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

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,411 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
Combining classical Marxism, psychoanalysis, and the new labor history pioneered by E. P. Thompson and Herbert Gutman, David Roediger’s widely acclaimed book provides an original study of the formative years of working-class racism in the United States. This, he argues, cannot be explained simply with reference to economic advantage; rather, white working-class racism is u ...more
Paperback, 197 pages
Published January 17th 1999 by Verso (first published September 17th 1991)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Graham Slater
Apr 11, 2011 Graham Slater rated it liked it
Tough to comment on so hard on the heels of finishing it. Marxist interpretations of racial formation can be a little tough to handle. I think a lot of people struggle to digest Roediger for a variety of reasons. Some people don't want to talk about race at all. Some people don't want to talk about whiteness in particular. Some people think Marxist interpretations of race come off as dispassionate, or just flat out misguided. It's certainly a germinal text (if not _the_) in whiteness studies, so ...more
Feb 19, 2008 Rebecca rated it did not like it
This book is totally overrated. He basically argues that the white working-class was the historical force that produced white supremacy.

Where was capitalism in all this?
Oliver Bateman
Jul 22, 2015 Oliver Bateman rated it really liked it
An extended review essay, albeit a very good and influential one. The autobiographical intro is quite excellent, and most of the material, though treated better elsewhere, is top-notch. But it's not especially compelling, certainly not in 2015, just isn't, you know. Roediger's continued to do fine work, and this will be what he's known for...and it was a start, but it no more answered antebellum labor questions than Wilentz's more focused area study Chants Democratic (the only reall ...more
Dec 20, 2011 Russ rated it really liked it
Using a fair amount of neo-marxism, Roediger runs the gauntlet of race in the antebelum United States. He argues for the establishment of Unions and the modern working condition as a result of the mobility of being white. In a somewhat less than idealistic manner indentured white people accessed their status of being "non-black" or "non-slave" to manipulate the system into letting them out of indenturement. The book is packed with interesting tidbits of history that help lock the argument down i ...more
Oct 08, 2014 Samuel rated it it was ok
"Neither a Servant Nor a Master Am I" was a key phrase articulated by white labor Republicans in the antebellum North in somewhat exasperated language. Even Francis Scott Key's "Star-Spangled Banner from the first quarter of the nineteenth century emphasized the fact that hirelings simply could not form a republic. Wage labor was frequently termed "white slavery" to play off of freedom-loving American ideals. Jacksonian America held fears about black slavery, Catholics, Mormons, Masons, monopoli ...more
Sep 05, 2007 Sheehan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whiteness needs to be examined to truly address racism, and this history of the "whiting" of the labor movement and those immigrant groups who assimilated into the labor movement is seminal.

It examines not just how groups assimilate, but also tellingly how that assimilation came at the expense/expulsion of others from the ranks of organized labor.

This book kicks ass.
May 08, 2008 Callie rated it it was amazing
This book is written very academically, so sometimes I had to read it outloud just to comprehend. But the history and information is really important and often unknown. It's really important for me to understand how whiteness was developed in this country, and this book REALLY helps with that - especially with the intersection of race and class.
I teach this book every year and like it every time. In under 200 pages, it pretty much decimates all the "it's class not race" arguments that are used to sidestep the issue of white working-class racism. It points out numerous contradictions in the new labor history that argued for the significance of working-class self activity and agency - except if that agency was in favor of white supremacy or masculine privilege. It is an accessible use of basic Freudian analysis with Marxism and is well- ...more
I'm not sure if this is the first book on the construction of whiteness in the United States, but it most certainly is the most widely read. I remember not being particularly impressed by the overall writing, but there is no denying its importance to the canon of historical scholarship from the past 20+ years.

Roediger is very upfront about the tools he uses, namely a Marxist analysis while staying grounded in labor history. What I think is the most important aspect of this book is how Roediger
David R. Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, published in 1991, is among the first scholarly works to seriously address the emergence of American “whiteness”. One might expect such a treatment, which comes on the heels of the politically correct resurgence (think of the 1994 film, “PCU”), to be a reactionary defense of how white Americans had been depicted or treated in the historical analysis of the previous two decades. However, Roediger instea ...more
Jul 13, 2013 Kris rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: labor, history, race
Eric Arnesen's 2001 article, "Whiteness and the Historians' Imagination" is a wonderfully critical assessment of this book and many other cultural studies of whiteness. A quote from the abstract: "the essay explores the multiple and shifting definitions of whiteness used by scholars, concluding that historians have employed arbitrary and inconsistent definitions of their core concept, some overly expansive or metaphorically grounded and others that are radically restricted; whiteness has become ...more
Apr 18, 2011 John rated it liked it
There is a lot of important, quality scholarship in this book, and it is a must read for anyone analyzing the history of race or class in America. Roediger is one of those authors that you have to read and either agree or disagree with. The problem here is that the book seems unfocused sometimes and looking back on it, it's hard to keep the really important points clear in one's head. Notes must be taken. That's not necessarily a good thing: yes, it is always important to take notes, but the gis ...more
Alyssa Gassel
Feb 26, 2016 Alyssa Gassel rated it really liked it
This book gives a deeper view on how race came to be. It really unfolds the perspectives and context that made racial distinctions develop. The text is dense but very informational and important in understanding race. The book covers the formation of white working-class racism in America. This book is a very thorough analysis of race.
I felt torn about how to rate this book. On one hand, it's an excellent exploration of why class and race are deeply tied in the United States. It also does a fantastic job talking about the consolidation of whiteness in opposition to blackness. Yet, I found it strangely dated. Perhaps that's a product of having read so many books that cite "Wages of Whiteness"-- I already knew how folks adapted, expanded, and revised the arguments Roediger presents. These works add nuance that, I think, is lack ...more
Apr 10, 2016 Tobias rated it liked it
Not exactly what I expected - particularly the lengthy discussion of Minstrelry in the nineteenth century - nonetheless a valuable account of the evolution of the "white working class" in America and its relationship with Black Americans.
Jun 19, 2016 Dev added it
A well written and compelling read. Very detailed. The combination of psychoanalytic and cultural lenses on the issue of the development of working class white identity is material to now.
Aug 04, 2007 Colin rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anti-racist folks, history fans
I've been meaning to read this book for years, so I'm glad I finally did. It's a pretty accessible book--Roediger delivers a thoughtful cultural expansion on the arguments for the economic aspects of white racism of W.E.B. Du Bois' "Black Reconstruction," drawing as well on the decolonial psychoanalytic theory of Frantz Fanon. I particularly appreciated Roediger's explorations of class and race in language, as well as his treatment of the role of minstrelsy in the formation of the "white" workin ...more
Mar 24, 2015 Chrism485 rated it liked it
Fascinating but really dense and complex. Hard to get through but I did find it to be somewhat of a revelation.
Pioneering history of "whiteness studies" - a classic.
Jan 21, 2014 Drick rated it liked it
This book gives an historical overview of how whiteness developed as a category of privilege and advantage in US history.

Roediger is a labor historian and challenges the Marxist approach to racism which sees it as subservient to the influence of class. By relating the use of minstrel shoes, the overt racism of the Irish and the general disdain of the white labor class for blacks, he shows that in fact racism often trumped class, even when it works against the working class white self-interest.
Jul 17, 2009 Jackie rated it really liked it
For someone who has issues with David Roediger, I've read more than one of this books/anthologies.

This is a very interesting narrative on how class-based inequalities during the early independence period in US history became increasingly racialized by the need of poor white folks to differentiate themselves from poor black folks.

While it's quite a depressing read, it's worth noting that it contextualizes how the Irish became white, along with other groups.
Dallas Rising
Feb 12, 2016 Dallas Rising rated it liked it
Way too academic for my taste, but tons of great content.
Feb 22, 2016 Laura rated it really liked it
I appreciate this book more each time I re-read it. It is a work that still inspires further research and thinking about race and class, and it opened up the historical conversation that continues today.

This is my update of the last time I taught the book, June 9, 2014, when I wrote: Pathbreaking study despite its flaws (mostly flaws that Roediger recognizes openly in his afterword to the revised edition).
Mar 29, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
I think this book is a pretty good historical overview of the development of whiteness. A fair bit of the book seems to argue against various interpretations pushing for the author's, but there is a good bit of information in the book that makes it worth reading. Unfortunately, there is not much insight in the book for moving forward, which is the book's most significant drawback.
Jan 05, 2008 Eighteen rated it liked it
The first book I read for college. It was difficult to adjust to the academic style, and at the time I really did not enjoy the book for it's frequent jumping from period to period and sometimes confusing writing style. But I've found that it's affected my thinking, in a typical 'read this in college and it blew my mind' fashion.
Feb 24, 2008 Owen rated it it was amazing
good book about how race is not just something that divides the working class, but gives psychological and material benefits to white people which results in them acting against their economic interests and forestalls class solidarity.
Mar 08, 2008 Hannah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyoned, dad!
Recommended to Hannah by: PTR!
Although I have some questions about the way this book ends, I found it over all to be very good. Thorough and thoughtful, well-written and readable, it also opens important space for future study.
Ken McDouall
Dec 04, 2014 Ken McDouall rated it it was amazing
One of the most insightful and sensible critiques of the concept of race, its construction and use in social repression, and its continued relevance to capitalist political economy.
Larry Lamar Yates
Dec 27, 2008 Larry Lamar Yates rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Roediger is one of those who have helped me understand my own whiteness, and the fact that it is a social construction – not just a myth, but a combination of myth, power, and habit.
Emily Toler
Oct 28, 2009 Emily Toler rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
Roediger goes too far, I think, in emphasizing class at the expense of race--particularly given the historical period in focus here--but there's no denying that this is an important book.
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David Roediger teaches history and African American Studies at the University of Kansas. He was born in southern Illinois and educated in public schools in that state, with a B.S. in Ed from Northern Illinois University. He completed a doctorate in History at Northwestern in 1979. Roediger has taught labor and Southern history at Northwestern, University of Missouri, University of Minnesota, and U ...more
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