Overrated Book

Roediger, David, The Wages of Whiteness (1991).

I prefer anonymity only because I seek to avoid a "war of words." Roediger's Wages of Whiteness is not based on research in archives and draws its hypotheses from a limited number of published sources, not necessarily a handicap. Unfortunately, Roediger plays a one-key variation on the conventional treatment of race by most historians of labor; almost nowhere does he grant his "white" workers any volition other than in their struggle to distinguish themselves from blacks and to become white. Page after page, paragraph after paragraph, he strikes the same note or key harder and harder. Also for someone who apparently accepts the "linguistic turn" in history, Roediger is, in my opinion, exceptionally immune to the nuances of language. Not only does he seem to read words fashioned and uttered in the early to mid-19th century in terms of meanings freighted with late 20th century connotations; he also misunderstands or misreads any number of words written or uttered by Britishers in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a recent scholarly symposium on "whiteness," David Brody compared Roediger's "charismatic history" to F.J. Turner's "frontier thesis." Frankly, I can't imagine the "wages of whiteness" having as long a "career" as the "significance of the frontier," and its impact may prove more like an Andy Warhol moment.