The Invention of the White Race Vol. 1 Racial Oppression and Social Controlby Theodore W. Allen
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Slide Presentation/Talk by Jeffrey B. Perry 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 Invention of the White Race
NEW EXPANDED EDITION ISBN: 978-1-84467-771-9 Is Available at Reduced Price
What's "NEW" in the "NEW EDITION"?
To assist individual readers, study groups, and classes 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 I
The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control
Theodore W. 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, first published in 1994 and 1997, 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. Its influence on our understanding of American, African American, and labor history will continue to grow in the twenty-first century.
Readers of the first edition of The Invention of the White Race were startled by Allen’s bold assertion on the back cover: “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 twenty-plus years of research of 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 – based on the commonality of experience and demonstrated solidarity between African-American and European-American laboring people, the lack of a substantial intermediate buffer social control stratum, and the indeterminate status of African-Americans – that the “white race” was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.
It is in the context of such findings that he offers his major thesis -- 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 (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite, in its own class interest, deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the “white race” and 2) the consequences were not only ruinous to the interests of African-Americans, they were also “disastrous” for European-American workers, whose class interests differed fundamentally from those of the ruling elite.
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 struggle against it, and 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.
His challenge to these ideological props of white supremacy is both historical and theoretical. Allen offers meticulous use of sources, probing analysis of “Racial Oppression and Social Control” (the sub-title of this volume), and important comparative study that includes analogies, parallels, and differences between the Anglo-American plantation colonies, Ireland, and the Anglo-Caribbean colonies. He 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 (skin color, etc.) and to show that social control factors impact how racial oppression begins, is maintained, and can be transformed.
The Invention of the White Race is Allen’s magnum opus – he worked on it for over twenty years. Its second volume, subtitled The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, rigorously details the invention of the “white race” and the development of racial slavery, a particular form of racial oppression, in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Virginia. He claimed, with justification, that the second volume “contains the best of me.”
A major purpose for his writing Volume I was to lay the conceptual groundwork for Volume II free of what he refers to as the “White Blindspot” -- the hindered vision caused by the “historically omnipresent factor of white supremacism in United States history” that W. E. B. Du Bois “warned us about in Black Reconstruction.” To work free of that blindspot Allen uses the approach in Volume I of “looking into an Irish mirror for insights into the nature of racial oppression and its implication for ruling-class social control in the United States.”
Allen begins his wide-ranging first volume by offering a critical examination of the two main historiographical positions on the slavery and racism debate. He addresses and strongly criticizes the psycho-cultural approach, and he seeks to free the socio-economic approach from certain weaknesses. He then proceeds, using that “mirror of Irish history,” to develop a definition of racial oppression in terms of social control; a definition that is “free of the howling absurdities of ‘phenotype,’ or classification by complexion.” In the process Allen offers 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. He also shows 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 slavery and racial oppression.
In the course of his treatment Allen emphasizes that maximizing profit and maintaining social control are two priority tasks of the ruling class. He also offers a comparison of the different outcomes of “Catholic Emancipation” (outside of Ulster) in Ireland and “Negro Emancipation” in America. The difference centers upon what group is the key component incorporated into the ruling class’s intermediate social control stratum to serve its interests. In Ireland (outside of Ulster) it was the Catholic bourgeoisie, in the United States it was the “white race,” composed primarily of laboring people who were not promoted out of their class. The first outcome, in which members of the oppressed group are incorporated into the social control stratum, he describes as national oppression. The second outcome, in which members of the oppressed group are excluded from the social control stratum and denied normal class mobility, he describes as racial oppression.
In discussing the topics of this volume’s subtitle, Racial Oppression and Social Control, Allen emphasizes that racial oppression is one form of ruling class response to the problem of social control; national oppression is another. . . .
With stunning international and domestic examples Allen shows how racial oppression (particularly in the form of religio-racial oppression) was developed and maintained by the phenotypically-similar British against the Irish Catholics in Ireland; how the phenotypically-similar Anglo bourgeoisie established national oppression in the Anglo-Caribbean and racial oppression in the continental Anglo-American plantation colonies; how racial oppression was transformed into national oppression due to ruling class social control needs in Ireland (while racial oppression was maintained in Ulster); how the same people who were victims of racial oppression in Ireland became “white American” defenders of racial oppression; and how in America racial oppression took the form of racial slavery, yet when racial slavery ended racial oppression remained and was re-constituted in new form.
The Invention of the White Race is a compelling work that re-examines centuries of history. It also offers Allen’s glimpse of “the future in the distance.” When he completed Volume II fifteen years ago Allen ended by describing “unmistakable signs of maturing social conflict” between “the common people” and “the Titans.” He suggested that “Perhaps, in the impending . . . struggle,” influenced by the “indelible stamp of the African-American civil rights struggle of the 1960s,” the “white-skin privileges may finally come to be seen and rejected by laboring-class European-Americans as the incubus that for three centuries has paralyzed their will in defense of their class interests vis-à-vis those of the ruling class.” It was with that prospect in mind, that Theodore W. Allen wrote The Invention of the White Race.
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. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control offers some important new additions. First, minor corrections based mostly on Allen’s notes have been incorporated. Second, two new appendices are added: Appendix M -- “A Brief Biography of Theodore W. Allen” and Appendix N -- “A Guide to The Invention of the White Race: Volume I,” which can be used for classes, study groups, and individual readings. Finally, a new and expanded index is provided at the end of the volume.
June 18, 2016, talk on
“Theodore W. Allen and ‘The Invention of the White Race’"
by Jeffrey B. Perry
at "Multiracial Organizing Conference"
on "Organizing Poor and Working Class Whites:
The Challenge of Building a Multiracial Movement"
"THERE WERE NO WHITE PEOPLE THERE" -- 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."
The Invention of 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.”
“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
“Independent scholar Theodore W. Allen has produced a two-volume tour de force that situates the development of racism, white supremacy, and racial identities in context of the sixteenth and seventeenth century British conquest of Ireland, the Atlantic slave trade, the rise of chattel bond-servitude in the Caribbean and English-speaking North America, and the destruction of Native American societies. More importantly, Allen draws from a wide array of primary sources to reveal the ways the political and economic elites, driven to maintain and expand their social control of laboring people — whether bound or free -- invented the concept of the white race. Allen’s research has profoundly shaped and influenced, often behind the scenes, historians’ debates on American colonial slavery and its connections to racism, white supremacy, and nascent capitalism.” – Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State University, author of American Pogrom: The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics
"The most truly 'radical' American history ever written."
How and why did white supremacism establish itself in colonial Virginia in the late 17th century? Who benefited? Who lost? And why even now in the 21st century is it still a defining feature of our political and economic life? World War II and the post war Civil Rights movement pulled back the veil of American democracy to reveal to the world a sordid reality uncomfortably similar to the race supremacism practiced by Nazism and Japanese militarism. The resistance to Jim Crow posed a challenge to American historians to account for this defining feature of US society. White supremacism was enshrined in the 3/5 clause of the Constitution but even after a civil war and ten years of Reconstruction why was it resurrected in the form of Jim Crow? Theodore W Allen devoted the last 35 years of his life looking for answers. Among his numerous published and unpublished works, "The Invention of the White Race" (2 vols.) is his magnum opus. Volume II in particular, subtitled The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America, is increasingly acknowledged as a ground breaking definitive work and the foundation for a much needed and truly radical history of America.
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)
“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
"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
The best twenty bucks I ever spent on a book was purchasing Ted Allen’s The Invention of the White Race vol. 1 from the author himself (that was in 1994: I bought vol. 2 right after it came out three years later). Where other scholars had a hypothesis and some evidence that pointed in that direction, Allen’s extensive archival and other research was the first to definitively establish how and why “whiteness” is not an ethnicity or self-evident biological fact, but rather a social and historical construction born of ruling-class social control necessity to build and maintain African slavery in America with “whites” on their side rather than on the side of black people. With this new expanded two-volume edition, historian Jeff Perry has done a great service in editing and re-introducing to new readers what many of us for years have been fortunate to use as part of our teaching and learning about this particular past and how to break its dead weight.
-- Phil Rubio, author of There’s Always Work at the Post Office and A History of Affirmative Action, 1619-2000.
"Few books are capable of carrying the profound weight of being deemed to be a classic--this is surely one. Indeed, if one has to read one book to provide a foundation for understanding the contemporary U.S.--read this one." – Gerald Horne,, activist, historian and author, most recently, of The Counter-Revolution of 1776 and Negro Comrades of the Crown: African-Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. Before Emancipation
"Although it deserves and promises to sell by the thousands this is a rare book. It is the product of deep reflection, patient research and passionate political commitment. It speaks authoritatively to a thousand-year sweep of the history of Britain, Ireland, West Africa, the colonized Americas and the United States. Its origins outside professional history – Allen has worked as miner, mailhandler, draftsman and librarian – lend an urgency and clarity usually absent in academic writings, but without even a bit of anti-intellectualism . . . Allen . . . is making a decisive contribution to the demystifying and dismantling of what he terms the ‘quintessential Peculiar Institution’ – that is, ‘the so-called “White Race.”’ His 1975 pamphlet, Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery brilliantly posed the issue of the ‘invention of the white race’ within a materialist framework.’ . . . In Volume One, Allen uses Irish history as a ‘mirror’ to generate new angles of vision regarding race in the U.S. Since, as he argues, ‘Irish history presents a case of racial oppression without reference to alleged skin color,’ it offers a sharp challenge to easy assumptions that racism is a natural, color-based ‘phylogenic’ phenomenon. . . . Allen offers the best account yet of the process by which the Irish “became white” in the U.S. and of the roles of the Democratic Party, the unions, the labor market and the Catholic Church in ensuring that the nineteenth century immigrants best ‘prepared by tradition and experience to empathize with the African Americans’ would become a critical component of the “intermediate stratum’ of ‘whites’ perpetuating a system of racial oppression and class privilege in the U.S. In describing this tragic transformation, Allen provides a model for the consideration of ‘white skin privileges,’ which is seen as material and real but also as part of a larger system of oppression, including white worker oppression . . . what is most striking in Invention of the White Race is the quality of searching questions and clear answers.” – David Roediger, in Race Traitor
“This outstanding, insightful original work with profound implications for the fractured working class protest tradition of the United States could not be more timely as working people throughout the world are shamelessly robbed and dispossessed by the financial manipulations of our Wall Street titans still wielding their poison bait of white skin privilege.”-- Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Michigan State University, author of Social Control in Slave Plantation Societies, the Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy Database, Africans in Colonial Louisiana, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas, and editor of A Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle: The Life of Harry Haywood
“In this richly researched and highly suggestive analysis of Irish oppression in Britain and African American oppression in the slave-holding U.S. Allen argues that racism is best understood in both instances as a deliberate system of in-group cooptation and out-group super exploitation that maintained ruling-class hegemony. This study is elegantly conceived. Allen first depicts the Protestant Ascendancy as a case in which a key segment of the Irish population was wooed into accepting prevailing inequities in Ulster by the perceived compensation of racial and religious privilege. He then proposes a similar paradigm of racism as social control for the class- and race-stratified society of North America (‘Ulster writ large’). Finally, reenter the Irish, this time not as defamed and racially oppressed Celts in Ireland, but rather as immigrants eligible for the privileges of ‘whiteness” in the U.S.—participants in a dynamic of racial oppression similar to the one they had so recently fled. The study thus provides a compelling illustration of ‘the relativity of race.’ Indispensable for readers interested in the disposition of power in Ireland, in the genesis of racial oppression in the U.S., or in the fluidity of ‘race’ and the historic vicissitudes of ‘whiteness.’” -- Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University, in Choice
“Allen, who defines himself as an independent scholar . . . has pursued an idea across the frontier of conventional specializations, supported in his labours by a belief that to determine the origin of white racism will contribute to its eradication. It is difficult to envisage such a work being produced in the wasteland of contemporary academic life, in which the crass measurement of ‘research output’ is challenged only by the pursuit of theory for theory’s sake. Even those who disagree with Allen’s conclusion should salute this testimony to the survival of an older intellectual tradition, founded on the conviction that honest enquiry and rational argument are both open to all and essential to the improvement of human life.” -- Sean J. Connolly, Queen’s University, Belfast, in Ecumene (U. K.)
“This book will be required reading for students of Irish history, race theory, and white supremacy. While it meets the highest standards of scholarship, it is not in the slightest degree scholastic – that is, the truthfulness will ultimately be determined by practice. Its author is not a professional historian but a proletarian intellectual, who clearly intended a political intervention as well as a scholarly study. The result is a work of bitterness, humor, and passion that will delight some and annoy others.” -- Noel Ignatiev, co-editor of Race Traitor, author of How the Irish Became White, in Journal of Social History
“An intriguing aspect of Allen’s argument is his assertion that an oppressed race need not by distinguished by skin color or by any physical characteristic. To illustrate this point, and to show how ruling elites apply racism, the author presents an analysis of what he calls the British ruling class’s racial oppression of the Irish. He observes that, while few people today would label the Irish a race, the oppression they endured had many features in common with the oppression of other groups now perceived as racial minorities.
Allen’s use of the Irish example lends support to the argument that race is a social construction. A strength of Allen’s book is his effort to view race apart from biology, to see racial categories as ever-changing social conventions and not as immutable classifications fixed in nature or the human psyche. By viewing racism as a deliberately imposed system of oppression, Allen suggests the possibility that societies may one day abandon racist practices.” -- Vivien Sandlund, Hiram College, in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
“The notion of ‘privilege’ is ubiquitous amongst radicals today. But few anti-oppression activists understand its origins in Ted Allen's conception of ‘white privilege,’ and fewer still have wrestled with the troubling questions raised in his masterwork, The Invention of the White Race. In its original form, ‘privilege’ is not about assumptions and behaviors that can be corrected for on an interpersonal level. Instead, privilege is imbedded in the very concept of the ‘white race,’ which is the primary mechanism of class domination in the United States. Allen's work offers an intriguing perspective on what ‘privilege’ was originally conceptualized as, how it is structured, and how it can be overcome.” – Spencer Sunshine, assistant editor of Monthly Review
“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.
“[B]ooks like The Invention of the White Race come along all too infrequently . . . Once the blinders that define the constituent parts of white supremacy as “normal” are lifted, you’ll start seeing its manifestations everywhere . . . . Allen stands in the grand tradition of nonacademic historians alongside such monumental writers and thinkers as Edmund Wilson and C. L. R. James, . . . He is a fine writer, . . . And he can write a better nut paragraph than many journalists because he never adorns without necessity -- . . . much untenured, uncompensated, unrelenting effort went into gathering the facts that comprise his argument, garnered from all sorts of our-of-the-way documents, many of them several centuries old . . . Theodore W. Allen has enlisted me as a devoted reader.” -- Dave Marsh, Metro Times Literary Quarterly
"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.
"The history of how the English colonial masters created and institutionalized white supremacy in their colonies in the Americas is brilliantly documented in detail in Theodore Allen's two volume work, The Invention of the White Race." – Ted Pearson, in Political Affairs
The Invention of the White Race retains validity in today's world. The white race may have been created over time on this American soil and used as an ideology to subordinate . . . populations, but the generations nurtured by its premises have continued to reinforce its beliefs and values and institutionalize these concepts into law, politics, education, and social interactions to retain the power passed down from long ago. Political campaigns that appear to threaten this power bring these attitudes to the surface penetrating political correctness and common civility. The elites use these premises to unite believers to vote and act against their own self- interest, ignorant about the invented ideologies uniting them. -- Dorothy Salem, author of The Journey: a History of the African American Experience.
"[T]he continued relevance and actual usefulness of white privilege theory itself owes a great debt to Ted Allen. Working largely alone, he spent years researching and reflecting on the history of the US (and of other countries where he could make useful comparisons to other systems of social control employed by the rulers there). The product was the splendid two-volume work, The Invention of the White Race. Further advances in understanding and combating white privilege from here on out will have as a jumping-off point the new framework Ted Allen constructed in this work." -- Dennis O'Neill, FreedomRoad.org
"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
"Ted Allen's two volumes on The Invention of the White Race offer the most comprehensive and meticulously documented presentation of the historical, or as he calls it, 'sociogenic' theory of racial oppression. Following W. E. B. Du Bois, Allen believes that this thesis also contains the roots of a general theory of U.S. history. That is, it can explain how the U.S bourgeoisie has been able to contain rebellion by using 'white race solidarity' as 'the country's most general form of class collaboration." – Juliett Ucelli, Freedom Road Magazine
"Viewing American history in 'the Irish mirror,' Allen demonstrates that racism is a social phenomenon, not a universal, atavistic fear of the 'dark' forces embodied in the 'dark' races." -- Judith Levine, Voice Literary Supplement
"Allen's closely argued book produces a stunning transformation of the issue [of which came first, slavery or racism] by insisting that the question is . . . when and how European-Americans began to think of themselves as white . . . Historians of early America are likely to find especially illuminating Allen's well-developed analogy between Ireland and British America, which persuaded me, at lest, that systems of 'racial oppression' have little to do with phenotype. Immigration historians should be particularly interested in Allen's analysis of how the Irish, victims of racial oppression at home, learned that they were 'white' once they crossed the Atlantic and became . . . supporters of a system of racial oppression in the United States." -- Russell R. Menard, University of Minnesota, in Journal of American Ethnic History
"One of the great contributions of Allen's study is a complete debunking of the myth that race and skin color are the same thing . . . The heart of Volume One consists of empirical research into the history of racial oppression in Ireland so that 'the Irish Mirror,' as Allen nicely terms it, can reflect back the true nature of racial oppression in history, its origins and its social function in capitalist society. This approach, which is new in American historiography, lays a conceptual groundwork 'free of the "White Blindspot."'" – Jonathan Scott, Bronx Community College, in Against the Current
". . . the mother lode books written by Marxists are Ted Allen's Invention of the White Race and W. E. B. Du Bois' Black Reconstruction. I highly recommend both. I'd argue that you can't really understand this country without reading them." -- Carl Davidson, National Co-Chair, Committees for Democracy and Socialism
"Theodore Allen is neither an academic nor a professional historian, but in the first volume of the Invention of the White Race he has engaged in intellectual battle with many eminent scholars." -- Mary Ellison, Times (London)
"Comparative history shows that 'race' is a social invention not a biological fact . . . Moreover, race need not be a matter of skin color at all, as Theodore Allen shows in this powerful and polemic study." – Times Literary Supplement
The Invention of the White Race
Racial Oppression and Social Control
by Theodore W. Allen
Introduction to the Second Edition [by Jeffrey B. Perry]
1. The Anatomy of Racial Oppression
2. Social Control and the Intermediate Strata: Ireland
3. Protestant Ascendancy and White Supremacy
4. Social Control: From Racial to National Oppression
6. Anglo-America: Ulster Writ Large
7. The Sea-change
8. How the Sea-change was Wrought
Appendix A: (see Introduction, note 46 [re intermarriage])
Appendix B: (see Introduction, note 46 [re “cheaper labor” rationale])
Appendix C: (see Chapter 1, note 58 and Chapter 2 note 51 [re Africans’ strength as a limit to English colonization])
Appendix D: (see Chapter 2, notes 42 and 73 [re English Plantations in Ireland as “response to rebellion”])
Appendix E: (see Chapter 2, note 58 [re England on threshold of its career as a world colonial power, with Ireland as its first objective”])
Appendix F: (see Chapter 2, note 77 [re Mountjoy’s “starvation strategy” for Ireland])
Appendix G: (see Chapter 2, note 108 [re “social control policies of the Western colonizing powers”])
Appendix H: (see Chapter 3, note 8 [re “Scottish slavery”])
Appendix I: (see Chapter 3, note 46 [re relative cost differential of English and Irish common labor greater than differential between wage-labor and bond-labor in continental Anglo-America])
Appendix J: (see Chapter 4, note 107 [re “Daniel O’Connell’s views regarding revolutionary violence in Ireland”])
Appendix K: (see Chapter 7, note 62 [re “The Slave” by Leander (John Hughes)])
Appendix L: (see Chapter 7, note 80 [re “Address from the people of Ireland to their Countrymen and Countrywomen in America”])
Editor’s Appendix M: A Brief Biography of Theodore W. Allen
Editor’s Appendix N: Notes to Encourage Engagement with Volume I
Chronological Finding Aid for Users of this Volume
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."
"Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" 1998
Over 127,00 Views
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.
Some of those in attendance at the 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."
from Theodore W. Allen
The Invention of the White Race
Vol. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control
(1994; Verso Books, Nov. 2012), p. 144
The Material Basis for the Abandonment of Reconstruction
Just as the British ruling class had come to accept the necessity of involving the Catholic bourgeoisie in Ireland in the maintenance of social control; so the Northern bourgeoisie, though only for a limited period of time as it turned out, “made him [the Negro] a part of the state,” as the investigative journalist Charles Nordhoff wrote. “If the North had not given the negroes suffrage,” a Southern Democrat confided to him, “it would have had to hold our states under an exclusively military government for ten years.” John Pool, a Republican Senator from North Carolina, said he “accepted the necessity of Negro suffrage only reluctantly, as the only means by which the country could be “nationalized.” The country was in fact in a material sense “nationalized” by other agencies. In 1867, Abilene, Kansas became the railroad loading point for cattle driven up the Chisholm Trail from Texas, intended for northern and eastern markets. Two years later, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads met at Promontory Point in Utah completing the transcontinental steel spine of United States industrial capitalism. Thus were doomed the hopes of the slave bourgeoisie beyond all appeals to ink or blood. The Northern bourgeoisie, its hegemony in national affairs thus undergirded, signified its acceptance of post-Emancipation racial oppression by abandoning Reconstruction. The subsequent white supremacist system in the South was established, not by civil means, but by nightrider terror and one-sided “riots” in order to deprive African-Americans of their Constitutional rights, reducing them again, by debt peonage and prisoner-leasing, to a status that was slavery in all but name.
“Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism”
Presentation by Jeffrey B. Perry
Dudley Public Library, Roxbury, Massachusetts,
February 15, 2014
"The Invention of the White Race"
Jeffrey Perry Discusses Theodore W. Allen's Landmark Books
A G-Man Interview
Over 38,000 Views
Review of Theodore W. Allen’s The Invention of the White Race, New Expanded Edition, 2 Volumes, Vol. 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control; Vol. 2: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America; Verso Books, by Sean Ahern, in Black Commentator CLICK HERE