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Critical Multicultural Perspectives on Whiteness

Views from the Past and Present

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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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5. The Invention of the White Race—And the Ordeal of America (T. W. Allen)

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Chapter 5

The Invention of the White Race—And the Ordeal of America*

T. W. Allen

What Virginia’s laboring-class people, free and bond, were fighting for in Bacon’s Rebellion was not the overthrow of capitalism as such, but an end to the version of that system imposed by the plantation elite, based on chattel bond-servitude and engrossment of the land. Their idea regarding a proper social order was about the same as that which would be expressed by Edmund Burke some eighty years later: “the security … of every nation consists principally in the number of low and middling men of a free condition, and that beautiful gradation from the highest to the lowest, where the transitions all the way are almost imperceptible.”1 If they had succeeded, the outcome of their struggle would have improved opportunities for social mobility within the colony. For the bond-laborers that would have meant an end to unpaid bond-servitude; for them and for the landless freemen, victory would have meant improved opportunity to become independent farmers. Most emphatically, they were not content to be “Tenants to the first Ingrossers, … to be a Tennant on a Continent.”2

However, just as the overthrow of the tenantry in the 1620s had cleared the ground for the institution of chattel bond-servitude, so the defeat of Bacon’s Rebellion cleared the way for the establishment of the system of lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude. The relative position of the plantation elite became more...

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