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Critical Multicultural Perspectives on Whiteness

Views from the Past and Present


Edited By Virginia Lea, Darren E. Lund and Paul R. Carr

Whiteness is a narrative. It is the privileged dimension of the complex story of "race" that was, and continues to be, seminal in shaping the socio-economic structure and cultural climate of the United States and other Western nations. Without acknowledging this story, it is impossible to understand fully the current political and social contexts in which we live. Critical Multicultural Perspectives on Whiteness explores multiple analyses of whiteness, drawing on both past and current key sources to tell the story in a more comprehensive way. This book features both iconic essays that address the social construction of whiteness and critical resistance as well as excellent new critical perspectives.

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3. The Prehistory of the White Worker: Settler Colonialism, Race and Republicanism before 1800 (D. R. Roediger)


Chapter 3

The Prehistory of the White Worker*

Settler Colonialism, Race and Republicanism before 1800

D. R. Roediger

When US elections are won or lost these days, the voting patterns of the ‘white worker’ receive considerable attention. In popular usage, the very term worker often presumes whiteness (and maleness), as in conservative Democrats’ calls for abandoning ‘special interests’ and returning the party to policies appealing to the ‘average worker’—a line of argument that blissfully ignores the fact that the ‘average worker’ is increasingly Black, Latino, Asian and/or female. Most fascinating are sociologist David Halle’s recent observations on the self-identification of white workers. Halle writes that the New Jersey chemical workers he has studied prefer to call themselves ‘working men’ (and ‘lower middle class’ or ‘middle class’. when describing their consumption patterns). The phrase working men speaks at once, Halle observes, of a class identity and of a gender identity. But its actual usage also suggests a racial identity, an identification of whiteness and work so strong that it need not even be spoken. That is, the white chemical workers do not describe as ‘working men’ Blacks who do similar jobs and who are more likely to be AFL-CIO members than are the white chemical workers’ neighbors. That category is instead seen as ‘naturally’ white, and Black workers become ‘intruders’ who are strongly suspected of being ‘loafers’ as well.1

Perhaps the ‘naturalness’ of the category of ‘white worker’ has likewise...

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