Presentation Title

Hearing Whiteness: White Racial Formation in William Attaway's "Blood On The Forge"

Start Date

November 2016

End Date

November 2016

Location

HUB 268

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Abstract

This presentation argues that Blood on the Forge by William Attaway (1941) includes a unique depiction of white racial formation considering the time of its publishing. Throughout the novel, which follows the journey of three black men from sharecropping in the South to factory work in the North, certain means of identifying whiteness and white racial formation shine through in both the actions of the European immigrant workers and the character of Bo, the only black man in a management position in the Mill. Taking as its departure point James Baldwin’s claim that the price of the ticket from Europe to the United States was “to become ‘white,’” this presentation concludes that the ideology of whiteness acts as the instrumental anti-union measure taken by the Mill management to end labor disputes in the novel.

The descriptive epistemologies used by the three main characters to identify so-called white people are instrumental in this books inherent critique of racial essentialism: so-called white folks are seen, and experienced through their hatred of black folks. This analytic is the grounds for the next conclusion: that the European immigrant workers introduced early in the book become white in order to reap the benefits of whiteness; this choice is taken in wake of the labor disputes and the management’s strategic positioning of black workers as scabs. Lastly, the character of Bo, and the choices and prioritizations he is forced to make in order to keep his relatively high position in the Mill demonstrate the extent to which whiteness in the novel is nothing more than a false ideology of supremacy: the benefits are reserved for those who take anti-black positions. From the combination of the works of James Baldwin and a close reading of Blood On The Forge, notions of race and class are destabilized.

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Nov 12th, 10:15 AM Nov 12th, 10:30 AM

Hearing Whiteness: White Racial Formation in William Attaway's "Blood On The Forge"

HUB 268

This presentation argues that Blood on the Forge by William Attaway (1941) includes a unique depiction of white racial formation considering the time of its publishing. Throughout the novel, which follows the journey of three black men from sharecropping in the South to factory work in the North, certain means of identifying whiteness and white racial formation shine through in both the actions of the European immigrant workers and the character of Bo, the only black man in a management position in the Mill. Taking as its departure point James Baldwin’s claim that the price of the ticket from Europe to the United States was “to become ‘white,’” this presentation concludes that the ideology of whiteness acts as the instrumental anti-union measure taken by the Mill management to end labor disputes in the novel.

The descriptive epistemologies used by the three main characters to identify so-called white people are instrumental in this books inherent critique of racial essentialism: so-called white folks are seen, and experienced through their hatred of black folks. This analytic is the grounds for the next conclusion: that the European immigrant workers introduced early in the book become white in order to reap the benefits of whiteness; this choice is taken in wake of the labor disputes and the management’s strategic positioning of black workers as scabs. Lastly, the character of Bo, and the choices and prioritizations he is forced to make in order to keep his relatively high position in the Mill demonstrate the extent to which whiteness in the novel is nothing more than a false ideology of supremacy: the benefits are reserved for those who take anti-black positions. From the combination of the works of James Baldwin and a close reading of Blood On The Forge, notions of race and class are destabilized.