Pem Davidson Buck - Constructing Race Creating White Privilege

Historical Background: Bacon's Rebellion

  • Took place in Virginia Colony in 1676
  • Upising led by Nathaniel Bacon pitted small landowners, slaves, and servants against both raiding (and, often enough, friendly) Indian tribes and corrupt large landowners and British government agents who refused to provide adequate protection for small farmers
  • Most Africans in the colony (like most whites) were indentured servants before the Rebellion; after, slavery was made lifelong and heritable
    • Also, stricter regulations were put in place that discouraged cooperation and community between white servants and black slaves, e.g. by providing harsher punishments for running away with a member of the (now) opposite race than for running away with members of the same race

Constructing Race

Pg 32: "[I]n the early days of colonization before slavery was solidified and clearly distinguished from other forms of forced labor, Europeans and Africans seem not to have seen their physical differences in that way [as part of nature]…. Before Bacon's Rebellion, African and European indentured servants made love with each other, married each other, ran away from each other, lived as neighbors, liked or disliked each other according to individual personality…. And masters had to free both Europeans and Africans if they survived to the end of their indentures."

Pg 32: "After Bacon's Rebellion they made use of their domination of colonial legislatures that made laws and of courts that administered them, gradually building a racial strategy based on the earlier tightening and lengthening of African indenture."

  • 1691 — law increased the punishment of Euro women who married African or Indian men
  • end of 1600s — white woman could be whipped or enslaved for marrying a black man
  • laws required separate quarters for black and white workers
  • black men (even free black men) were denied rights to property ownership and gun ownership, as well as to free association with white women

Build-up of notion of white women's sexual purity; construction of race through the control of women's bodies

  • Pg 33: "The problem of what to do with white women's 'black' children was eventually partially solved by the control of white women's reproduction to prevent the existence of such children. The potentially 'white' children of black women were deifned out of existence; they were 'black' and shifted from serving a thirty-year indenture to being slaves.
  • Pg 33: "the control of women's bodies thus became critical to the maintenance of whiteness and to the production of slaves."
  • Pg 33: "Children were made to inherit their mother's status, freeing European fathers from any vestiges of responsibility for their offspring born to indentured or enslaved African mothers."
    • "This legal shift has had a profound effect on the distribution of wealth in the United States ever since…"

Creating White Privilege

Hegemonic whiteness

  • Pg 34: "They [poor whites] were led to believe that all Whites had an equal interest in the maintenance of whiteness and white privilge an that it was the elite — those controlling the economic system, the political system, and the judicial system — who ultimately protected the benefits of being white."

See Peggy McIntosh on white privilege today.

The Wages of Whiteness

  • Punishments were more severe for blacks than for whites for the same crimes
  • Whites could defend themselves; blacks could not
  • White servants could own livestock
  • It was illegal to whip whites
  • White indenture ended after a set period; blacks were enslaved
  • Whites could beat any black person
  • Only whites could be hired to oversee black laborers
  • Whites had a monopoly on skilled jobs
  • White men had the right to control "their" women; black slaves were denied the right to a family at all
  • Black women — free or enslaved — were defined as "labor" and therefore taxed; white women were defined as home keepers and were not taxed

Pg 34: "[L]andless Europeans hadto be given some material reason to reject those aspects of their lives that made them similar to landless Africans and Native Americans, and to focus instead on their similarity to the landed EUropeans — to accept whiteness as their defining characteristic."

Remember the black pawns and the white pawns, who have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of the pieces of their color — and yet are kept on opposite sides?

Pg 36: [The] redefinition of whiteness [with the rise of a working class in the 1800s] was built as much on changing gender as on changing class relationships. Many… began discouraging married women from working for wages, claiming that true women served only their own families. [Artificial labor shortages created by the exclusion of black and Native labor] gave native working class men the leverage to force employers to pay them enough to afford a non-earning wife."

  • Wide as luxury entitlement, yet another wage of whiteness
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