How Race Survived US History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon

An absorbing chronicle of the role of race in US history, by the foremost historian of race and labor.
In this absorbing chronicle of the role of race in US history, David R. Roediger explores how the idea of race was created and recreated from the 1600's to the present day. From the late seventeenth century—the era in which DuBois located the emergence of "whiteness"—through the American revolution and the emancipatory Civil War, to the civil rights movement and the emergence of the American empire, How Race Survived US History reveals how race did far more than persist as an exception in a progressive national history. Roediger examines how race intersected all that was dynamic and progressive in US history, from democracy and economic development to migration and globalization.

Exploring the evidence that the USA will become a majority "non-white" nation in the next fifty years, this masterful account shows how race remains at the heart of American life in the twenty-first century.


  • “A pithy little book ... Remind[s] us that whiteness was built over centuries on a foundation of deceit and confusion and disguised political imperatives.”
  • “Starred Review. This rousing, thought-provoking history illuminates the enveloping 400-year-old history of race in America, and the issues [Roediger] raises are as relevant as ever.”
  • “Scholars and activists will be able to rely upon this book for much needed historical perspective. Based heavily on an acute reading and insightful interpretation of a vast array of the secondary literature, this book is a worthy addition to Roediger's formidable oeuvre.”
  • How Race Survived US History synthesizes a vast secondary literature ... into a simple yet elegant analysis.”


  • Labor in White Skin: Race and Working-class History

    This essay was first published in The Year Left Vol. 3: Reshaping the US Left: Popular Struggles in the 1980s, edited by Mike Davis and Michael Sprinker, and published by Verso in 1988. It was later reprinted in Roediger's Towards the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working Class History.

    The reality, the depth, and the persistence of the delusion of white supremacy in this country causes any real concept of education to be as remote, and as much to be feared, as change or freedom itself. What Black men here have always known is now beginning to be clear to the world. Whatever it is that white Americans want, it is not freedom — neither for themselves nor for others.

    ‘It’s you who'll have the blues,’ Langston Hughes said, ‘not me. Just wait and see.'

    James Baldwin (1980)[1]

    Despite the fact that the nineteenth century saw an upsurge in the power of the laboring classes and a fight toward economic equality and political democracy, this movement . . .  lagged far behind the accumulation of wealth, because in popular opinion labor was fundamentally degrading and the just burden of inferior peoples . . . It was bad enough to have the consequences of [racist] thought fall upon colored people the world over; but in the end it was even worse when one considers what this attitude did to the European worker. His aim and ideal was distorted. . . . He began to want not comfort for all men but power over other men. . . . He did not love humanity and he hated 'niggers'.

    W.E.B. DuBois (1946)[2] 

    “Labor in white skin cannot emancipate itself where the black skin is branded.”[3] That line from an 1866 letter to François Lafargue, and repeated in Capital, is perhaps the most quoted of Karl Marx’s observations about the United States. But the work of our labor historians, past or present, has done little to illuminate why Marx's aphorism not only has the ring of truth but that of a ringing truth, though one Marx did not pursue much in later years.

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  • The Panther’s Prophecy: Angela Davis on black feminism and contemporary American politics

    Luciana Castellina reports on a talk on black feminism and contemporary American politics given by radical black activist and scholar Angela Davis at Roma Tre University on the 14th of March. The article was originally published in Italian in il manifesto and is translated by David Broder.

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  • Race and Social Theory: Towards a Genealogical Materialist Analysis

    Cornel West's "Race and Social Theory: Towards a Genealogical Materialist Analysis" first appeared in The Year Left Vol. 2: Towards a Rainbow Socialism - Essays on Race, Ethnicity, Class, and Gender, edited by Mike Davis, Manning Marable, Fred Pfeil, and Michael Sprinker, and published by Verso in 1987.

    (Cornel West, 1988, via The SCI-Arc Media Archive

    In this field of inquiry, sociological theory has still to find its way, by a difficult effort of theoretical clarification, through the Scylla of a reductionism which must deny almost everything in order to explain something, and the Charybdis of a pluralism which is so mesmerized by 'everything’ that it cannot explain anything. To those willing to labour on, the vocation remains an open one. - Stuart Hall

    We live in the midst of a pervasive and profound crisis of North Atlantic civilization whose symptoms include the threat of nuclear annihilation, extensive class inequality, brutal state repression, subtle bureaucratic surveillance, widespread homophobia, technological abuse of nature and rampant racism and patriarchy. In this essay, I shall focus on a small yet significant aspect of this crisis: the specific forms of Afro-American oppression. It is important to stress that one can more fully understand this part only in light of the whole crisis, and that one’s conception of the whole crisis should be shaped by one's grasp of this part. In other words, the time has passed when the so-called ‘race question’ can be relegated to secondary or tertiary theoretical significance. In fact, to take seriously the multi-leveled oppression of peoples of color is to raise fundamental questions regarding the very conditions for the possibility of the modern West, the diverse forms and styles of European rationality and the character of the prevailing modern secular mythologies of nationalism, professionalism, scientism, consumerism and sexual hedonism that guide everyday practices around the world.

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Other books by David R. Roediger