Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery:
The Invention of the White Race
Theodore W. Allen
Edited, with an introduction by, Jeffrey B. Perry
by Michael Zweig
Racial distinctions in U.S. society, and the racism that accompanies them, continue to be integral parts of the American experience more than 100 years after W.E.B. DuBois identified “the color line” as the most significant social feature of the United States. Even within the complex racial and ethnic dynamics that have developed in the United States since the immigration reform of 1965 opened the door to millions of Latino and Asian newcomers, the question of racism directed at African-Americans carries special weight.
This is so not just because millions of African-Americans continue to be adversely affected. As Ted Allen shows in this pamphlet, the system of racial oppression in the United States, rooted in African-American slavery, was organized to discipline and suppress European as well as African labor, and has from the beginning had profound and contradictory consequences for European-Americans. For almost the whole of American history, this system of social control has effectively derailed working class unity. And it continues to shape controversies surrounding the arrival and absorption of new “minorities” to this day.
Ted Allen was a pioneer thinker and historian on these matters. Jeffrey B. Perry, Allen’s literary executor, has written and introduction for this pamphlet and prepared a slightly edited form of the text, according to Allen’s instruction. Jeff Perry is editor of A Hulbert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 2001) and author of a two-volume biography of Harrison, forthcoming from Columbia University Press. He is the Treasurer of Local 300, National Postal Mail Handlers Union [New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut], div. of Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA).
The Center for Study of Working Class Life is pleased to bring back the original 1975 article, long out of print. This work by Ted Allen has had a profound effect on the scholarship of race and class in the United States. As we continue to grapple with racism and the legacies of “whiteness” as a category of social control, it deserves renewed study and critical evaluation.