When I first encountered this text one month ago in the early days of Ramadan, I was in wonder that the local bookstore even stocked such items. After the initial amazement, I scanned it to make sure that both volumes, one and two, were inside the shrink wrap.
Immediately after my visual examination, I gave it a once over to make sure that it was not abridged or “annotated based on the works and thoughts of the author.” I wanted for this to be the original without any additions to the thoughts of the author and without any subtracts from the conclusions that he drew.
I had only heard of this book in discussions about and around the history of the United States and the reason why US racism (both domestic and foreign) is so virulent and deep. Debates centred around the main three points:
1. The United States was started off the back of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade of 100 million people (perhaps only 15 million at the most made it to the United States alive when the who thing was said and done). Please see the last book review for more details and also an attempted treatment by myself on the topic of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
2. The Founders of the United States were rugged and unapologetic in their positions and looked to buttress them for all times to come in order to protect those that would come later.
3. “Americana” rests on its’ founding documents and is only as strong as these texts and the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. If it could be shown that the foundation stone of the country was rotten with the putrid stench of the dead corpses of untold millions, then this would mean that the entire structure had to be brought down.
On the other hand, if it could be shown that these Founding Fathers were merely victims of circumstances and were actually as noble as Aristotle in their pursuits, it would mean that “America the Beautiful” was salvageable and that the race condition was something
either incidental, circumstantial or it perhaps developed in the teething phase of the country’s infancy and through greater equality, mingling and social mobility between the races, it could be bred out.
It is this second position that Theodore Allen himself belongs to, particularly the last portion of the statement that I made above. The introduction to the first volume is very honest, with the author giving the reader the window into the reason for beginning his study and the far reaching consequences of it.
The Invention of the White Race was started by Dr. Allen (himself a white man) during the 1960s during a heated Civil Rights movement and the arrival of the black and latino activists that gave birth to the Brown Berets, La Raza, BPPSD (Black Panther Party for Self Defence),
Soledad Brothers (which was really the military wing of the Black Panther party led by George Jackson while the BPPSD was the political and intellectual wing headed up by Huey P. Newton) and countless other groups pushing for liberation, some through political and social movements and others through sustained and armed struggle.
An avowed socialist, Allen neither accepted the point that “America” was rotten to the core nor that it was unique in the level, intensity and doctrines of racism that it forwarded to those under the suzerainty of its’ flag.
The dust jacket of the book gives the potential reader the intent Allen had in mind with the following bombshell:
When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no “white” people there. Nor, according to colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.
If the top of your head blew off based upon these two lines, you are not alone. The book, incendiary then as it is now, provoked spirited arguments and also polarised the positions of both sides. After reading this book, one had to rethink his or her position.
If one was opposed to the statement defended by Allen, then this book would only lend to reinforce one’s preconceived notions. As for the one in agreement with Theodore Allen and his wider audience, he or she will use this book as a stunning masterpiece of proofs and evidences.
Other than what I typed previously under the two positions on the United States and its’ foundation, what is the position of Theodore Allen? The answer is easier than one might think.
The author explains that the racism of the United States is not unique, but came about due to the ruling class creating a caste known as the “white race,” in order to rule over others and achieve its’ designs.
Allen then goes on to explain that the same formula was used by the English against the Irish people and catalogs a encyclopaedic recounting of atrocities committed against them.
This included everything from racial and religious bigotry all the way up to causing famines, depopulation programs, pogroms and a host of affairs that were new to myself and that I found intriguing and riveting reading.
By recounting these gory details, the writer is then in the position to take the reader by the mental hand and cross reference between the criminality visited upon “Africans” (who would later be named blacks after pulling away their culture, language, identity and physical link to the continent referred to as “Africa”) and that meted out on the Irish (he even includes some notes indicating Scottish duplicity and profiteering from this genocide).
He also rightly included notes on Arab kidnapping of Irish people (my great grandfather mentioned to me how he and other pirates were able to do so and how these red headed white males were often worked to death in Algeria and other places) and Slavic tribes of the Baltic Sea.
After this, Allen also lays out legal machinery put into place by the ruling class, which began to insulate itself by using the expression “white” and christening others who it found to be deserving of the title. The basic principle in place was that white was not about a race, but rather about a legal definition.
Those who legally were not “white” men could then be classed as “black,” which meant slaves (Allen produced as his evidence historical records indicating Slavic people taken in bondage referred to as such and treated with the same disdain).
The only reason why “whites” happened to have the pale skin and the “Africans” were classed as the slaves is just a matter of the conditions at the time. When read in full and examined chapter by chapter, one reading the text is able to appreciate the systematic treatment that the author gave the subject.
At the same time, one can also easily pull back the curtain and see the naked socialism standing in the shower behind all the notes. The white ruling class is classed as the “bourgeoisie” and the slaves are the “proletariats.”
Further examination reveals that his understanding for the slave trade in the United States was not due to racism but unchecked capitalism. The means to effacing this, he hinted at in this first volume, was greater socialism and equality between the races.
Once this was achieved, the ruling class and the paradigm put in place could be dislodged and replaced with a new model that would be fair to all. Allen in this volume dedicates particular attention to the fact that the aboriginal people in the United States lived in “communes” and could not sufficiently adapt to capitalist social structures.
The same thing is offered in the case of the Irish resistance against the English Crown. That Allen shows himself as a socialist is actually a further proof of his honesty, as he already disrobes in front of us politically in the introduction to the work.
My words should not thus be taken to mean that Theodore Allen deviously kept the reader in the dark about his political opinions and what he saw as the solution to racism in the United States; rather, I want those reading this book review to sometimes pan back and then dive back into the book.
It took me one month to finish it, notes and all. I read the appendices (which are plentiful) and also examined all the notes and checked the bibliography. This is a sound and solid book.
Its’ strong points are the enormous project of sourcing and noting each portion of his evidence. His attention to detail is so remarkable that he anticipates challenges from a sceptical reader, hence the inclusion of a pile of appendices spanning from pp. 201-263.
I see the disadvantages in the same place: the noting and sourcing. Why? The evidence is unimpeachable but the conclusions that Allen drew from it I believe are not fully defensible.
In the introduction, when fending off criticisms from an adept opponent more skilfully than a boxer executing a shoulder roll, he states the following,
As I have noted, Degler recognized the fundamental significance of the contrast between the racist exclusionism faced by all African-Americans, free or bond, on the one hand, and the assimilationist policy with regard to the African-Brazilians.
This difference he ascribed to the difference between the cultural backgrounds of Iberia and England. (The Invention of the White Race, vol.1, pp. 7-8, Introduction)
On another page, he makes a further comment,
Whereas the Caribbean Anglos, he argued, were “lost in a sea of blacks,” the continental colonist felt “the weight of the Negroes on his community heavy enough to be a burden, but not yet so heavy so as to make him abandon all hope of maintaining his identity.”
This exclusion is tautological since the maintenance of “white” was equivalent to rejection of the “mulatto.”
We now turn to what Jordan calls the “single exception” to the pattern of non-acceptance of “mulatto” status in the Anglo-American colonies Georgia colony originated in 1732 as a buffer against Spanish Florida.
It was set up especially to stop African-American bond laborers from fleeing to freedom in Florida, either to the Spanish or to friendly Indians. For this reason, the new colony was founded on the exclusion of “Negroes,” in order to seal South Carolina against the outflow of fugitive bond-laborers. (The Invention of the White Race, vol.1, pp. 11-12, Introduction)
At this juncture, I think that Allen is missing the point that was laid out by his opponents. Those in opposition held to the notion that what made continental American racism more severe was that it was uniquely different to that which was done in the West Indies.
Allen, although acknowledging the evidence brought forward, was not filling to come to terms with the ramifications of acknowledging them. Here is what all this means. The racism practiced in the West Indies was indeed of a different quality.
The reason for this is primarily conditioned on the fact that the people there had not planned on staying there indefinitely. By creating a race of mulattoes and creoles, the English could pull away and rule from afar.
This was done in every nation in the larger and smaller Antilles up until 1959 when Fidel Castro took over Cuba and abolished this system. It is still in place in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other places (deemed “Commonwealth”).
In what would become the United States, it mattered whether or not slaves outnumbered whites or possessed higher birth rates. They were building a nation and a such could not have men in large numbers that were mulatto, mestizo (or women for that matter) able to hold positions of power.
There was no plan to rule from afar. The rule would be direct. If mulattoes and mestizos were permitted to rule, irrespective of how limited the capacity, the whole basis for the establishment of the United States would be in jeopardy.
Would mestizo/mulatto senators and congressman with full freedom, having emerged from the horrors of the genocidal rampage of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, really countenance for it to continue and egg it on?
Would these men (and women as the ratios among slaves were two to one in favour of ladies most times) be willing to look on as relatives and colleagues languished under slavery and they were clearly in the majority over whites?
If mestizos and mulattoes were freed, had access to literacy, their own language in addition to English and firearms and other legal forms of recourse at their disposal, how long could whites in the United States have fended these people off?
It was astonishing to my eyes that Allen could not see this glaring crack in his own reasoning during the back and forth with his social and political opponents. This huge gash in the forehead of his thesis made me raise my eyebrow and start reading even more critically.
Hell, if this was the introduction with such an open and glaring blunder, what else would be at stake in the book? This is what really started me thinking deeply about the whole odyssey that Allen started off with the first volume.
So the first volume catalogs the terror while the second volume will opt to give the social, economic and caste (not exclusively racial) reasons for the virulent racism in the United States.
I don’t know yet if volume 2 has enough juice in it or meat on the bone to make me upgrade any of my positions solidified by my research; but it will be a very interesting read to see if any of his attempts lead me to at least re-examine any blind spots I might have in my understanding of history.
I will best be able to answer this upon completion of the final volume, which is the same formidable size and quality of sourcing as its’ initial companion volume. I did pay £30.00 for this, but I feel that it is worth £60.00 or £75.00 when you weigh up all the delights that you get with the whole package (Man, did I get a bargain when I picked those up!).
Upon the completion of the second volume, if the Lord wills, I will then tie everything up with a comprehensive review on the second volume and what came of it.