instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Theodore W. Allen Draws from Lerone Bennett Jr. in Treatment of White Supremacy and Racial Slavery

Which came first, racism or slavery? In the post-World War II era of national liberation upsurge, a related controversy has occupied much attention of American historians. One side, the "psycho-cultural" side, holds that white supremacy is "natural", the result of an "unthinking decision"; that it derives from human attributes not subject to effective eliminative social action. The other side, the "social" side, believes that racism arises from socio-economic, rather than natural, conditions; that (at least by implication) it is susceptible of elimination by social action.

Evidence of early instances of enslavement of Afro-Americans is stressed by the "psycho-cultural" school as proof of the "natural antipathy" of white and black. On the other hand, as Jordan (foremost of the "psycho-culturals") puts it, "Late and gradual enslavement undercuts the possibility of natural and deep-seated antipathy towards Negroes . . . if whites and Negroes could share the same status of half freedom for forty years in the seventeenth century, why could they not share full freedom in the twentieth." (Winthrop D. Jordan, "Modern Tensions and the Origins of American Slavery," Journal of Southern History, vol. 28 [1962], pp. 19-30, loc. cit., p. 20.)

Of all the historians of the "social" school whose work I have read, only the black historian Lerone Bennett, Jr., in his article, "The Road Not Taken," Ebony, vol. 25 (1970), no. 10 (August), pp. 70-77, and in Chap. III of his new book The Shaping of Black America (Chicago, 1975), succeeds in placing the argument on the three essential bearing-points from which it cannot be toppled. First, racial slavery and white supremacy in this country was a ruling-class response to a problem of labor solidarity. Second, a system of racial privileges for white workers was deliberately instituted in order to define and establish the "white race" as a social control formation. Third, the consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the Afro-American workers but was also "disastrous" (Bennett's word) for the white worker. Others (such as the Handlins, Morgan and Breen) state the first two points to some degree, but only Bennett combines all three.

Although I learned of Bennett's essay only in April 1975, the same three essentials have informed my own approach in a book I have for several years been engaged in writing (and of which this present article is a spin-off), on the origin of racial slavery, white supremacy and the system of racial privileges of white labor in this country.
The comparative study of the systems of social control in the various slave-labor plantation colonies in the Americas, combined with a study of Bacon's Rebellion, its origin and aftermath, can contribute much to the resolution of the question, in favor of "deliberate choice" and against "unthinking decision." In the continental plantation colonies (Virginia was the pattern-setter) the Anglo-American ruling class drew the color line between freedom and slavery on race lines; any trace of African ancestry carried the presumption of slavery. The same Anglo-American ruling class drew the freedom-slavery line differently in Jamaica and Barbados (as did other European ruling classes elsewhere in the Americas). The poor white became not only economically, but politically and socially, marginal in the British West Indies generally. In the southern continental colonies the bourgeoisie came to base their system of social control upon the white proletarian and semi-proletarian and subsistence agricultural classes. In the southern plantation colonies the free person of any degree of African ancestry was forced into an illegal or semi-legal status, as a general rule. The same Anglo-American ruling bourgeoisie deliberately created and nurtured this group as a petit-bourgeois buffer-control stratum in the Caribbean island societies. These are all decisive differences which cannot be explained on the basis of "psychology" or "English cultural heritage."

Finally, and more important, while the Anglo-American bourgeoisie had, by their prior experience in Providence Island and Barbados, learned the profitability of equating, or seeking to equate, "Negro" and "slave," the masses of European (at that stage almost all English) bond-servants in Virginia had not accepted that point of view. Instead, they intermarried, conspired, ran away, and finally revolted in arms together with African bond-servants. Racial slavery could not have existed, and did not exist, under those circumstances. Under such circumstances, to attempt to solve the "labor problem" by increasing the number of African bond-servants, reducing them to hereditary lifetime servitude, and making them the main productive labor base of the society would have been like trying to put out the Jamestown fire with kerosene.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Theodore W. Allen on Two Main Ideological Props of White Supremacy Among Euro-American Workers




Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) pioneered his “white skin privilege” analysis in 1965, co-authored "White Blindspot" in 1967 and authored the accompanying “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?’” in 1969, wrote the ground-breaking Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race in 1974/1975, wrote the seminal two-volume The Invention of the White Race in 1994 and 1997 (since reprinted in new expanded form in 2012 by Verso Books) , and authored a number of other extremely important published and unpublished pieces.

Allen's The Invention of the White Race, with its focus 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.

This brief video discusses how Allen’s work challenges two main ideological props of white supremacy among European-American workers -- the argument that "racism is innate" and the argument that European-American workers "benefit" from white supremacism and "white" privileges (Allen argues that the race privileges are a "poison bait," like a shot of heroin, and that the race privileges are ruinous to the interests of African Americans and of European-American workers).

As he argues –
“An Injury to One is an Injury to All!"
"Solidarity Forever, Means Privileges Never!"


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 offers the fullest treatment of the development of his thought and discusses this subject. For the article Click Here (at top left) or Click Here

For a longer Slide Presentation/Talk on Theodore W. Allen’s The Invention of the White Race at the Brecht Forum in New York City on January 31, 2013, see Click Here

For information on Theodore W. Allen Click Here and Click Here

For information on Jeffrey B. Perry Click Here

This segment was videoed on January 31, 2013, by Fred Nguyen of Fan Smiles.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment