The Politics of Whiteness: Race, Workers, and Culture in the Modern South


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Sep 14, 2021
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The Politics of Whiteness presents the first sustained analysis of white racial identity among workers in what was the South’s largest industry — the textile industry — for much of the twentieth century. Grounding her work in a study of Rome, Georgia, and surrounding Floyd County from the Great Depression to the 1970s, Michelle Brattain paints a richly textured local portrait of how the varied social benefits of whiteness shaped the experience of textile millhands and, as a result, Southern politics. In doing so, she challenges traditional views of Southern politics as dominated by elites and marked by passivity among Southern workers. Brattain uncovers considerable white working-class political influence and activism for decades starting in the 1930s — which, by re-creating and defending Southern institutions grounded in the idea of racial difference, helped pave the way for resistance to the civil rights movement.

Structured chronologically, this book revises the current understanding, in the Southern working-class context, of paternalism, the New Deal, the 1934 General Textile Strike, the Second World War, and the Fair Employment Practices Commission. It addresses the vast influence of Eugene Talmadge and his son in twentieth-century Georgia politics, and the emergence of Republican influence in the South. Finally there came the moment when formerly explicit defenses of white supremacy were transformed into an intangible, but still powerful, politics of whiteness. The Politics of Whiteness will interest anyone concerned with the history of American politics, the labor movement, or race in America.