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Colored White

Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past

David R. Roediger
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Colored White
    Book Description:

    David R. Roediger's powerful book argues that in its political workings, its distribution of advantages, and its unspoken assumptions, the United States is a "still white" nation. Race is decidedly not over. The critical portraits of contemporary icons that lead off the book--Rush Limbaugh, Bill Clinton, O.J. Simpson, and Rudolph Giuliani--insist that continuities in white power and white identity are best understood by placing the recent past in historical context. Roediger illuminates that history in an incisive critique of the current scholarship on whiteness and an account of race-transcending radicalism exemplified by vanguards such as W.E.B. Du Bois and John Brown. He shows that, for all of its staying power, white supremacy in the United States has always been a pursuit rather than a completed project, that divisions among whites have mattered greatly, and that "nonwhite" alternatives have profoundly challenged the status quo.Colored Whitereasons that, because race is a matter of culture and politics, racial oppression will not be solved by intermarriage or demographic shifts, but rather by political struggles that transform the meaning of race--especially its links to social and economic inequality. This landmark work considers the ways that changes in immigration patterns, the labor force, popular culture, and social movements make it possible--though far from inevitable--that the United States might overcome white supremacy in the twenty-first century. Roediger's clear, lively prose and his extraordinary command of the literature make this one of the most original and generative contributions to the study of race and ethnicity in the United States in many decades.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93080-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)

    • 1 All about Eve, Critical White Studies, and Getting Over Whiteness
      (pp. 3-26)

      The cover of a rhapsodic 1993 special issue ofTimeshowed us “The New Face of America.” Within, the newsmagazine proclaimed the United States to be “the first universal nation,” one that supposedly was not “a military superpower but . . . a multicultural superpower.” Moving cheerfully between the domestic and the global, an article declared Miami to be the new “Capital of Latin America.” Commodity flows were cited as an index of tasty cultural changes: “Americans use 68% more spices today than a decade ago. The consumption of red pepper rose 105%, basil 190%.” Chrysler’s CEO, Robert J. Eaton,...

      (pp. 27-43)

      The soundbite was consistent if odd. Every time I returned to the hotel between meetings in New York City in late September 1999, the radio news echoed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s charges: An artist had constructed a work by “throwing elephant dung at a picture of the Virgin Mary,” and now the Brooklyn Museum was about to display it, using public money. Giuliani promised to punish this “hate crime” by withdrawing museum funds. Sometimes the verbs changed. The dung was “smeared” or “splattered” on what the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called a religious painting. But the logic was...

    • 3 White Looks and Limbaugh’s Laugh
      (pp. 44-54)

      The chauvinism and churlishness with which I begin this otherwise modest and even-tempered essay both derive from my having grown up along that part of the Mississippi River that divides Missouri from Illinois. It is easy to be chauvinistic about that stretch of the river, the lone portion of the Mississippi to divide slavery from freedom. Along the river and its banks, from Hannibal to East St. Louis to Cairo and the Missouri Bootheel, great artists and great art have long been made. To an unrivaled extent, that art has challenged the lie of white supremacy both implicitly through its...

    • 4 White Workers, New Democrats, and Affirmative Action
      (pp. 55-67)

      “Without a constitutionally structured programme of deep and extensive affirmative action,” African National Congress legal theorist Albie Sachs wrote in 1991, “a Bill of Rights in South Africa is meaningless.” Sachs added that affirmative action “is redistributory rather than conservative in character. . . . In the historical conditions of South Africa, affirmative action is not merely the correction of certain perceived structural injustices. It becomes the major instrument in the transitional period after a democratic government has been installed, for converting a racist oppressive society into a democratic and just one.” Incorporating such logic into its policy documents, the...

      (pp. 68-94)

      A quarter-century ago, O. J. Simpson told of his strategy for responding to racial taunts. It consisted of a sharp jab to the offender’s chest, accompanied by a literal punch line: “Hertz, don’t it?” The humor rested on the bitter contrast of Simpson’s tremendous success as an athlete who crossed over to become a beloved corporate icon, advertising rental cars among much else, with his continued facing of racial hurts and desiring to strike back against them. (The sameHertz/hurtspunning was repeated endlessly on “O. J. jokes” websites during Simpson’s later trials.) Simpson surely knew that he briefly stepped...


    • 6 Nonwhite Radicalism: DU BOIS, JOHN BROWN, AND BLACK RESISTANCE
      (pp. 97-102)

      Amid the empty rhetoric and commercialized hype over the millennium, we risked missing an anniversary of tremendous significance. The year 2000 marked the 200th anniversary of John Brown’s birth. In his magnificent 1909 biography of Brown, the great African American scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois perfectly set the grand and workaday context of Brown’s birth and of Brown’s greatness: “Just at the close of the eighteenth century, first in Philadelphia and then in New York, small groups of [free Blacks] withdrew from white churches and established churches of their own, which still have millions of adherents. In...

    • 7 White Slavery, Abolition, and Coalition: LANGUAGES OF RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER
      (pp. 103-120)

      The rich historical literature on slavery and the idea of free labor, and the fine body of work on the roots of women’s rights organizations and ideas in antislavery movements, fully establish the mid-nineteenth-century United States as illustrating Orlando Patterson’s insight that Western ideas about freedom were “generated from the experience of slavery.”¹ From “sex slavery” to “wage slavery” to “white slavery,” slavery became what Barry Goldberg has called the “master metaphor” in the “language of social protest” and thelingua francain which the women’s, white labor, and abolitionist movements spoke to and past each other.²

      But so pervasive...

    • 8 The Pursuit of Whiteness: PROPERTY, TERROR, AND NATIONAL EXPANSION, 1790–1860
      (pp. 121-137)

      Paul Gilroy, holding acerbically forth in the collectionBlack British Cultural Studies,warns that attempts to write in an interdisciplinary way about identity “can send the aspirant practitioners of cultural studies scuttling back toward the quieter sanctuaries of their old disciplinary affiliations, where the problems and potential pleasures of thinking through identity are less formidable and engaging.” Behavior after the scuttling back, he adds, follows disciplinary lines: “Anthropologists utter sighs of relief, psychologists rub their hands together in glee, philosophers relax [and] literary critics look blank and perplexed. Historians remain silent.”¹

      In discussing matters of identity, privilege, and the consolidation...

      (pp. 138-168)

      In 1980 Joseph Loguidice, an elderly Italian American from Chicago, sat down to tell his life story to an interviewer. His first and most vivid childhood recollection was of a race riot that occurred on the city’s near north side. Wagons full of policemen with “peculiar hats” streamed into his neighborhood. But the “one thing that stood out in my mind,” Loguidice remembered after six decades, was “a man running down the middle of the street hollering . . . ‘I’m White, I’m White!’” After first taking him for an African American, Loguidice realized that the man was a white...

    • 10 Plotting against Eurocentrism: THE 1929 SURREALIST MAP OF THE WORLD
      (pp. 169-176)

      Eurocentrism,the dictionaries tell us, came into usage as a critical term as recently as thirty years ago. However, the struggle against the fraudulence and terror that accompany and proceed from the habit of placing the so-called white so-called West at the center of the world has a far longer and prouder history. Naming the enemy is all to the good, but it is an act of remarkable hubris—and indeed of Eurocentrism—to suppose that critiques of putting Europe at the center of everything developed recently, with academics in European and United States universities taking the lead. Such institutions...


    • 11 What If Labor Were Not White and Male?
      (pp. 179-202)

      Before becoming the greatest historian of race and class of his generation, Alexander Saxton was a young activist working in the railroad industry. In a lengthy article for theDaily Workerduring World War II, he captured the complexity of racial discrimination among railway unions. The brotherhoods that organized railroad labor included several unions that historically had the worst records of attempting to enforce what one commentator called the “Nordic closed shop” in their crafts. By the time Saxton wrote, however, the railway unions had joined in campaigns against the poll tax and against lynching. What they avoided was agitation...

    • 12 Mumia Time or Sweeney Time?
      (pp. 203-211)

      In February 1995, Bay Area Typographical Union Local 21, what labor historians are used to calling a conservative craft union, resolved to advocate full freedom for the African American journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Convicted in a speedy and irregular 1982 trial for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia policeman, Abu-Jamal faced, and faces, the death penalty. In a letter to Pennsylvania’s governor, Local 21 argued that Abu-Jamal was “an innocent victim of a racial and political frameup” and branded his possible execution a disgrace.¹

      Still more remarkable was what transpired during the filming of a recent segment on...

      (pp. 212-240)

      Director Aimee Sands’s forthcoming film attempts to bring the insights of the critical study of whiteness to a broad audience. Its title,Crossing Over,captures much, including the move from academic discourse to the popular and the possibility of breaching color lines. It conjures up the image of what Susan Gubar has studied as “racechange”—the assumption of another racial identity, whether in art or life. It echoes both meanings of the music-business termcrossover.On the one hand,crossoverin that industry describes a product’s achieving popularity outside its original marketing niche, as when a country record hits the...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 241-312)
  8. Credits
    (pp. 313-314)
  9. Index
    (pp. 315-323)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 324-324)