icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle 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

Contents "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

Table of Contents

  Hubert Harrison
  Theodore W. Allen
  Harrison and Allen and the Centrality of the Struggle Against White-Supremacy
Some Class and Racial Aspects of The Conjuncture
  Deepening Economic Crisis
  U.S. Workers Faring Badly
  White Supremacist Shaping
  Millions are Suffering and Conditions are Worsening
Insights from Hubert Harrison
  Arrival in America, Contrast with St. Croix
  Socialist Party Writings
  “Southernism or Socialism – which?”
  The Socialist Party Puts [the “White”] Race First and Class After
  Class Consciousness, White Supremacy, and the "Duty to Champion the Cause of the Negro"
  On “The Touchstone” and the Two-Fold Character of Democracy in America
  Concentrated Race-Conscious Work in the Black Community
  Capitalist Imperialism and the Need to Break Down Exclusion Walls of White Workers
  The International Colored Unity League
  Struggle Against White Supremacy is Central
Insights from Theodore W. Allen
  Early Research and Writings and Pioneering Use of “White Skin Privilege” Concept
  White Blindspot
  Why No Socialism? . . . and The Main Retardant to Working Class Consciousness
  The Role of White Supremacy in Three Previous Crises
  The Great Depression . . . and the White Supremacist Response
  Response to Four Arguments Against and Five “Artful Dodges”
  Early 1970s Writings and Strategy
  “The Invention of the White Race”
  Other Important Contributions in Writings on the Colonial Period
  Inventing the “White Race” and Fixing “a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros”
  Political Economic Aspects of the Invention of the “White Race”
  Racial Oppression and National Oppression
  “Racial Slavery” and “Slavery”
  Male Supremacy, Gender Oppression, and Laws Affecting the Family
  Slavery as Capitalism, Slaveholders as Capitalists, Enslaved as Proletarians
  Class-Conscious, Anti-White Supremacist Counter Narrative – Comments on Jordan and Morgan
  Not Simply a Social Construct, But a Ruling Class Social Control Formation . . . and Comments on Roediger
  The “White Race” and “White Race” Privilege
  On the Bifurcation of “Labor History” and “Black History” and on the “National Question”
  Later Writings . . . “Toward a Revolution in Labor History”
The Struggle Ahead

Addendum [re “Daedalus”]

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Cultural Logic edited by Joseph G. Ramsey with the assistance of David Siar.

To read the article CLICK HERE and go to top left,


To read the article without downloading a PDF CLICK HERE!

For information on “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE

For writings by and about Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

For a video presentation on Hubert Harrison, "The Father of Harlem Radicalism," who is discussed at the beginning of this video CLICK HERE

For information on Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" (Verso Books) CLICK HERE

For additional writings by and about Theodore W. Allen CLICK HERE

For a video presentation on Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race," which draws insights from the life and work of Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE
For key insights from Theodore W. Allen on U.S. Labor History CLICK HERE

 Read More 
Be the first to comment