On Tuesday, June 19th Dr. Timothy J. Lensmire will discuss his book, White Folks: Race and Identity in Rural America. Join us at 6:00 PM to learn more about white folks’ conflicting ideas and feelings about race and who they are, as white people, in America. Dr. Lensmire will read from and sign copies of his book.
In the meantime, here are some books from our collection exploring white racial identity:
Growing up sheltered in a white, upper-middle class suburb of Boston, Debby Irving was horrified when she experienced the racial divide of the city. As a teacher and later as an arts administrator, Irving’s outreach to colored families and diversity efforts not only failed, they may have caused more harm than good. Irving felt she had racial tensions in both her personal and professional relationships, and in exploring white privilege, Irving went from white oblivion to white awareness. By sharing of her own personal story, Irving explores the truths and lessons she learned along the way of building awareness to the people around her. Today, Irving is a racial justice educator, and speaks about racial equality to people on personal and institutional levels.
Since the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 and other historical landmarks, some believe that opposition to black progress has been rolled backwards instead of forwards. In her book, White Rage, historian Dr. Carol Anderson argues that as soon as African Americans made advancements to participate fully in American democracy, they were quickly opposed by courts, legislation, and/or cultural practices. For example, the Civil War and Reconstruction were followed by Jim Crow laws and segregation; during the Great Migration, African Americans traveling north found similar conditions to what they experienced in the south; and after Brown v. the Board of Education, public schools were shut down while white private schools flourished. Moving forward, Dr. Anderson believes that Americans need to have an honest conversation about the history of race to move forward.
Since British colonial times, there has been a class system in America, and myths of equality and opportunity have influenced political rhetoric, policy, literature, and scientific theories. Researcher Nancy Isenberg explores the history of America’s white poor in White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America. For example, Isenberg explores the idea of how underprivileged whites were seen as subhuman by some who thought the poor could improve their lot using agricultural and animal husbandry practices. She explores Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party which the majority consisted of poor white Americans whose plight originated from class issues. Isenberg also discusses Theodore Roosevelt’s support for eugenic programs to sterilize those with less desirable traits. For four hundred years, privilege and class have been a part of American culture, and Isenberg sums up the history of the white underclass in this carefully researched read.