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The Wages of Whiteness
In The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class by David Roediger, we are able to examine the antebellum era with emphasis on class formation and the fluidity of racial boundaries in popular culture. According to Roediger, mobbing, blackface and minstrelsy are key elements in the formation of the white-working class.
During the antebellum time period, Blacks were victimized by the white mobs. The African – American community as a whole endured tremendous social injustice. The mobs wanted Blacks to be disassociated from the citizens of America. Roediger used the term anti-citizen to express this point, exhibiting that the white male working class intentions of segregating blacks from the dominant white society. Mobbing inflamed race riots that significantly hurt the black community. The white workers involved in mobbing encouraged the riots with claims of “protecting their women, from amalgamation with blacks” (page 108). The quote expresses in a basic sense; whites were not to mix with blacks. Associating with Blacks was considered inappropriate, and the whites had to protect themselves from Blacks. Clearly, we can acknowledge of hatred towards Blacks. In Columbia, Pennsylvania 1834, skilled workers went on riots hysterically fueled by the threat of inter-racial sex. Again, we see that society did not want Blacks to mix with white. This was more emphasized with white women mixing with black men, because the white working class did not want the physical blending of black and white people. Mobs were against black causes. “As David Grimsted has shown, the tendency to riot against asylums for the Black orphans carried the singling out of the defenseless for attack to a chilling extreme” (page 109). From this quote, the white workers who mobbed were opposed to giving aid to the innocent orphans. Thus, so far we have seen that we have a white working class who are using all sorts of riots in order to segregate themselves from blacks. We can conclude that the majority of white workers were very concerned with the keeping a boundary between black and white.
Blackface, a fragment of the antebellum era was characterized with whites that color their face black. It’s certainly valid to state that the period of antebellum America was racially charged and expressed through blackface. According to Roediger, the blacking up of the white working class was not simply traditional, joyous or decorative. It usually involved a conscious declaration of whiteness and white supremacy, even as it identified celebration and popular justice with adopting a racial disguise. Those who used the black face disguise were majority young, male and working class. The masking of whites with the blackface was a chance for a white person to act black. During great festivities such as Independence Day, in Philadelphia, blackfaced whites put in appearances after Blacks were forbidden to come. This shows us that, Blacks were not wanted in society take part in the American popular culture. With the whites wearing a black face, that whites had the supremacy in the society. In New York, blackfaced whites repeatedly ended the evening by engaging in the traditional white male street activity of beating up free blacks. Blacks use to celebrate many of their popular cultural events in the streets. Most of the street processions ended with the violent riots of the blackface whites. With these examples of the violence that the blackface whites expressed towards the Blacks. The fact that the whites that conducted this behavior used blackfaced racial masking, revealed their declaration of white supremacy with intentions of excluding blacks from their working class society. By coloring their faces black, whites were showing that they had the power to do whatever they wanted. The whites that wore the blackface made it clear that they were white, thus showing that the by coloring their face black was to represent that they should be the only blacks in society.
Now we will examine minstrelsy wit blackface performances. The minstrel was a very popular form of entertainment in the antebellum period. These shows attracted the white working class. In antebellum minstrelsy, we are given a sense of how Blacks were presented in white society. Blacks were mocked very much in these minstrel shows. The blackface minstrels mocked African Americans dialect. The minstrels would conduct shows imitating blacks
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Racism, 19th century in the United States, African-American music, Blackface minstrelsy, Minstrel show, Blackface, Race and society, David Roediger, Free negro, American studies, Critical theory, Nadir of American race relations
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