Bacon’s Rebellion makes some of us “white”

The Burning of Jamestown as part of Bacon's rebellion

A very intense professional development day today. Our department, nine of us, met together with a facilitator to discuss the invention of “white people.” This categorical construct did not exist until 1681 in a Virginia antimiscegenation law, which was enacted in response to Bacon’s Rebellion in the Jamestown colony.

This rebellion had unified poor whites and poor blacks together, a union which clearly was a threat to the ruling elite. This unification was eventually undermined by the distinction of “whiteness” and what rights and privileges would be afforded to its classification. This was codified in law and became a foundation for the racializing of slavery and the institutionalizing of greater rights, privileges, and immunities to those who were/are white. The workshop continued in addressing naturalization and immigration policies through the 19th and 20th centuries as manifested in this exclusive structure of whiteness.

Whiteness is a construct. Race is a construct. It has nothing to do with melanin or lack of it. It is not genetic or biological, yet this construct is visceral and tangible socially, politically, and culturally. Its power and reach are invisible to those who are rewarded most by its systemic and structural status.

This was not an easy day today. But my colleagues were engaged and connected at each step along this continuum of our own understandings. At one point the conversation became emotional and increasingly vulnerable. Holding community and integrity as values, we stumbled forward. Many took risks, let themselves become raw, took today’s lessons to heart. Even those who remained intellectual, still seemed committed to the work that lies ahead.

What will become challenging for all of us will be maintaining a generosity of spirit around all of our rough edges as we inch our way toward greater self and communal awareness around the “invisible” privileges of whiteness. Transformation is difficult and uncomfortable. There is a lot to unpack. And it will take a great deal of courage. It will take a great deal of resolve. It will take a commitment to really listen to each other.

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7 Responses to Bacon’s Rebellion makes some of us “white”

  1. leamuse says:

    It’s the same old story, divide and conquer!

  2. Jerome Bloom says:




  3. It sounds like everyone in your department was pretty brave discussing this. When I was in social work grad school, there were a number of similarly heated discussions about race, privilege, etc. Hard work! I was wondering, was your meeting inspired by Nell Irvin Painter’s book, The History of White People? I’ve read reviews but not had a chance to check out the book.

    Great post!

    • jyourist says:

      Actually Lisa, our conversation was inspired by a hiring situation. Lots of bruises around the final decision that was made. I have also heard about this book (not read it yet) and you have reminded me that this might be the next best place we all ought to go to continue this hard work.

  4. Pingback: Taking responsibility | Necessity is the Mother of Invention

  5. jyourist says:

    Reblogged this on Nexus and commented:

    Today we invited Jackie Battalora, a facilitator in for our entire middle school to discuss “whiteness.” She had done this same workshop with a smaller group of us a year ago and it seemed appropriate to reblog what I wrote then. The response to the information shared today was not one of guilt or shame, but a response ready to take responsibility and to make change. My colleagues were utterly moved. And I was moved by their response.

  6. omalone1 says:

    G WIz. what do you hope to prove or demonstrate through this? even if race is a construct, given its material implication, what are we to do with this information/suggestion

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