Looking at the U.S. White Working Class Historically tackles one of the supreme issues for our movement, the contradiction embodied in the term “white working class.” On the one hand there is the class designation that should imply, along with all other workers of the world, a fundamental role in the overthrow of capitalism. On the other hand, there is the identification of being part of a (“white”) oppressor nation. Gilbert seeks to understand the origins of this contradiction, its historical development, as well as possibilities to weaken and ultimately transform the situation. In other words, how can people organize a break with white supremacy and foster solidarity with the struggles of people of color, both within the United States and around the world?
Gilbert began this project in the early 1980s, while in jail facing charges stemming from his activities in the revolutionary underground. It started as a pamphlet reflecting on writings about race and class by Ted Allen, W.E.B. DuBois, and J. Sakai. In the 1990s, Gilbert added a retrospective essay, reviewing lessons from the 1960s and the New Left he had been active in at the time. Over the years, Looking at the White Working Class Historically (as it was known in previous editions) has been widely circulated across multiple waves and generations of activists. As Gilbert writes in the introduction to this 2017 edition, this text remains the most popular of his writings for younger radicals seeking to build movements against racism.
This new edition contains all the material from previous versions (including an essay by J. Sakai), along with a new introduction, Gilbert’s take on the election of Donald Trump, and an extensive new text surveying changes in the global political order since the 1960s. More than ever, Looking at the U.S. White Working Class Historically explores and illuminates perspectives for radical change and resistance to racism in the United States today.
What People Are Saying
“This book embodies what I have come to expect from all of David Gilbert’s writings: precision insight tempered with humanity, nuanced historical analysis for the purpose of learning lessons, and an everpresent willingness and even insistence on questioning everything, especially his own work. Gilbert’s honesty in his introduction about what this book lacks strengthens rather than weakens its impact – He does not pretend to have all of the answers, instead insisting the only right answer is a collective one. He invites conversation and critique rather than running from it, highlighted so clearly with a rebuttal by one of the people’s work he delves into. This book, like the politics needed to build a new future, shows struggle as the dynamic living growing creature it is.” —Walidah Imarisha, author of Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption, and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
“David Gilbert’s analytical clarity, commitment to universal justice, and unswerving integrity shine through his words.” —Barbara Smith, founding member of the Combahee River Collective, and of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press; Consulting Editor, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me
Around: Forty Years of Movement Building With Barbara Smith.
“When Malcolm X said John Brown was his standard for white activism, he could have easily meant David Gilbert. He is our generation’s John Brown. His support of Black liberation as a method of freeing the world is to be studied, appreciated, and applied.” —Jared A. Ball, author of I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto, and professor of Media and Africana Studies at Morgan State University
“If we want to organize white people against racism and for racial justice, if you want to build up a broad-based majority for economic, racial, and gender justice, if you are enraged at the devastation of structural inequality in our lives and on our planet, then this book is key. Class inequality is organized through white supremacy, and the ruling class strategy of divide and rule of pitting working class and poor white people against communities of color, must be understood. David Gilbert gives us historical analysis to understand this ruling class strategy, and how we can unite white people across class to a collective liberation vision with racial justice at the center.” —Chris Crass, author of Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter
About the Author
David Gilbert, a longtime anti-racist and anti-imperialist, first became active in the Civil Rights movement in 1961. In 1965, he started the Vietnam Committee at Columbia University; in 1967 he co-authored the first Students for a Democratic Society pamphlet naming the system “imperialism”; and he was active in the Columbia strike of 1968. He later joined the Weather Underground and spent a total of 10 years underground.
David has been imprisoned in New York State since October 20th, 1981, when a unit of the Black Liberation Army along with allied white revolutionaries tried to get funds for the struggle by robbing a Brinks truck. This tragically resulted in a shoot-out in which a Brinks guard and two police officers were killed. David is serving a sentence of 75 years (minimum) to life under New York State’s “felony murder” law, whereby all participants in a robbery, even if they are unarmed and non-shooters, are equally responsible for all deaths that occur. While in prison, he’s been a pioneer for peer education on AIDS and has continued to write and advocate against oppression. He’s been involved with the annual Certain Days Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar since 2001 and has written two books from prison that are available from Kersplebedeb: No Surrender and Love and Struggle, as well as the pamphlet Our Commitment is to Our Communities: Mass Incarceration, Political Prisoners and Building a Movement for Community-Based Justice.
You can write to David at:
David Gilbert #83A6158
Wende Correctional Facility,
3040 Wende Road
Alden, New York 14004-1187