Noel Ignatiev

In 1995 Noel Ignatiev published “How the Irish Became White”. He believed that if whiteness could be created, it could also be destroyed and he sought to forge coalitions with other seekers of “a new society.”

“The greatest ideological barrier to the achievement of proletarian class consciousness, solidarity and political action is now, and has been historically, white chauvinism,”


“White chauvinism is the ideological bulwark of the practice of white supremacy, the general oppression of blacks by whites.”


Ignatiev argued that it would be impossible to build true solidarity among the working class without addressing the question of race, because white workers could always be pacified by whatever privileges, however meaningless, management dangled in front of them. (Du Bois, 1935)

The only way to change this was for white working-class people to reject whiteness altogether.

“In the struggle for socialism (white workers) have more to lose than their chains; they have also to ‘lose’ their white-skin privileges, the perquisites that separate them from the rest of the working class, that act as the material base for the split in the ranks of labor.”

In his conception, white privilege was a scam played to the white working class to make its members side with their masters instead of rising up with their non-white comrades. White privilege was a deceptive tactic wielded by bosses—a way of tricking exploited workers into believing that they were “white” (like the masters). “The ideology and institution of white supremacy, which provides the illusion of common interests between the exploited white masses and the white ruling class.”

In the late sixties, when Ignatiev was still working in steel mills and factories, he and a number of collaborators started the Sojourner Truth Organization, which aimed to approach labor organizing through the lens of race. S.T.O. members entered factories with two main goals: collaborating with black and Latino worker organizations, and making workers aware of the ‘white privileges’ under which they were demobilized.

In 1993 he launched the journal Race Traitor with the motto “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” John Brown, the white man who led a small militia as they raided an arsenal, at Harpers Ferry, in hopes of sparking an armed slave rebellion, became their lodestar—an example of what it might look like to reject one’s whiteness. Ignatiev called for an “abolition of the white race.”

The white workers, Ignatiev believed, were capable of repudiating their whiteness; they needed only to be provoked into consciousness.

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Caceres: And that means not understanding the power of foundational myths of identity. Who would want to divorce themselves from the peoples who invented and discovered everything? Repudiating subjection to whiteness means creating a new myth of identification and reference. We need to rewrite history, but not by erasing white people with bipoc intellectuals but by giving us new historical figures. Not the intellectual elites that have written history under their perspective, but to create many histories of resistance of all instances where the oppressed fought together. 18.11.2019.


Sources:

New Yorker article: https://www.newyorker.com/news/postscript/noel-ignatievs-long-fight-against-whiteness?fbclid=IwAR2hTEBQFwxMS8Lho8jg4LfABRe8p4LMCijnhIJU9yT3MXAWNMM_mGTs_uw#


Caceres, I. On repudiating whiteness. Accessed online: https://www.imaynacaceres.com/2015/11/noel-ignatiev.html