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sabot Wooden Shoe Books: anarchist and radical literature
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Book Reviews ...

Reviewed: Working Class White: The Making and Unmaking of Race Relations by Monica McDermott
Review by: James Generic
Posted: 7.27.2006

The book explores race relations and is a sort of an undercover look at working class people's basic thoughts on stereotypes and how those views differ based on region. The researcher gets jobs at convenience stores in two working-class white neighborhoods bordering on working-class black neighborhoods, one in Atlanta and one in Boston. It's a fast read because it is an interesting concept. I'm not so cool with the whole treating people like guinea pigs in the whole Nickeled and Dimed style of research, though the researcher is honest with people if they ask her background (she grew up as a working class white southerner). The focus is on white-black race relations and interactions.

One of the main differences she notices is the difference in how race is perceived in Boston and Atlanta. In Boston, working class whites are proud of their ethnicity and are more likely to identify with an Old-world group, like Irish or Italian. They're also very defensive of their neighborhoods, leading to block-by-block segregation and being open about saying racist stuff aloud. In Atlanta, being working class white is something to be ashamed of because the perception is that having white skin should guarantee you middle class status. As a result, whites often actually have a hard time landing a job that is low-skill and low paying. Further, whites are seen as weak and passive. However, in both cases, working-class whites realize that race is not a polite thing to talk about, and usually save their views for whites-only company. McDermott also explores topics like racial profiling within convenience stores and views on immigrants.

I liked this book, though it seems sort of location-centered. Maybe these views wouldn't be prevalent in places like California or Illinois. I found it especially interesting since I live in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia which has traditionally been a white working class neighborhood of Irish-Catholic background, though this is changing due to gentrification affecting all of Northern Philadelphia. It reminds me a lot of the Boston neighborhood described in this book.

If you're looking for a quick and interesting read on race in American cities, though sociologically-focused, pick this one up.


Wooden Shoe Books • 704 South Street • Philadelphia, PA 19147 • • (215) 413-0999