Wages of Whiteness

Wages of Whiteness Roediger

In the Wages of Whiteness, the author, Roediger, explores the relationship between the growth of America's working classes and the social construction of prejudice behaviors or racism (Roediger, 2007). The author structures the book chronologically, looking historically at the history of racism and working classes within the United States. The primary premise behind the work is that white workers throughout history demanded or pushed for higher wages than their minority or African-American counterparts. In this tale, minorities are depicted as objects many have formerly classified on the basis of color alone. Also demonstrated is accepting the knowledge that whiteness, associated with Caucasian-Americans, is something that is becoming obsolete in light of vast migrations of citizens from other nations intermingling with and changes the landscape of the diverse culture in which we live in.


The work completed by Roediger shows how easily one may create prejudice and discriminatory practices by objectifying or classifying any group as "black" or "African-American." Roediger achieves this by suggesting it is white, not blacks that should attempt to release themselves from bondage and take on a new cultural and racial identity. In essence, many people need to shed the image of "whiteness" argues Roediger and primary source accounts of his work, so that all peoples may enjoy liberalization and freedom.

To support these arguments the author utilizes many resources, both primary and secondary. Much of the secondary information acquired by Roediger comes from his work with the Organization of American Historians, a select society that won Roediger a prize for his fervent work toward social equality. From the very first pages of the work, Roediger references tales of prejudice, by describing the experiences of two white boys, stating one carried a knife referred to as a "nigger gigger" which emphasizes the predominance of racism during the time periods the book reflects on. Kathleen Cleaver, who provides the introduction to the work, notes Roediger explores racism during the early years of U.S. history, arguing that people cannot defend working class racism by reviewing socio-economic status only or alone. The same is true of students with economic advantages. Cleaver goes on to point out Roediger's belief that certain ideologies and psychological mythologies underpin many stereotypes against minorities, specifically Afridan Americans. These "ideologies" resulted in further classification of people of different color, enforcing pre-existing stereotypes about the ability or inability of any one class of people.

Primary sources used include Cleaver's introduction and reviews from Nell Painter at Princeton; Lawrence Glickman; and other writers and commentaries from people of political prestige or media influence throughout history and the decades explored by Roediger in his work. Other sources include secondary sources, or book reviews and related materials that help frame the context with which a book is written. An example of this is a review posted by Bernstein (1992) which outlines the journey Roediger endured while taking notes to incorporate into his work. Secondary sources are valid for use in this work primarily because they consider the reflections of various members of society as a whole. Primary works alternatively, are less biased and more factual in nature. It is primary resources Roediger uses, combined with reflections from primary sources that provide the reader with a clear and decisive picture demonstrating how the American working class arose from race discrimination (among other small factors) within the United States.

The sources Roediger uses as primary reference are the strongest aspects of the book, allowing the reader to devise their own opinions as to the "rightness" or "wrongness" of the arguments presented. These include reviews of literature published by early pioneers in United States history. These include people like E.P. Thompson for example, Herbut Gutman and others that believed it essential to combine psychoanalysis with classical Marxism to reveal the systematic process that was involved when creating a working middle class. Further, reference to these primary sources lend credence by showing there were many psychological reasons as well as idealized intentions that worked to displace black citizens in the period…