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

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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 for much of the twentieth century: textiles. Michelle Brattain, who grounds her work in a study of Rome, Georgia, from the Great Depression to the 1970s, adds a significant new dimension to a field that before had focused primarily on anti unionism, paternalism, or mill village culture. Many scholars have argued that racial tensions kept black and white workers from seeing their shared interests. While that may be so, says Brattain, Jim Crow and southern industry also functioned to give white workers very different and racially specific interests. Although southern politics has been traditionally defined in terms of its dominance by white elites, Brattain uncovers a surprising level of white working-class political influence and activism. Owing to the segregated nature of mill work, however, millhands' power was not felt in the form of any challenges to the racial status quo. Rather, workers re-created the local institutions and symbols of racial difference in their unions.