Graduate Fellows

Benjamin Foley

Benjamin Foley headshotThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Rutgers University and an activist interested in how white organizers understand and navigate "whiteness" as they participate in interracial coalitions and politics. His dissertation is a historical sociological study of the Young Patriots Organization—a group of poor white migrants from Appalachia who formed in the impoverished neighborhood of “Uptown” Chicago in 1968. Paradoxically brandishing Confederate flags and Black Panther pins, they protested racism against “hillbillies” and “oppressed white people,” and claimed solidarity with other oppressed people of color around the world. Remarkably, the Illinois Black Panther Party saw the Patriots as an ally and recruited them to join their Rainbow Coalition in 1969. The Patriots’ heterodox “white revolutionary” discourse, Ben contends, complicates how we think about “whiteness” and how white anti-racism should and could happen. Rather than treating “whiteness” as an attitude or idea to be rejected, and inadvertently reaffirming its legitimacy as race category, the Patriots “produce” a race discourse where the essentialism of white/ nonwhite binary discourse is weakened, and thereby drained of some of its normative power. Through organizing free medical clinics, food pantries, and other “serve the people” programs, the Patriots link poor southern whites’ poverty and oppression to structural anti-“hillbilly” racism in Chicago. In doing so, the Patriots sought solidarity with other oppressed people of color, not out of a moral or pragmatic objection to “whiteness,” but out of a sense of shared positionally as racially oppressed by white supremacy. While the Patriots’ race discourse often erroneously (and dangerously) equates intra-white racism to racism against communities of color, it merits attention because it offers a model of antiracism that chips away at how white supremacy is reproduced in white ideology. In my project for CCA, therefore, I explore how the Patriots’ experience with Students for a Democratic Society organizers formulated this extraordinary race consciousness.