Review: The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class

The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class by David R. Roediger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roediger's text is a fascinating and powerful read in thinking about whiteness and its implications for the 21st century. While it is focused on the 18th and 19th century, it seems like so much of its discussion around how whiteness itself is fused into conceptions of work and identity and purposely contrasted against non-white identities (primarily African American in this case but applicable beyond that). Through the book, he identifies interesting tensions that were parsed out through language, law, and even violence to meld together a white consciousness with American conceptions of working class. He shows in innumerable examples a conscious effort by whites who often performed the same labor as African Americans to assert their distinctness in a game of "I may be working class but at least I'm not black"--a refrain that has historically been intentionally used or encouraged to keep two groups of people at odds with one another (despite the overwhelming commonalities of class and daily-struggle each face). What I like particularly about Roediger's book is his ability to follow and connect these strands of thought throughout the 19th century and essentially set the scene for the 20th century as the US entered into legal segregation and in many northern cities, the Irish transcended racializing (though not nearly as universal as the African American plight) as a powerful means of emphasizing Roediger's overall discussion.

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