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Whiteness and United States History: An Assessment

  • Judith Stein (a1)

Abstract

Scholarly interest in “whiteness,” white racial identity, and the social construction of race in general has grown dramatically over the past decade. ILWCH decided to examine whiteness because we thought that the body of work associated with the idea had not been critically assessed. Although David Brody correctly notes that the first book to use the idea was Alexander Saxton's The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 1990), David R. Roediger's The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York, 1991), a study about antebellum Irish workers, class, and blackface in the United States, popularized the notion among historians. Subsequently, Roediger and others have used the concept to analyze the consciousness and behavior of other groups of workers and immigrants. Whiteness has not populated every nook and cranny of the history of the United States. The geography of whiteness studies has been uneven. Take the field of Southern history. With several exceptions, whiteness scholarship has not challenged more established approaches. No one questions James Oakes's contention in The Rule Race: A History of American Slaveholders (New York, 1982), that Southern planters conceived of themselves as a “ruling race.” But debates about the planters center on whether they were capitalists, lords, or farmers, not their racial identity. And debates about white Andrew Carnegie have not involved his whiteness.

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Whiteness and United States History: An Assessment

  • Judith Stein (a1)

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