Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) told me where white people come from. We like to think we know who we are, and indeed many things about ourselves we can easily define: male, muslim, American. But I am white and I could not explain to myself what that meant. Any meaning I set was either too narrow, too broad, or defined by negation. The Invention of the White Race, newly republished in 2012, makes plain the nature and origins of whiteness over 2-volumes and 700 pages. Reader, I never read it. But on the internet is a synopsis written by Allen himself that condenses his argument down to a mere 146 paragraphs, and I read that. It was mindblowing. I summarize Allen’s summary:
- White People as a term, concept, or social grouping did not exist in Europe before the 1600s. The English already practiced a system of severe race-based oppression against the Irish, only possible because they were not together a People called White.
- Slavery in the 1500s and 1600s was not chattel slavery but various forms of indentured servitude that affected both European- and African-origin peoples.
- European and African slaves fraternized extensively in this period, and African freedmen enjoyed social mobility on par with freed Europeans, such as it was.
- An armed rebellion of hundreds of European and African slaves and recently freed men burned down Jamestown in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676.
- In response to the prospect of unrest and rebellion among lower-class Europeans and Africans, colonial oligarchs enacted, consciously and with malice aforethought, a series of laws aimed at reducing Africans to hereditary slavery and granting immunity from enslavement to all Europeans, henceforth termed White People.
- By design, the invention of whiteness also deeply hurt the interests of poor whites by preventing them from making common cause with blacks and by psychologically allying them with their exploitative overlords, a situation that continues unaltered to the present day, cf. the Tea Party.
When the Nation of Islam said white people where created in a lab by evil black scientists, they were half right. White people where created in the American Colonies by evil white lawmakers. There is so much more detail in Allen’s online summary: check it out if you don’t believe me.