This essay examines the circuits of knowledge production that made comparisons between poor whites in the United States and South Africa pertinent and possible. It focuses on a five-volume study funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The study, commissioned in the late 1920s and carried out in the early 1930s, covered all aspects of white rural poverty in South Africa. The first part of the essay discusses what made these comparisons possible by showing how American philanthropic organizations—especially the Carnegie Corporation—carved out spaces for the production and exchange of intellectuals, research paradigms, and theoretical models. The second part of the essay turns to a discussion of what made these comparisons pertinent. The defense of racial capitalism relied on gender and race discourses that put the responsibility for maintaining the prestige of the white race on white women. Reformers, social scientists, elected officials, and philanthropists believed that the so-called poor white problem was a result of the backwardness of the home, which they blamed on inept poor white mothers. Thus, the notion of poor whiteism also became deeply gendered.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.