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  • The Race of Class: The Role of Racial Identity Production in the Long History of U.S. Working-Class Writing

    Benjamin Balthaser

    Chapter from the book: Nilsson M. & Lennon J. 2017. Working-Class Literature(s): Historical and International Perspectives.


    This chapter poses what may be a provocative question: What if we considered The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) as one of the most important U.S. working-class novels of the twentieth century? How might centering Malcolm X’s text as part of the working-class literary canon challenge ideas of both working-class literary tradition as well as the political meaning of its genealogy? Certainly, work by critics, such as Alan Wald, Bill V. Mullen, Barbara Foley and many others, have broadened our conception of the racial coordinates of mid-century radical working-class writing, noting not only the contributions of writers of color but the importance of anti-racism to the literary left since the late 1920s. And yet, this chapter goes one step further, suggesting that U.S. working class literature has always been about the production of a class identity through modes of racial looking, identification, and solidarity. Specifically, it explores the evolution of black nationalism, emphasizing how this political movement is also centrally concerned, although often under-recognized, with class. Using Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness (1968) and The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) as central texts, the chapter reads widely across working-class literature in the U.S. to analyze how working-class literature produces working-class subjectivity.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Balthaser, B. 2017. The Race of Class: The Role of Racial Identity Production in the Long History of U.S. Working-Class Writing. In: Nilsson M. & Lennon J (eds.), Working-Class Literature(s). Stockholm: Stockholm University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16993/bam.c

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Additional Information

    Published on Dec. 13, 2017


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