Forging a Laboring RaceThe African American Worker in the Progressive Imagination

Forging a Laboring RaceThe African American Worker in the Progressive Imagination

Paul R.D. Lawrie

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9781479857326

Publisher: NYU Press


Forging a Laboring Race charts the history of an idea –the black working body in the progressive imagination race management- to analyze how ideas of race, work, and the ‘fit’ or ‘unfit’ body informed the development of industrial capitalisms and the modern American state. Drawing on recent work in African-American, Labor and Disability history this book charts the development of these new ‘bodies of knowledge’ from turn of the century actuarial science which defined African Americans as a degenerate and dying race through the standardized mental and physical testing developed by the U.S. army and eugenicists during World War I. The war was a key moment in racial labor division, mobilizing African Americans for the work of war and organizing social scientists to create new means of quantifying and measuring working bodies such as the draft and rehabilitation. Evolutionary theory and industrial management combined to link certain peoples to certain forms of work and reconfigured the story of races into one of development and decline, efficiency and inefficiency and the tension between civilization and savagery. However, these new cultures of racial management were repeatedly challenged by the exigencies of industrialization, migration, war and blacks themselves in ways that eventually severed race from biology. Though these new forms of racial expertise ultimately represented little more than an imagination of control on the part of managerial elites, it was an imagination powerfully believed in and acted upon in attempting to reconcile the contradictions and racial inequalities of modern American capitalism.