Analysis of media issues, politics and current events.
I watched this video: Tim Wise on White Privilege – The Creation of Whiteness. From his argument and the history that I know of the development of America’s slave trade, it brings up a concept to ponder.
No one’s hertiage is “white.” You’re Irish, English, etc. Wise argues that was the original development of the term “white” was a tactic to divide Europeans and Blacks that both originally and simultaneously came to America as poor, burdened indentured servants in exchange for passage to the new world.
Tim Wise argues that the of concept of “white” was first developed by wealthier groups in colonial times for a few reasons.
1: create a permanent a cheap source of labor and
2: develop a system that divides underclass so they won’t turn on them.
How does the label “white” fit into this? First, the term serves to create a separating and filtering wedge between both blacks and whites suffering in servitude in the colonies. The “white” identity created the big tent effect that was able to appeal and unify Europeans. Europeans who saw themselves as relatively fresh immigrants from different countries and specific identities – not as this concept of white. “White” gave Europeans a point of unifying, finding commonality. At the same time, having an identity to push them away from black indentures servants also trying to be citizens.
Scotts, Irish, British can all be white. No Nigerians, Keyans, Jamaicans can’t. Wise argues that “White” was created way to realign perceptions and filter out formally mixed indentured servants to one race. Not for pure race-hating reasons originally but for industrial cheap labor reasons.
Slavery back then wasn’t first and foremost about race. It’s was about cheap labor that could work the farms and plantations cost-effectively. As the South rose and became more industrial (cotton, tobacco) many saw the value of having a cheaper (free) permanent class of workers that would become the industry backbone of the South.
Though Wise alludes to it, under this approach, maintaining a mixed-race indentured servant class would eventually be hard to maintain or stay cheap. Just like today, having non-Mexican labor would force farmers to raise the price of labor to keep workers. And it would be hard to deny higher wages or deny rights to a group that looked like the people they worked for. So Wise argues that using term white, helped more Europeans migrate out of the lowest levels of indentured servitude. With “white” as a distinction and a pathway to promotion, former indentured servants broke unity with black indentured servants as they were offered a little land of their own in exchange for for jobs that had them often overseeing and enforcing rules over the “non-whites” who weren’t allowed to leave, be promoted or given land. A process that, as “whites” were allowed to leave it or manage it would eventually and officially turn indentured servitude into slavery. Slavery that was acceptable or at least ignorable because it was now affecting one class of servant. And not a threat or care of whites because of an implied pledge: “this will only happen to them. Support them system and you will be treated better.”
The second way Tim Wise describes his theory, “white” does remind me of the strategy of IngSoc of Orwell’s 1984. The totalitarian rulers of Oceania and the ruling elite IngSoc Party plan for ruling society made them fearful of the middle class. As it history taught them, a healthy middle class is what organizes lower, larger classes to rebel against those in power. So for Oceana, they gave the middle class the crumbs of better prosperity of status by bring them into the tent a little as a (outer) party member, but in reality that honorary membership actually breaking them down with fear, inability to organize and golden handcuffs of trinket level privileges to keep them supportive of the system and those in power above them.
Wise’s theories do make me look at the racial dynamics we have today. I’ve always said to friends, the best way to understand racism, is not to look at it as hate, or at matter of education. It’s a place. Race usually flares up when people are seen stepping beyond their roles and boundaries others place on them. Wrong neighborhood. Job. Relationship partner. Wise’s theory seems to mesh with that. “White” developed as an overall message: as white, you are entitled to these things and those other people are limited to these things. Jim Crow was merely a wink and a nod extension of that idea.
More so I think that is part of the big freak out of the TEA Party. With the rise of non-whites in ascendance in jobs and other aspects of government, many feel that covenant is being broken. You said “WE” would be taken care of and have access to prosperity Not them.
May not be true at all. But interesting theory based on Wise’s thoughts. Listen to Wise tall about “whiteness” in this video. Note: Listen to ideas. Filter for angry, indignant tone.