Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Michael Goldfield


In this thesis, I develop a theoretical frame through which the perpetuation of racial inequality in the United States can be fruitfully interpreted. This reconceptualization is necessary, I argue, because the now dominant paradigm of so-called “structural racism” is methodologically untenable. I contend that the seminal theoretical and empirical accounts within the paradigm do not provide compelling or methodologically sound explanations for the perpetuation of racial inequality, often (and disturbingly) ignoring the historical record of race relations in the US. Specifically, I show that these accounts rely on the dubious causal mechanisms of structural inertia or ideological racism. Where these pitfalls are avoided or otherwise acknowledged, the paradigm is still insufficient in explaining the persistence of racial inequality because it either consciously or unconsciously avoids contextualizing the current regime of racial inequality within the larger historical role of race in American history. I attempt to remedy these issues by locating the causal impetus of racialized social structures in the class relations of the US. I argue that, broadly speaking, workers pursue their interests collectively in one of two ways: through race and gender inclusive, class-based organizations, or through exclusionary race and gender-based organizations. To combat the possibility or reality of the former, employers and the state—separately and in conjunction—have historically incentivized and encouraged the latter to avoid potential shifts in the balance of class power. I model this relationship using what Erik Olin Wright (2000) has described as a “positive class compromise.” White supremacy, then, in its various iterations and guises, is one of the primary processes through which the inherently antagonistic class relations of American capitalism are hegemonized.