Theodore W. Allen

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Theodore W. Allen
Born Theodore William Allen
(1919-08-23)August 23, 1919
Indianapolis, Indiana
Died January 19, 2005(2005-01-19) (aged 85)
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York
Nationality American
Occupation Writer

Theodore William "Ted" Allen (August 23, 1919 – January 19, 2005) was an American intellectual, writer, and activist,[1] best known for his pioneering writings since the 1960s on "white skin privilege" and the "invention" of the "white race," particularly his seminal Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race, published as a pamphlet in 1975, and published the next year in expanded form. He stressed that the "white race" was invented as "a ruling class social control formation."[2]

An independent, working-class scholar, Allen did research for the next quarter century to expand and document his ideas, particularly on the relation of white supremacy to the working class. He published a two-volume work, The Invention of the White Race (1994 and 1997): “The Invention of the White Race,” Vol. 1: “Racial Oppression and Social Control” (1994, 2012) [3] and “The Invention of the White Race,” Vol. 2: “The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America” (1997, 2012); [4] which explored racial oppression as a system of social control (in Volume 1) and the origin of racial oppression in Anglo-America (in Volume 2). It was republished by Verso Books in a new expanded edition in November 2012.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Theodore William Allen was born into a middle-class family in Indianapolis, Indiana. He had a sister Eula May and brother Tom; their parents were Thomas E. Allen, a sales manager, and Almeda Earl Allen, a housewife. The family moved when he was a child to Paintsville, Kentucky, and then to Huntington, West Virginia, where he lived and, in his words, "was proletarianized" during the Great Depression. When Allen started working soon after high school (deciding that college did not do enough for independent thought), he quickly joined labor unions.[2]


Allen became an early activist and organizer in the labor movement. At age 17, he joined the American Federation of Musicians Local 362 and the Communist Party,[6][7] and soon was elected as a delegate to the Huntington Central Labor Union, AFL. He subsequently worked as a coal miner in West Virginia as a member of the United Mine Workers, serving as an organizer and president of one Local and later member of another. He also co-developed a trade union organizing program for the Marion County, West Virginia Industrial Union Council, CIO.[2]

In the 1940s Allen moved to New York City, a center for labor activism and intellectual work. He did industrial economic research at the Labor Research Association, based in the city. He taught economics at the Jefferson School of Social Science, founded in New York by the Communist Party in 1944. Allen taught there into the 1950s, when the school closed, due to declining membership in the party and pressure from scrutiny by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of Congress, which was conducting hearings during the McCarthy era.

Allen also taught math at the Crown Heights Yeshiva in Brooklyn, where he lived, and the Grace Church School in New York.[2] During his more than six decades in New York, Allen had a variety of jobs, from factory worker to retail clerk, mechanical design draftsman, postal mail handler (and member of the Local of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union), and librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.[2]

Beginning in 1965, he was published as an independent scholar. He conducted decades of research to develop his ideas about the labor, class and racial history of the United States.[2]


In 1965 Allen published articles on the concept of white skin privilege[8] for all classes of whites, examining the relation of the working class to white supremacy. He explored this in "White Blindspot" & “Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?" (1967, 1969), co-authored with Noel Ignatiev.[9]

After beginning his research on "white skin privilege" in 1965, Allen worked for the next decade to develop more research and writing on this topic. He published Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race (1975). During this time, he also taught as an adjunct history instructor for one semester at Essex County Community College in Newark, New Jersey. He was described by historian Jeffrey B. Perry as working "throughout his entire adult life ... for the emancipation of the working class and for socialism."[2]

His work since the 1960s was intended to overturn explanations for white supremacy that relied on biology or attributed it to benefits gained by the working class. Allen emphasized that the "invention of the white race" was related to class struggle and to ruling class efforts to maintain social control.[2]

Allen published outside the academic press and his work was highly influential, at a time of the civil rights movement, when issues of race, ethnicity and culture were being studied and overturned. He also documented how later Irish immigrants to the U.S. became "white."[10] The concept of "race" was also being overturned by work in anthropology, genetics, biology, history and other disciplines. By 1997, historian George M. Fredrickson of Stanford University wrote that "the proposition that race is 'a social and cultural construction,' has become an academic cliché,"[11] but Allen was not satisfied with that proposition and he emphasized that “the ‘white race’ must be understood, not simply as a social construct (rather than an genetic phenomenon), but as a ruling class social control formation.”[12]



  1. ^ Jeffrey B. Perry, “In Memorian: Theodore W. Allen,” "Cultural Logic," Vol. 8, 2005, p. 1
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Jeffrey B. Perry, "Introduction" To the 2006 Edition of Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race, Cultural Logic, 2006
  3. ^ Theodore W. Allen, "The Invention of the White Race," Vol. 1: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" and (Verso Books, 1994, 2012)
  4. ^ Theodore W. Allen, “The Invention of the White Race,” Vol. 2: “The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America” (1997, 2012, ISBN 978-1-84467-770-2)
  5. ^ Theodore W. Allen, "The Invention of the White Race," Vol. 1: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" (Verso Books, 1994, New Expanded Edition 2012, ISBN 9781844677702) and "The Invention of the White Race," Vol. 2: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America", (Verso Books 1997, New Expanded Edition 2012, ISBN 9781844677696)
  6. ^ Haywood, Harry (2012) [1978]. Midlo Hall, Gwendolyn, ed. A Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle: The Life of Harry Haywood. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. xxi. ISBN 978-0-8166-7905-8. 
  7. ^ Michael Staudenmaier, Truth and Revolution: A History of the Sojourner Truth Organization 1968 - 1986 (Oakland, Edinburgh, and Baltimore: AK Press, 2012) 84
  8. ^ Allen urged, in a 1965 John Brown Commemoration Committee “Call,” that “White Americans who want government of the people, by the people, must begin by first repudiating their white skin privileges and the white ‘gentleman’s agreement’ against the Negro.” See Jeffrey B. Perry, “The Developing Conjuncture and Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy,” Cultural Logic, July 2010, p. 8, which cites (Theodore W. Allen) John Brown Commemoration Committee, 100 West 82nd St., New York, 24, New York, “A Call to join with sponsors of this Call in a John Brown Memorial Pilgrimage to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia on Saturday, December 4, 1965.”
  9. ^ Noel Ignatin (Ignatiev) and Ted (Theodore W.) Allen, “'White Blindspot'” &”'Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?'” (Detroit: The Radical Education Project and New York City: NYC Revolutionary Youth Movement, 1969), at Students for a Democratic Society-1960s website
  10. ^ Theodore W. Allen, "The Invention of the White Race," Vol. 1: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" and (Verso Books, 1994, 2012) chapters 6 through 8.
  11. ^ George M. Frederickson, "America's Caste System: Will It Change?", New York Review of Books (23 October 1997), 68-75, quote p. 68
  12. ^ Theodore W. Allen, "Summary of the Argument of the White Race” (Part 1)", Cultural Logic (July 2010).

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