On September 25, the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company will host a release party for Acceptable Men: Life in the Largest Steel Mill in the World, a posthumous memoir by Noel Ignatiev about working for US Steel in Gary, Indiana during the 1970s. Industrial Worker recently spoke with David Ranney, who contributed the introduction to Ignatiev’s book, about the author’s anti-racism. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Industrial Worker: Who was Noel Ignatiev?
David Ranney: He was a lifelong revolutionary, born to a working-class family, and worked in the “Gary Works.” Along the way, he wrote books like How the Irish Became White, a polemic about white supremacy and how it affects the working class. He also founded two journals, one of which was Race Traitor, about how being a traitor to whiteness is good.
What do you think is the most important aspect of Acceptable Men?
Noel worked mostly in the blast furnace. He was an electrician in the maintenance crew, fixing anything that went wrong electrically. One thing he observed when he went into the mill was the not-so-subtle manifestations of white supremacy. When he went to take a shower, for example, he was told to go to one that said “Whites Only.”
Seniority rights did not extend far enough either. A young white worker with three years experience could have one of the least dangerous jobs, while a Black worker with 20 years would still have to work the dirtiest and most dangerous job.
Is there any advice you would you give anti-racist organizers looking to follow in Ignatiev’s footsteps?
Observe very carefully the things that regular people talk about. I don’t think you should get so caught up in electoral politics that you forget about what regular people are thinking. Be involved in people’s lives. You have to be attuned to the fight against all aspects of this crummy system.