- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Verso (October 17, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1844672751
- ISBN-13: 978-1844672752
- Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,370,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How Race Survived US History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon Hardcover – October 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Author and history professor Roediger (The Wages of Whiteness) takes a provocative look at how white elites in the U.S. have managed race for their own political and economic gain, in the process making it one of the defining features of American life. Only a few decades after Europeans' arrival in America, emerging class tensions were leading indentured servants-white and black-to disaffection and, sometimes, rebellion. By enslaving blacks, and giving poor whites dominating roles as overseers or slave catchers, elite whites quashed the emerging fraternity and gave birth to white supremacy. Since, successive generations-from slave holders to factory managers-have manipulated laborers to keep African Americans at the bottom of the heap, while new waves of immigrants secured the benefits of white privilege by distancing themselves from people of color and assimilating. Taking his history through the Clinton era ("How Race Survived Modern Liberalism"), Roediger includes an afterword on "the Obama Phenomenon," finding yet more questions in the African-American senator's triumphant presidential campaign. This rousing, thought-provoking history illuminates the enveloping 400-year-old history of race in America, and the issues he raises are as relevant as ever.
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“In a trenchant, broad-ranging analysis, the leading US historian of racism, David Roediger, demonstrates white supremacy’s incredible staying power against major societal forces that should long ago have dismantled it. Not capitalism, not emancipation, not labor movements, not mass immigration, not the civil rights movement, not colorblind liberalism, and not the Barack Obama presidential campaign—not one of these forces separately, and not all of them together—have been able to destroy the deep structures of white racism in the United States.”—Joe R. Feagin
“David Roediger’s bold and brilliant book presents an extraordinary new framework for understanding the persistence of racism in the history of the United States. This book is a wake-up call and a warning, an appeal for understanding and action. It offers a clear and convincing demonstration that white supremacy is not merely a relic of the past but rather a perpetually renewed and infinitely renewable resource for inequality and injustice in the present.”—George Lipsitz
“A staggering re-interpretation of the whole course of American history in which the skeletons in the closet walk again. From genocide and massacre to lynching to the coded tongue of liberalism, the bankruptcy of white supremacy is found in the racialized structures maintained by the enclosures of incarceration and the foreclosures of impignoration. Read it, Obama, and weep!”—Peter Linebaugh
“Sometime in the US of the past quarter-century, calling policies and the people who dream them up racist became a worse offense than for them to be racist. This inversion, always dressed in self-righteous indignation, is actually part of the social evolution of white supremacy. David Roediger’s new book details in sharp and readable prose how race survived US history. It is a must-read for all who strive to understand—and abolish—what underlies the strangely strident rhetoric enveloping everything from presidential contests to prison expansion.”—Ruth Wilson Gilmore
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Top Customer Reviews
Although Obama is mentioned in the subtitle, he is only discussed in the afterword so this is not a book about him. The focus of the book is an exploration of how race and racism affected the decisions that were made throughout U.S. history by elected officials at the federal, state & local levels, politicians running for office, unions, corporations, realtors, school officials, and others. Even decisions that appear to have nothing to do with race often end up perpetuating inequality, some accidentally, some on purpose. As the author writes, "The world got along without race for the overwhelming majority of its history. The U.S. has never been without it." The assumption of white supremacy enabled the founders to institutionalize racism in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and to enslave African peoples and attempt to eliminate Native Americans through murder or enslavement ( South Carolina exported more enslaved Indians up to 1715 than it imported enslaved Africans).
Europeans traditionally had identified themselves by their nationality, not skin color. It wasn't until the U.S. was colonized and faced joint rebellions by slaves & European indentured servants that it was felt necessary to have a system to easily identify the not-free. Skin color became a decisive factor that could mean freedom or enslavement, life or death. Each new immigrant wave was distrusted and disparaged and were considered initially to be less than white (unless they were German, Scandinavian, or English). However, the new immigrants were encouraged to distinguish themselves from the menial class of slaves, free blacks, Native Americans, Chinese or Japanese (all of whom faced severe discrimination and violence) and were eventually assimilated as white. They were encouraged to consider moving west to help settle the country by receiving free land (something people of color were not allowed to do). The move from feudalism to capitalism introduced a new ideology that exalted wealth and invited every white man (women, of course, had no rights) to dream of rising above the station he was born into. Taking advantage of all opportunities was not only "white" but it was also "manly" and thus the psyche of white male settlers became invested in expanding their property, rights, and privileges to the detriment of all others. The expansion of capitalism in the U.S. was rooted in slavery and, after slavery ended, in always pitting one group against another so that the workers would work for less & less money and in worse and worse conditions. Thus did the owners make their filthy money.
The insurance industry was born, in part, out of the need to "share the risk" of owning slaveships. Just before the civil war, cotton consisted of almost 60% of all exports for the nation and Northern bankers, factory owners, and politicians were all invested in the continuation of that product even conceding the necessity of slavery to bring it to market.
It was news to me that the French sold the Louisiana Purchase to the U.S. because they badly needed cash after fighting the Haitians who were demanding freedom from their enslavement. To white Americans, this meant they were free to take over the land from the Native Americans and spread slavery further west.
After the Civil War, it was common for commercial companies to have "race managers: to oversee the black and Asian workers. These "race managers" had detailed theories and lists of which races were good and bad at what task. Proponents of that system included Andrew Carnegie and Herbert Hoover. So eager were white workers to distance themselves from black workers that they even took pains to dress differently. Previously most men working outside would wear brimmed hats because of the sun but then white workers decided brimless hats were necessary and thus their necks got sunburned and the workers became "rednecks".
For instance, after WWII there was a concerted effort by the U.S. government to help returning soldiers by subsidizing their return to college and their ability to buy homes through FHA. Sounds good, right? However, because of exclusionary policies in colleges (especially in the South where most black people lived in the 40s) and because of residential segregation and redlining, these benefits rarely included soldiers of color. Their exclusion from higher education and the loss of the ability to buy a home affected their children dramatically since housing is the most common form of inherited wealth and since the education level of the parents dramatically affects life-long income and their ability to provide for their children. In 1998 the net worth of African American and Hispanic American families was still only 17.28% of white families!
Between the World and Me
The book's major fault is its lengthy, serpentine sentences, some of which clearly got away from the editors as well as the author.
Its strength is negotiating 400 years of racial history in what is now the United States in 230 pages.
Roediger wears leftist politics on his sleeve which will prevent some from reading this, and will have others arguing with it at every paragraph. But his politics do not detract from and even service a concise, gimlet-eyed view of the flow of U.S. history regarding race relations.
Roediger concludes that the idea of white supremacy dreamed up centuries ago by entitled Englishmen to justify their brutality is so entwined and supported by current powerful economic and political interests that it will not go away for hundreds of years unless it is aggressively fought. In the age of Obama, this challenges conventional wisdom, just as the book challenges conventional U.S. histories.