Hi Ben, I’ve read a fair bit of Thandeka’s work on the topic too, and used to write about the elite’s differentiation between poor whites and blacks after Bacon’s Rebellion for division to prevent such an uprising from ever happening again. I had to return my copy of Howard Zinn’s copy of the People’s History before I got far at all, but it’s fascinating. Looking at Thomas Watson’s populist attempts at uniting farmers along racial lines before 1900 is also fascinating, which is love to hear your take on. Watson did shift to nativist attacks along racial lines shortly after 1900, though, and many would argue that it was the decision of poor whites, over the course of history, to give into the elite’s attempt at exploiting racial divisions.
However, as much as the last point might be true, I do think it’s even more important to take the long view and see what historical forces led to race being as much of a construct in the first place. The two forces that made Bacon’s Rebellion so powerful in poor whites and blacks were effectively divided and conquered in the next century.
Now more than three centuries have passed, and even though these divisions may have been flimsy to start, have they been made all the more consuming with the passage of time?