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Modern Newspapers and the Formation of White Racial Group Consciousness



The historiography of early 19th century United States of America indicates a young, growing nation coming together after a revolutionary war. Principles of the Enlightenment had crossed the Atlantic and they conflicted with the developing market economy and the expansion of rights they afforded white males while simultaneously reducing the rights of free blacks and reinforcing the property status of enslaved blacks. Modern newspapers, the Penny Press, were formed in this cauldron. Their commercial reliance on advertising defined them as modern. The audience they amassed to sell to advertisers did not represent a general audience. The research indicates that the audience represented a newly coalescing group of working- or middle-class people of European descent. This collection of people was evolving into a self-reflexive group at a time when demarcations of race were hardly fixed. The lower-income members of this group had just advanced from their position as indentured servants, a status that was often equated with “black” in this culture. This paper argues that the coalescing of this new group of European descendants occurred symbiotically with the development of the Penny Press. It further argues that this symbiotic relationship, in part, helped to establish this new group as “white.” This chapter further reveals how whiteness is constructed in the foundations of contemporary mass media.
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