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

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  870 ratings  ·  31 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, 195 pages
Published July 17th 2007 by Verso (first published September 17th 1991)
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Graham Slater
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
Russ
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
Sheehan
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.
Callie
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.
Rebecca
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?
Kaufmak
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...more
Vincent
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
Kris
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
John
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
Ashley
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
Colin
Aug 04, 2007 Colin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Drick
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.
Jackie
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.
Mike
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.
Eighteen
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.
Steven Salaita
A classic about race, class, and labor movements. Many scholars and activists have written both supportive and critical responses to the book, but it's an essential title for those interested in racism and the making of the category of working class whiteness. This revised edition has a useful afterward.
Owen
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.
Hannah
Mar 08, 2008 Hannah rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Larry Lamar Yates
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
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.
Paulm
Good book, but some of his connections seem a little, well, disconnected. Being from the South, I can buy his argument. But based on textual analysis alone....it's kinda weak.
Jen
Really good about labor history and racial history and how they intertwine. Ok, I feel like I'm getting to have too many of these kinds of books, obviously I have a topic I like.
Laura
Pathbreaking study despite its flaws (mostly flaws that Roediger recognizes openly in his afterword to the revised edition).
JoJo
An okay book. Nice perspective on the use of language. Not made for those with a limited knowledge of history.
Scott Neigh
Reviewed here.
S
Interested in race, class, history, and culture in the U.S.? Read this book.
Denny
A classic, got to read this to understand the US working class.
Jodi
Racism and the working class - really good theories, history.
Raja
The long chapter on the Irish at the end felt like filler
Matt
Ever gone to a Mummer's Parade before? Same thing.
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