Tim Wise on the Creation of Whiteness and Privilege

In the following clip from his talk “The Pathology of Privilege: Racism, Denial, and the Costs of Inequality,” author and speaker Tim Wise discusses the creation of whiteness in the American colonies and the relationship of the “psychological wage” to class divisions – and racial segregation – that we still feel today.



As Buck discusses in “Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege,” one of the important historical moments that contributed to formation of “the psychological wage” of whiteness was Bacon’s Rebellion. During the 1676 rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon, both former indentured servants and Africans banded together to rebel against Governor Berkeley, who had failed to address settlers’ demands regarding their safety in the disorganized colony. The uprising, however, was also a revolt against indentured servitude, which affected both poor white Europeans and Africans; and this alarmed the ruling class, as well as the royals back in Britain who were invested in the productivity of their colonies, as continuing rebellion had the potential to rob them of their new-found, labor, capital, and resources.

When wealthy landowners and royals were unwilling to offer material compensation for whites, namely land, they constructed what Buck terms “the psychological wage” of whiteness – that is, “the sense of superiority [that] allowed struggling northern Whites to look down their noses at free Blacks and at recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. This version of whiteness was supposed to make up for their otherwise difficult situation, providing them with a ‘psychological wage’ instead of cash – a bit like being employee of the month and given a special parking place instead of a raise” (p. 35).

Want to watch the whole talk by Tim Wise? Check it out below.



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