Theodore W. (Ted) Allen was author of The Invention of the White Race and a founding father of modern white privilege theory.
Ted's historical contribution, which is central to the political tradition that gave rise to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization among other forces on the US Left.
Allen;s biography would start as the story of a few younger communists in Brooklyn, who left, jumping or pushed, the increasingly revisionist Communist Party USA in the 1950s. Like many who sought to keep their eyes on the goal of revolution in the US, they understood the importance of the racial divide in the US working class and worked to develop a deeper analysis of it. Two in particular, Ted Allen and Esther Kusic, building on work by earlier thinkers going back to DuBois and Lenin, articulated a theory which explained the puzzling depth and persistence of this divide and, as a result, a great deal of the history of US society and the working class here as well.
Crudely put, white privilege theory states that the presence and persistence of white supremacy as an ideology and the consequent extremely low level of class consciousness in the multi-national working class throughout US history is the product of a centuries-old, deeply entrenched system which awards privileges to white folks. Allen characterized these privileges as "poisoned," because they wind up providing the capitalist class with a divided working class in which the white section is blinded from seeing and fighting for its own true interests.
In the late '60s, Ted worked closely with Noel Ignatiev (then Ignatin) a younger comrade of his active in Students for a Democratic Society, the largest group in the predominantly white campus sector of the revolutionary upsurge that was sweeping the US and much of the world, with the baby boom generation as its shock troops. Together the two wrote a pamphlet entitled "White Blindspot" (including another piece entitled "Can White Workers/Radicals Be Radicalized?"), which became one of dozens of pamphlets published by the SDS-affiliated Radical Education Project.
Within six months of its publication, this cheaply mimeographed piece by two little-known authors set the terms for nearly all discussion of racism and what to do about it within the most influential radical group on US campuses. The concept quickly spread throughout the broader Left and there too set the terms in a discussion that had been raging since 1965. That was the year that African American activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest and most militant of the organizations in the Civil Rights Movement, politely asked white SNCCers to leave, and encouraged them to go back and organize among white folk.
How Class Works
At the How Class Works - 2002 Conference, panels included; 3.5 Class and Race
- Ted Allen, Brooklyn, NY
“ Race and Class in U.S. History”
- Joshua Freeman, CUNY Graduate Center – History
“ They Never Called Themselves White: Racial and Ethnic Categorizations by New York City Unions after World War II”
- Preston Smith, Mt. Holyoke College – Politics
“ Class Structure of Post World War II Chicago”