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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Theodore W. Allen's Challenge to the Historical Master Narratives Associated with the Work of Winthrop D. Jordan and Edmund S. Morgan

For anyone reading (or using in a class or study group) Edmund S. Morgan’s "American Slavery/American Freedom" and/or Winthrop D. Jordan's "White Over Black," I would encourage also reading something by Theodore W. Allen.

In particular, I would recommend either Allen's “The Invention of the White Race” (which is being published in a new edition by Verso in November 2012), his 1978 review of Morgan’s book in “Monthly Review,” his article “Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race” (available online at http://clogic.eserver.org/2006/allen.html Click Here ), or his "Summary of the Argument of 'The Invention of the White Race'" (available online at http://clogic.eserver.org/1-2/allen.html Click Here ).

Allen's work details the development of racial slavery and racial oppression in Anglo-America with special emphasis on social control and "the invention of the 'white race'" in late-17th century Virginia.

In the process, it seeks to challenge what Allen considers to be the two main arguments that undermine the struggle against white supremacy by European-American workers: (1) the argument that white supremacism is innate, and (2) the argument that European-American workers “benefit” from “white race” privileges and white supremacism -- that the privileges are in their class interest.

These arguments are respectively related to two historical master narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period.

The first argument is associated with the “unthinking decision” explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by Winthrop D. Jordan in "White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812."

The second argument is related to Morgan’s contention that as racial slavery developed in Virginia, “there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter.”

Allen's rigorously researched two-volume "classic" challenges both these positions and it (along with his other writings) offers an important counter-narrative to the narratives of Jordan and Morgan.

It is a seminal contribution to U.S. history!

Jeffrey B. Perry
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