For radical white writers wishing to forge interracial movements of poor and working people, whiteness has also long been a problem, with Alexander Saxton and Ted Allen making especially full efforts to understand whiteness in order to disillusion whites unable to see past the value of their own skins.

— David Roediger

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The areas in which I teach are working-class history and African-American Studies and at its best the critical study of whiteness often grows out of those areas. The critical examination of whiteness, academic and not, simply involves the effort to break through the illusion that whiteness is natural, biological, normal, and not crying out for explanation.

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Instead of accepting what James Baldwin called the "lie of whiteness," many people in lots of different fields and movement activities have tried to productively make it into a problem. When did (some) people come to define themselves as white? In what conditions? How does the lie of whiteness get reproduced? What are its costs politically, morally and culturally?

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In some ways Jews and the various largely Catholic and often poor European immigrant groups were "white," as the historian Tom Guglielmo has recently put it, "on arrival." Where naturalization law was concerned, for example, ample precedents recognized their ability to become citizens, a right explicitly resting on their "whiteness." But they also remained, as Working toward Whiteness puts it, "on trial" for a harrowingly long time.

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Not surprisingly, thinkers from groups for whom whiteness was and is a problem have taken the lead in studying whiteness in this way. Such study began with slave folktales and American Indian stories of contact with whites.

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As I wrote Working toward Whiteness, I came to see one historic task on the New Deal - and one in which it succeeded - as the fostering of fuller U.S. citizenship among immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and their kids. But this very achievement separated poorer and often despised immigrant workers from Europe and workers of color in unprecedented ways.

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The pioneer labor historian John Commons was not wrong when he wrote around World War One that exploiting and deepening such tensions as outpacing scientific management among U.S. innovations where bossing was concerned. Amidst the general miseries of proletarianization, workers also learned that one source of meager benefits and protections could lie in claiming a white skin.

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