchman called James Gregory. . . . [and] a negro named John Punch,” escaped together to Maryland. After they were caught they were brought back to face the Virginia General Court.” Also in June 1640, the Virginia Colony Council and General Court commissioned a Charles City County posse to pursue “certain runaway negroes.” The cost was to be shared by all the counties from which they had run away and Allen says that this suggests “that the phenomenon was extensive.”
Limited and Lifetime Servitude
Allen explains “the reduction of the almost totally English labor force from tenants and wage-laborers to chattel bond-servitude in the 1620s was a negation of previously existing laws.” Regarding imposing two distinct categories of servitude -- limited term and lifetime servitude – Allen emphasizes that “the death-rate was so high for several decades, that there would have been no practical advantage for employers in seeking to institute such a distinction.”
Just such a distinction was anticipated, however, “when the Virginia General Court . . .imposed lifetime bond-servitude on John Punch.” The question is fairly asked, writes Allen, “why did the appetite for profit not lead the Court to sentence John Punch’s European-American comrades to lifetime servitude also?”
Why the disparate treatment?
If the court “was motivated by ‘white’ supremacist thinking,” comments Allen, it “is not a fact of the record.” He mentions other possibilities. “Under English common law Christians could not be enslaved by Christians; presumably, Scots and Dutchmen were Christians; but Africans were not.” Since “England’s relations with Scotland and Holland were critical to English interests,” there “might well have been a reluctance to offend those countries” while “no such complication was likely to arise from imposing lifetime bondage on an African, or African-American.” The “Court members in all probability were aware of the project then under way to establish an English plantation colony on Providence Island, using African lifetime bond-laborers” and “they surely knew that some Africans were already being exploited elsewhere in the Americas on the same terms.” [italics mine] They “might have been influenced by such examples to pursue the same purpose in Virginia.” They were also aware that “the African-American bond-laborers arriving in Virginia from the West Indies (or Brazil via Dutch colonies to the north of Maryland) did not come with English-style, term-limiting indentures” and “the members of General Court may thus have felt encouraged to impose the ultimate term, lifetime, in such cases.” Whatever the reasoning, “citing John Punch’s ‘being a negro’ in justification of his life sentence, was resorting to mere bench law, devoid of reference to English or Virginia precedent.” Allen then emphasizes, what the record does show in this case is “a disposition on the part of some, at least, of the plantation bourgeoisie to reduce African-Americans to lifetime servitude.” [italics mine]
As the proportion of bond-laborers who were surviving their terms increased, “some employers began to see an appeal in extending the bond-laborers’ terms generally. The ‘custom of the country’ for English bond-laborers in Virginia, which had been set at four years in 1658, was increased to five in 1662.” Also, with “the flourishing of the Irish slave trade” after Cromwell’s conquest, “laws were enacted to make Irish bond-laborers, and, after 1658, ‘all aliens’ in that status, serve six years.”
A 1660 law “equalized at five years the length of ‘the custom of the country,’ without distinction of ‘aliens,’ but that same law for the first time restricted term-limiting to those ‘of what christian nation soever.’” [Ireland now qualified as a “christian country.”] Since “the only ‘christian nations’ were in Europe, this clause was most particularly, though not exclusively, aimed at persons of African origin or descent.” Allen concludes that this exclusion of African-Americans from the limitation on the length of servitude imposed on bond-laborers, “reflected and was intended to further the efforts made by some elements of the plantation bourgeoisie to reduce African-American bond-laborers to lifetime servitude.” This, he adds, was “a form of class oppression of bond-laborers by owners, somewhat like the slavery of Scots miners and salt-pan workers from the end of sixteenth century to the eve of the nineteenth century.”
Not yet a system of racial oppression
This was, Allen emphasizes, “a long way from the establishment of a system of racial oppression.” Although “its implicit denial to African-Americans of even the lowest range of social mobility, from bond-labor to freedom, contained a seed of a system racial oppression,” that “seed could not be fully developed without a strong intermediate social control stratum.” And that did not exist in the period up to Bacon’s Rebellion.
The Plantation Bourgeoisie
Allen explains that the “English bourgeoisie finally secured direct access to African labor at the end of the Second Dutch War, concluded at the Treaty of Breda in 1667” and five years later, with the establishment of the Royal African Company, England embarked on a career that within less than forty years made English merchants the preeminent suppliers of African bond-labor to the Western Hemisphere.” Now, “finally the plantation bourgeoisie was brought within reach of the realization of the vision foreshadowed in a number of laws already enacted” that aimed at “enrichment through the imposition of lifetime, hereditary bond-servitude of Africans and African-Americans.” The “anticipated reduction in labor costs would have been desirable for the employing class at any time, but as the end of the seventeenth century neared, it appeared to offer the bourgeoisie both a way of evading the unresolvable contradictions between [tobacco] monoculture and diversity, and a significant easing of the contention between English and continental branches of the business with respect to profits from low-priced tobacco.”
Allen comments that it was “a conscious decision, not an unthinking one” by Virginia’s plantation bourgeoisie to opt for monoculture and chattel bond-servitude.” However, “a lack of capacity to command’ had made it impossible for the plantation bourgeoisie to impose the necessary social discipline on free and middle-rank tobacco farmers.”
The Invention of the "White" Race
Allen concludes: “Given the English superstructural obstacles and the already marked resistance of African-Americans to lifetime hereditary bondage, a rapid and large addition of African bond-laborers to the population in the 1670s, would certainly tend to reduce the effectiveness of the already weak social control stratum.” In that situation, writes Allen, the “white race” was “invented” as a ruling class social control formation “whose distinguishing characteristic was not the participation of the slaveholding class, nor even of other elements of the propertied classes; . . . [but] the participation of the European-American laboring classes: non-slaveholders, self-employed smallholders, tenants, and laborers.” He calls attention to the fact that “Whatever might have been the case with . . . members of the ruling class, the 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.” He then emphasizes that “this white race social control system begun in Virginia and Maryland, would serve as the model of social order to each succeeding plantation region of settlement.”
Ancestry.com cites the following paragraph from the Journal of the Executive Council [of Colonial Virginia] dated 9 July 1640 as “the only one surviving account that certainly pertains to John Punch’s life”:
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.
See also my August 3, 2012 piece "No Basis for Claims John Punch Was 'Indentured' and Two Servants Were 'White'" available at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/blog.htm?post=868025 Click Here