The limits of anti-racism

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The limits of anti-racism

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

[url=http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Antiracism.html]Adolph Reed Jr. - The limits of anti-racism[/url]

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The contemporary discourse of "antiracism" is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality-whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of "racism"- over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them. And, no, neither "overcoming racism" nor "rejecting whiteness" qualifies as such a step any more than does waiting for the "revolution" or urging God's heavenly intervention. If organizing a rally against racism seems at present to be a more substantive political act than attending a prayer vigil for world peace, that's only because contemporary antiracist activists understand themselves to be employing the same tactics and pursuing the same ends as their predecessors in the period of high insurgency in the struggle against racial segregation.

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All too often, "racism" is the subject of sentences that imply intentional activity or is characterized as an autonomous "force." In this kind of formulation, "racism," a conceptual abstraction, is imagined as a material entity. Abstractions can be useful, but they shouldn't be given independent life.

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My position is-and I can't count the number of times I've said this bluntly, yet to no avail, in response to those in blissful thrall of the comforting Manicheanism-that of course racism persists, in all the disparate, often unrelated kinds of social relations and "attitudes" that are characteristically lumped together under that rubric, but from the standpoint of trying to figure out how to combat even what most of us would agree is racial inequality and injustice, that acknowledgement and $2.25 will get me a ride on the subway. It doesn't lend itself to any particular action except more taxonomic argument about what counts as racism.

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I remain curious why the "debate" over antiracism as a politics takes such indirect and evasive forms-like the analogizing and guilt by association, moralistic bombast in lieu of concrete argument-and why it persists in establishing, even often while denying the move, the terms of debate as race vs. class. I'm increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of "artificial" impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.

martin dufresne

Fascinating piece. Thanks for posting it. The liberal privilege of choosing what identity/cause to espouse is the moment where one unlatches from the community's bottom-line issues and crafts one's own way/theory/priority, i.e. renewed, unaccountable privilege.

RosaL

Left Turn wrote:

[url=http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Antiracism.html]Adolph Reed Jr. - The limits of anti-racism[/url]

Quote:
I remain curious why the "debate" over antiracism as a politics takes such indirect and evasive forms-like the analogizing and guilt by association, moralistic bombast in lieu of concrete argument-and why it persists in establishing, even often while denying the move, the terms of debate as race vs. class. I'm increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of "artificial" impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.

The term "classism" is reflective of the same kind of thing. 

martin dufresne

So, RosaL, the critique of classism - as support for maintaining class lines - reflects itself a class line?...Undecided

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Also from the same article:

Adolph Reed Jr. wrote:

I've been struck by the level of visceral and vitriolic anti-Marxism I've seen from this strain of defenders of antiracism as a politics. It's not clear to me what drives it because it takes the form of snide dismissals than direct arguments. Moreover, the dismissals typically include empty acknowledgment that "of course we should oppose capitalism," whatever that might mean. In any event, the tenor of this anti-Marxism is reminiscent of those right-wing discourses, many of which masqueraded as liberal, in which only invoking the word "Marxism" was sufficient to dismiss an opposing argument or position.

This anti-Marxism has some curious effects. Leading professional antiracist Tim Wise came to the defense of Obama's purged green jobs czar Van Jones by dismissing Jones's "brief stint with a pseudo-Maoist group," and pointing instead to "his more recent break with such groups and philosophies, in favor of a commitment to eco-friendly, sustainable capitalism." In fact, Jones was a core member of a revolutionary organization, STORM, that took itself very seriously, almost comically so.

And are we to applaud his break with radical politics in favor of a style of capitalism that few actual capitalists embrace? This is the substance of Wise's defense.

This sort of thing only deepens my suspicions about antiracism's status within the comfort zone of neoliberalism's discourses of "reform." More to the point, I suspect as well that this vitriol toward radicalism is rooted partly in the conviction that a left politics based on class analysis and one focused on racial injustice are Manichean alternatives.

Infosaturated

A lot of this article is way over my head in that I would probably have to start looking things up and studying it to truely understand, but I think I get the over all picture.

Fighting racism used to entail making practical changes that had a direct impact on the lives of black people or POC.  Today's anti-racism "movement" if you can all it that, is mainly talk with little action.

There are many black people who are now members of the upper-classes, of the wealthy. They may still suffer from some racism, but they aren't getting lynched. Poor black people aren't getting lynched either, but they are getting shot. They are over-represented in prisons and on the street. They are over-represented in poverty-stricken areas. We saw that clearly with Katrina.

That POC are over-represented in poorer areas is due to racism, but even if racism were completely gone they would still remain over-represented.  Generational welfare occurs in white families too and those children don't have a significant advantage in getting out because they are white. If that were the case, the population of white people on welfare would be shrinking.  Even Bill Cosby jumped on the "culture" bandwagon as the reason black people are still in the getto.  There was a huge todo over the Harvard professor because he is a Harvard professor. Everyone is all up in arms about the Freddy Villeneuva case and I believe the community got some money for recreational facilities. Big whoop. In Toronto they are opening up a school that will focus on black history etc. to provide black role-models. It couldn't hurt, but big whoop again.

Focusing on the colour concentrations in poorer neighbours frames the debate as an issue of racism when it is more an issue of poverty than it is racism.  Racism may have led to over-representation in poor neighbourhoods but it has always become a self-perpetuating circle of poverty and racism. Bill Cosby supported the myth that it is black culture and attitudes that are keeping these kids down. If only they would have more respect for education and work harder and dress nicer they could escape their fate.  Others will say if only racism were gone they could escape their fate.

Neither of these things is true. While racism certainly still exists, and may be the original root cause generations back, racism is not the primary factor keeping people mired in poverty. Better than a "black school" would be a solid breakfast and lunch program coupled with a generous after-school program of free extra-curicular activities with all necessary equipment provided. Higher minimum wages would be very helpful too.

The focus on the racial face of poverty may even be feeding racism. The focus should be on the poverty not the colour of it, because by focusing on the colour it makes it seem as though that is the "problem".  It makes it a "black" problem instead of a "poverty" problem. 

I'm not saying racism isn't an important factor, but we have a four way split not a two way split. It isn't black/white.

In order from worst to best in social positioning it's  black poor/white poor/black rich/white rich.

The more important allies are black/white poor and black/white rich.

That is the limit of anti-racism.

 

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

I've been told that Aldolph really liked the Walter Benn Minchaels piece that covers similar terrain.

 

[url=http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n16/mich02_.html]What Matters[/url]

 

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But it would be a mistake to think that because the US is a less racist, sexist and homophobic society, it is a more equal society. In fact, in certain crucial ways it is more unequal than it was 40 years ago. No group dedicated to ending economic inequality would be thinking today about declaring victory and going home. In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4. And while this inequality is both raced and gendered, it's less so than you might think. White people, for example, make up about 70 per cent of the US population, and 62 per cent of those are in the bottom quintile. Progress in fighting racism hasn't done them any good; it hasn't even been designed to do them any good. More generally, even if we succeeded completely in eliminating the effects of racism and sexism, we would not thereby have made any progress towards economic equality. A society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.

An obvious question, then, is how we are to understand the fact that we've made so much progress in some areas while going backwards in others. And an almost equally obvious answer is that the areas in which we've made progress have been those which are in fundamental accord with the deepest values of neoliberalism, and the one where we haven't isn't. We can put the point more directly by observing that increasing tolerance of economic inequality and increasing intolerance of racism, sexism and homophobia - of discrimination as such - are fundamental characteristics of neoliberalism. Hence the extraordinary advances in the battle against discrimination, and hence also its limits as a contribution to any left-wing politics. The increased inequalities of neoliberalism were not caused by racism and sexism and won't be cured by - they aren't even addressed by - anti-racism or anti-sexism.

My point is not that anti-racism and anti-sexism are not good things. It is rather that they currently have nothing to do with left-wing politics, and that, insofar as they function as a substitute for it, can be a bad thing. American universities are exemplary here: they are less racist and sexist than they were 40 years ago and at the same time more elitist. The one serves as an alibi for the other: when you ask them for more equality, what they give you is more diversity. The neoliberal heart leaps up at the sound of glass ceilings shattering and at the sight of doctors, lawyers and professors of colour taking their place in the upper middle class. Whence the many corporations which pursue diversity almost as enthusiastically as they pursue profits, and proclaim over and over again not only that the two are compatible but that they have a causal connection - that diversity is good for business. But a diversified elite is not made any the less elite by its diversity and, as a response to the demand for equality, far from being left-wing politics, it is right-wing politics.

 

RosaL

martin dufresne wrote:

So, RosaL, the critique of classism - as support for maintaining class lines - reflects itself a class line?...Undecided

 

Yes. It seems to be a critique of attitudes towards people of "the lower class". It doesn't seem to see class itself - as an economic reality - as the problem. So there are endless accusations of "classism", which appears to be some sort of prejudice against the poor or some kind of failure to "give them a chance" but no interest in the economic foundations of class, let alone in doing anything about it. The implication is that the fundamental problem is attitudes towards and treatment of the poor rather than the economic system that makes some people poor and limits their (our)  lives in other ways as well.

The critique of "classism" (quoting the article) "reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and for punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of "artificial" impediments to its functioning like race and gender [and class] will make it even more efficient and just". 

I need to write this up more fully and carefully but right now I also need to get to work!

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Diversity as a neo-liberal (and right wing) substitute for equality.  What an outstanding insight. Thanks for that, LeftTurn.

 

Supplement: It seems that it is impossible for our society to deny it`s own history of racism. What it continues to deny, however,  is the reality of exploitation and social class.

Kanada2America

The Left and the Right get on board various anti-racism initiatives for their own reasons. There is a reason that the same political party that talked about immigration reform, is the one that sends its ministers to India to drum up immigration. That's because non-white immigration is actually an industry for canada.

Diane Ablonzy and Jason Kenney didn't suddenly decide they like East Indians. They did it because they have a vested interest in the $4-5B industry that makes this country a lot of money. The Liberal Party doesn't just invest in certain ethnic neighborhoods with an ethnic candidate... it's all about control.

Kanada2America

Slumberjack

Complicating White Privilege

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Here, then, is the rub: We, in the white privilege brigade, often, and somewhat generically, in my opinion, like to say that racism is about power. That word, power, might be the most often-spoken word in conversations about white privilege. Rarely, though, do we speak to the nature of power beyond the types of privilege so eloquently expounded upon by Peggy. This is where critical race theory, with its frameworks for deconstructing racism, has flown past the white privilege discourse. Critical race theorists centralize the fundamental questions too often left unasked in conversations about white privilege: What, exactly, does power mean in a capitalistic society? Why, in a capitalistic society, do people and institutions exert power and privilege? What are they after?

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Interesting article, Slumberjack.

It appears that Gorski is finally coming to recognize the importance of (what he calls) class in understanding racism, which puts him well out in front of the rest of the typical CRT "white privilege brigade" (as he calls them):

Gorski wrote:
The most heavy-handedly enforced rule, and the one we, in the white privilege brigade, still seem determined to protect with the greatest earnestness, dictates that Nobody shall, during a conversation about white privilege, mention any identity that is not a racial identity or any oppression that is not racism. To my knowledge, there is no official rulebook governing conversations about white privilege. If such a rulebook did exist, though, I am sure that this rule would be printed in bold italics....

I feel the tug - believe me, I do - of that race-only white privilege rule. Still, no matter how I slice it, I come back to this: Class matters, even when it comes to white privilege. In other words, I have come to believe that the white privilege brigade, with me among its chief enforcers, has been wrong to police the complexities of class (and, for that matter, other forms of oppression), out of conversations about white privilege.

Worse, by doing so, we also have failed to interrogate the hierarchy of privilege among white people, including white people who are attempting to be anti-racists. And there is much to interrogate....

This is especially true when our white privilege work, at times, has included insisting that economically disadvantaged white people who, like many People of Color, have experienced hunger, who are crowded into the most dilapidated schools, and who are disproportionate targets of economic injustice, take the same responsibility for white privilege as we take. It is especially true when we insist that we're here to talk about race, not class, as if economic injustice is not part of the same power hierarchy as racism.
[italics in original]

Of course what Gorski means when he talks about class is a rather liberal idea that goes no deeper than recognition of "economic inequality" (as if "class" is simply a matter of how much money you have). "Class or, more precisely, economic injustice is the real issue," he says, "but so is racism as well as sexism and heterosexism and ableism, and the many intersections of these and other oppressions."

Still, Gorski's recognition that "class matters", that privilege is relative, and that racism is one of many ways that people experience oppression, is a positive step forward, and one that will no doubt earn him criticism from some of his fellow anti-racism educators.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Interesting article, with many good points. However, the quoted punctum ("Nobody shall, during a conversation about white privilege, mention any identity that is not a racial identity or any oppression that is not racism.") has never appeared to me in the way it seems to appear to Gorski. Not in bold italics, not ever. Usually, the anti-racist conversations I have, or try to have, have been governed by a version of bell hooks wonderful gloss on modern Western society: "imperial­ist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy." Intersection. Layering. Cross-pollination.

What I have seen is other forms of oppression used to diminish or render invisible the specific vector under discussion. This is less a theory than a defensive mechanism, apparent in virtually every sort of discussion we have here an elsewhere (another important point: Peggy McIntosh's "knapsack" is not theory: it is an educational tool. A telling distinction which makes it a poor target for a critical argument). However, whenever I am discussing racism, and especially sexism or patriarchy, with white males whose social position or class has been severely compromised economically or otherwise, the discussion becomes much more difficult and strained. But oppression works in manifold, not singular, ways, so these discussions--about capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, white supremacy and imperialism--remain crucial.

Gorski says that:

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We simply cannot understand class in the U.S. without also understanding racism. Class or, more precisely,economic injustice is the real issue, but so is racism as well as sexism and heterosexism and ableism, and the many intersections of these and other oppressions.

Hortense Spillers would add that we can't talk about gender in the United States without talking about race. I'm sure that if CMOT Dibbler were around, he would also tell us that we couldn't talk about disability without talking about race or class. So yes: of course it's relative. This isn't news.

I went to see Howard Zinn's Marx in Soho awhile back, and it began with a lecture on Zinn's politics. The speaker, whose name escapes me, was talking about politics America and its connection with imperialism. He mentioned offhand the US media's obsession with Iran. A well known (locally) Iranian refugee and communist, stood up an denounced the speaker for sympathizing with an oppressive murderous regime. I think we can picture the dynamic quite clearly, familiar as it is with us babblers. I can't help but think that this incident speaks to us here.

When I ask myself if racism is simply a product of capitalism, even if the racism we have now is a specific form of racism inextricable from capitalism, I always arrive at another question: if capitalism ended tomorrow and society was transformed into a socialist one, would racism disappear? Would sexism? And, always, I am forced to answer no, I don't think it would. The pertinant point here is that, in fact, economic injustice is not  "part of the same power hierarchy as racism," as Gorski insists. They are on different, overlapping, intersecting hierarchies, and we need to attend to each individually and carefully if we are to attend to them all. I've never seen this approach as damaging to discussions about class or gender (or to race, for that matter, as Gorski tries to argue). I've only found them enriching and instructive.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Catchfire wrote:

if capitalism ended tomorrow and society was transformed into a socialist one, would racism disappear? Would sexism? And, always, I am forced to answer no, I don't think it would.

Not ipso facto and not immediately. But the material basis for racism and sexism (and for their persistence despite anti-racist and anti-sexist education campaigns) would no longer exist. Within a few generations they would wither away.

In fact, racism and sexism will never disappear under conditions of capitalist expoitation. Socialism is a precondition for the emancipation of women and oppressed races.

6079_Smith_W

Well I can't argue with that, Spector. 

Really. I can't.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

M. Spector wrote:
In fact, racism and sexism will never disappear under conditions of capitalist expoitation. Socialism is a precondition for the emancipation of women and oppressed races.

Well, I more or less agree with this. But I don't think their elimination is simply a matter of waiting out a few generations post-revolution. Since both forms of oppression predate capitalism (albeit with different character), there's no evidence that they are wedded to capitalism's life cycle. What's to prevent another form of racism/sexism from surfacing under socialism? The underlying question here is this: is the only form of oppression exacted through controlling the mode of production? 

Fidel

Catchfire wrote:
Since both forms of oppression predate capitalism (albeit with different character), there's no evidence that they are wedded to capitalism's life cycle.

War and conflict have always been part of actually existing capitalism. War and warfiteering are a threat to everyone's rights and the ultimate manifestation of racism. Today the new liberal capitalism has run up against nationalist barriers to its expansion Eastward. Nationalist barriers are ultimately ethnic and even religious barriers. Militant Islam represents the largest threat to women's rights in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia today. And take a wild guess as to who's been working diligently to facilitate the spread of militant Islam since the 1950's. Theocratic feudalists and our own right wing extremists in the west became inextricably twined some time ago.

Actual capitalism today is phase of human development evolved from imperialism. And today's religious crusades are about remaking the world order to facilitate capitalist expansion. The current system is not just stagnant but hopelessly bankrupt and requires new resources and people to exploit in order to prop-up an impossible monetary situation of debt-driven economy. Capitalism will die without fresh blood to feed on. Such is the nature of predatory capitalism. Capitalist expansion must happen because the current debt-driven scheme for banking and balance of payments between countries is a hydrogen bomb which will explode unless they defuse it by victimizing millions more human beings and plundering international resources.

We need a socio-economic system that isn't driven by profit. We have to do certain things because they are necessary and vital to human existence and not because it feels good. We need to do the necessary things even if it doesn't satisfy a minimum capitalist profit margin of 10-12%. Socialism operating at cost, or even at a loss if necessary, has to be an option if humanity will survive the transition to a sustainable future. 

6079_Smith_W

Now that I do agree with, SJ. 

Seriously. In fact you mention my biggest concern about this sort of analysis. 

 

KenS

I also agree SJ. [With the caveat that I may not fully grasp it all.]

I am going to drop in some thread drift that following up on would not belong here.

Slumberjack wrote:

... both Capitalism and Socialism are quite capable of making promises they can't possibly fulfill in that regard. 

Reading histories and especially social histories of areas of Spain where the anarchists were in charge for some time, is also pretty sobering.

Which BTW, I take not to be necessarily an 'equal time indicment' of 'anarchism' per se. That it could be, but it is only necessarily a reminder to all of us that all revolutions unleash the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And about racism as a lasting force, this unfortunately but not surprisingly is all too true.

Slumberjack

Catchfire wrote:
Interesting article, with many good points. However, the quoted punctum ("Nobody shall, during a conversation about white privilege, mention any identity that is not a racial identity or any oppression that is not racism.") has never appeared to me in the way it seems to appear to Gorski. Not in bold italics, not ever. Usually, the anti-racist conversations I have, or try to have, have been governed by a version of bell hooks wonderful gloss on modern Western society: "imperial­ist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy." Intersection. Layering. Cross-pollination.

There are bound to be different and discouraging [to say the least] trial and error conversations in trying to identify Capitalism as the alpha and omega of everything, because it is easy to point to a culprit and say once we deal with that...then most of the work is behind us now that the major impediments have been removed.  I think it misses the point of how we became so entangled in the first place.

Slumberjack

KenS wrote:
I also agree SJ. [With the caveat that I may not fully grasp it all.]

I certainly don't.  It's just me thinking out loud...borrowing heavily from sensible concepts that have arisen elsewhere.

KenS

I guess I missed Catchfire saying that.

If you make allowances that Gorski is exagerrating [and maybe a lot], I certainly pick that up in anti-racist discussions. Here included.

The way I read him is that anti-racist discussions are so frequently derailed by white people bleating "I'm oppressed too," that it inevitably causes a prickliness that ends up inadvertently quashing those kinds of multidemensional approaches to the forms of oppression.

Not only do I think that is true. But even without being able to remember a specific incident, I am certain I have in discussions materially contributed to that prickliness.

Fidel

Slumberjack wrote:
I wouldn't know how to eliminate oppression entirely because it seems to be a constant within the human condition, despite what Capitalism, its social democratic apologists, and the media tell us about how great everything is compared to the past, now that there is opportunity for everyone because a few regulations and laws have been put into place.

I think that racism and sexism are probably more pervasive in the most capitalist countries, ie. the USA and India at the extremes. The list of inequalities and basic rights violations would be too long to list here. I can't see a lot of hope for African-Americans vastly overrepresented in measures of poverty and incarceration. Black incarceration rates in the U.S. are still several times higher that was true of Apartheid South Africa. And same-sex rights will be a long time coming in democratric capitalist countries of America and India.

I think Sweden and Cuba, two extremes on the left of the political and economic spectrum, have done a better job of recognizing racism and sexism and are at least dealing with these problems. There has been measurable progress in general. Sweden and Cuba are freer and more democratic countries where inequality in general is less pronounced than in the most capitalist countries.

KenS

I dont know about Sweden, where I cannot see that racism has changed much. Institutional efforts are just institutional efforts.

Cuba has made progress. But you have to consder that Cuba is also a creole society- where both apparently white and black people are minorities... with the usual very racist structure of locating people in the social order.

But take a look around in Cuba at the top levels of civil society as well as the party. You still do not see very many black people.

So what is 'progress' when la plus ca change....

For all the serious campaigns done in Cuba done on many issues, I do not remember one that went after all forms of racism beyond insitutional racism. Historically, Cuban revolutionaries of all colours took the approach that racism is wrong and will not be in socialist Cuba. End of story. End of discussion. Popular culture has certainly voiced otherwise. But I had a black Cuban friend and Party member, young and pretty accomplised, who in 1970 did not think it wise to voice the whole range of what it meant to be a black man in the new Cuba.

KenS

And just 'in principle'-saying that racism is the most virulent in the USA and Mexico, and will remain that way, says nothing at all about whether socialism makes a fig of difference.

But I'm saying that to the wrong person- and its a distraction. Its not the subject at all.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Catchfire wrote:

Since both forms of oppression predate capitalism (albeit with different character), there's no evidence that they are wedded to capitalism's life cycle. What's to prevent another form of racism/sexism from surfacing under socialism?

This comment illustrates the whole problem nicely in a nutshell. You see racism and sexism as standing completely separate and apart from class oppression, as if they just dropped from the heavens one day.

I see them as products of a class society. To turn Gorski's dictum on its head, "We simply cannot understand racism... without also understanding class".

BTW, where is your evidence for racism in pre-capitalist societies? Where are the racist writings, comments, vocabulary, slurs, insults, stereotypes, etc. in pre-capitalist literature?

Did feudal societies have racialized minorities?

 

Slumberjack

M. Spector wrote:
To turn Gorski's dictum on its head, "We simply cannot understand racism... without also understanding class".

As far as trying to understand, the phrase seems to work well both ways, but it still says little about what came first.

Quote:
Where are the racist writings, comments, vocabulary, slurs, insults, stereotypes, etc. in pre-capitalist literature?  Did feudal societies have racialized minorities? 

This is worse than creationism.  It's as if history began circa 1917.

6079_Smith_W

I think an important cautionary tale  is how the German Democratic Republic dealt with its Nazi and anti-Semitic past, which is to say, they didn't. They denied they had any connection to it. The Nazi capitalists had been driven out, and were running the show in the west. 

The DDR may have done better when it came to purging those who were in power, and profited, but in a country where there had been a blockwart on every corner, to pretend the legacy was entirely gone is a stretch.

Certainly the Federal Republic did not deal with their history in the best way either, and certainly some of what is seen as disregard for anti-semitism on the part of the DDR is actually legitimate response regarding the state of Israel.  But that does not account for all of it, and  I expect the complete denial that happened in the east had some role in the differences in the rise of neo-Nazism in both countries.

Whether or not a more equitable political and economic system can help reduce racism, sexism and other forms of oppression (and I agree that it does) that is only one part of fighting that oppression - as has been pointed out.

East Germany is a good example that these ills, if not dealt with directly,  can sometimes come back in unpredictable forms. 

KenS

M. Spector wrote:

Did feudal societies have racialized minorities?

Talk about distractions. Too bad you are not joking.

And for one of the most spectacular and cultually near at hand historical examples, google the roots of the word 'ghetto'.

And evidence in literature and written records... where to start? But the Old and New Testaments would not be bad. And several millenia back, Egyptian descriptions of where people live and must live, who can have what occupations...

No, you must have been joking. Or... 

Fidel

KenS wrote:

And just 'in principle'-saying that racism is the most virulent in the USA and Mexico, and will remain that way, says nothing at all about whether socialism makes a fig of difference.

 

If we were to measure sexism in terms of US capitalist democracy versus Cuban socialist democracy in the decade of the 2000s, female parliamentarians in Cuba were 42% of total .  In the same year USA it was 17% of total. 

In Cuba's parliament of 2008: "...racially, 118 parliamentarians are black and another 101 are of mixed race (35.67% in total);"

 

Capitalist market economies tend to produce greater economic inequalities which are compensated for a lot moreso in socialist democracies. People who are economically unequal tend to be politically unequal. More women and people of colour in the halls of power where decisions and laws are made is crucial to empowering women and ethnic minorities.

And I used India and not Mexico as a developing world example for capitalism. Women and children in democratic capitalist India basically have very few discernable rights. Social measures in 1940s fourth world China were behind those in India. By 1976 and the end of Mao's reign, infant mortality in communist China was better than the entire thirdworld developing capitalist country average. That 1976 achievement in IM in communist China was better than the same rate in India until the late 1990s. The greatest improvements in mortality and literacy were made in Mao's time. Or at least, that's what World Bank statistics say.

Fidel

6079_Smith_W wrote:
  I expect the complete denial that happened in the east had some role in the differences in the rise of neo-Nazism in both countries.

Whether or not a more equitable political and economic system can help reduce racism, sexism and other forms of oppression (and I agree that it does) that is only one part of fighting that oppression - as has been pointed out.

East Germany is a good example that these ills, if not dealt with directly,  can sometimes come back in unpredictable forms. 

 

Of course, in post-war West Germany the Atlantic Alliance simply reconstructed Himmler's SS  to spy on the East. What was left of the Nazi intelligence agency later became West Germany's BND. And they were caught red-handed fulfilling their gladio obligations a number of times and as recently as Kosovo in 2008. 

Slumberjack

If we recognize the co-dependencies between Capitalism and other distinct forms of oppression, racism being one of them, then it becomes clear from the outset that we're discussing separate, but mutually supportive entities. Capitalism as a system of oppression onto itself doesn't begat additional oppressive mechanisms as part of its function, but it certainly provides the sustaining fuel.  The theoretical elimination of one though doesn't necessarily spell an end to the remaining networks. We can recognize for instance that with the institutions of slavery being as old as the hills, exploitative economic systems throughout history have always entered into partnerships of convenience with 'othering' forms of oppression. An innate human fear of differences predates every form of exchange ever devised.

As CF mentioned, living under socialism for any given length of time is no guarantee that racism or sexism would eventually disappear. If everyone were provided with an equal share from the economic output of a country..say the US or Canada, you would still have people begrudging different communities for one thing or another...perhaps for having too many babies as an example, and thus requiring more redistribution from the production cycles.

I wouldn't know how to eliminate oppression entirely because it seems to be a constant within the human condition, despite what Capitalism, its social democratic apologists, and the media tell us about how great everything is compared to the past, now that they say there is opportunity for everyone because a few regulations and laws have been put into place.  While the tasks should obviously and constantly be directed toward the outright elimination of oppression, both Capitalism and Socialism are quite capable of making promises they can't possibly fulfill in that regard.  It's when the respective spokespersons and loudspeakers say they already have is where white anti-racists are caught up in our own self perpetuating delusions.  It comforts us by saying we're winning....we're making the difference with our example.

6079_Smith_W

Yes, I think I made reference to the fact that East Germany did a better job of rooting out Nazis, on the surface anyway.  West Germany never denied they were inheriting the legacy of the Nazi regime, and responsibility for its crimes, whereas East Germany stated that they had gotten rid of capitalism, nazism and racism and were starting from a clean slate. 

My point concerned the thorny question of declaring a social problem like racism eradicated because of a political change. Of course I am not criticizing socialism as a political method, but it was a mistake by the government of East Germany, and other east bloc countries.

 

 

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

M. Spector wrote:
This comment illustrates the whole problem nicely in a nutshell. You see racism and sexism as standing completely separate and apart from class oppression, as if they just dropped from the heavens one day.

No, I don't. But I also don't see race and gender oppression as subjugated to class oppression. I see them as equal and potent strands in a complicated network of power and pressures.

Quote:
Did feudal societies have racialized minorities?

Well, not exactly, and certainly not in the sense capitalism does. But this is not the same thing as an absence of racism. The conquest of Ireland and the Crusades are two examples that spring quickly to mind about racialized others, but a historian wouldn't have to work hard to find examples of excluding language which facilitated economic or militaristic oppression. Even if you disagree with this (I don't see how, to be honest), you must concede that patriarchy predates any form of governance of which we are aware.

6079_Smith_W wrote:
My point concerned the thorny question of declaring a social problem like racism eradicated because of a political change. Of course I am not criticizing socialism as a political method, but it was a mistake by the government of East Germany, and other east bloc countries.

There seems to be some confusion as to what socialism or a post-capitalist society would look like. Socialism isn't a replacement of "democracy," nor is capitalism merely "political" (well, it is, but not in the sense you mean) or "economic". Capitalism is above all a set of social relations, which dictate not only who we can vote for (a fairly piddly part of our world) or how we govern ourselves, but who can control whom, how we represent ourselves to ourselves and others, and the means, character and structure of producing our own existence. To get rid of capitalism would not be simply "a political change," it would revolutionize (literally) our entire social structure.

6079_Smith_W

No confusion on my end, Catchfire. As I said, I wasn't making a criticism of socialism, nor assuming that what happened back then was in any way post-capitalist. 

But everyone else here has been talking about real governments with real pressures.

In the case I offer, it was a government which presumed that by a political and economic change it had done away with certain social ills, and refused to deal with them, except to use them as a foil against their opponents. 

Whether racism would wither and die in a truly socialist environment I have no way of knowing. What I can say it that those who assumed they had met those conditions back then,  and didn't have to deal with racism in their own country were mightily mistaken.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

[url=http://www.shunpiking.com/bhs2007/0402-BHS-IS-origofrac.htm]The Origins of Racism[/url]
by Isaac Saney

Quote:
Racism, one of the dominant features of the world, is often treated as a permanent phenomenon in human relations. Entwined with the belief that racial antipathy and ethnocentrism are primordial is the assumption that racism is a natural, inevitable, and characteristically European legacy. This perspective ignores the mass of evidence that demonstrates that racism has a definite origin in a particular historical period, linked to very specific circumstances and conditions. Discovering the origins of racism may not fully account for its persistence. However, understanding its origins casts an essential light not only on the functioning of racism but on the nature of governance.

The historical record testifies to a general absence of global and universalised racial prejudice and notions of racial superiority and inferiority before the advent of the Atlantic slave trade: while notions of "otherness" and superiority existed they were not based on the racialized worldviews. Before this horrendous traffic in human flesh, Europeans had positive attitudes and images of African and Africans. In the art of ancient Greece, Africans are often portrayed in positions of power and authority. The Greco-Roman societies did not generate or create a racist ideology to justify their extensive systems of slavery.

Before the slave trade, the ancient world held Africa in high regard, and treated Africans with respect and honour. Bronze statue of a young musician from the Greek Hellenistic Period.
In Blacks in Antiquity, Frank Snowden, an African American historian, states that interactions between Blacks and whites "did not give rise among the Greeks and Romans to the colour prejudices of certain later Western societies. The Greeks and Romans developed no theories of white superiority." Jan Pieterse further observes that generally in the world of antiquity "differences in skin colour did not play a significant role" and that "black carried a positive meaning."

The African contribution to the treasury of world history and culture was universally acknowledged. One has only to read the works of the acclaimed Greek Herodotus - considered the father of historical study in the West - to appreciate the esteem in which the Black world and its accomplishments were held.

This ancient perspective is reflected in the Renaissance. The art of that period - Reubens and Rembrandt being prominent exemplars - treated Africans with respect and honour. Positive images of Africans predominated in Europe up until the fifteenth century. These images are starkly delineated by the emergence and production of the deluge of negative and debased images that arise in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The question is thus posed: What led to the destruction of this climate of mutual respect? History gives one dominating answer: the Atlantic Slave Trade.

While slavery is an ancient institution, for most of world history it was not a condition identified or linked to skin colour. What is often forgotten is that the Irish were bought and sold in English markets in the Middle Ages. The Irish were the first people sold as slaves in the Caribbean, totalling over 100,000. The Irish were white - as were the Acadian people of Maritime Canada. Racism is a weapon of exploiters to single out or target definite peoples for attack. It is not a matter of colour.

The racialization of slavery, the development of the pseudo-scientific concept of race - the division of humanity into "biologically" distinct categories where phenotypical characteristics (especially skin colour) are identiÞers - is a construct created to justify African bondage, the conquest of the Americas and - later - the colonial and imperialist projects. This became an integral component of the emergent Eurocentric world-view that considered people of colour, particularly those of African descent as inferior: peoples without history, destined for servitude. Before the trans-Atlantic commerce in African humanity in the service of burgeoning European capitalist economies, racism as a global historical phenomenon - universalized and inhering at all levels of society - did not exist.

 

6079_Smith_W

@ M Spector

There is a difference between saying it was a global phenomenon and saying it did not exist, and that article seems to be talking about racism in the context of slavery. 

I'm not an expert by any means, but I can think of a couple of clear examples of racism before the capitalist era. 

THe anti-Jewish pogroms in England in the 1100s, for one. Also, the first time members of that community were forced to identify themselves by wearing a badge on their clothing - by Edward II in the 1200s.

During the conquest of Wales, and in the centuries afterward ethnic Welsh suffered extreme racial discrimination. They could not hold political or church office.

Just a few examples, and if you were to extend that beyond race to indicents of domestic cultural, religious, and misogynist discrimination (including  the witch hunts and the Albigensian Crusade within European countries) there are many many more. 

 

Fidel

Quote:
...And one day we must ask the question, Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society...

Martin Luther King, Jr on racism, poverty, capitalism, and other big questions

Quote:
"You can't have capitalism without racism."- Malcolm "X" Little

Mississippi Burning, a film wrote:
"everybody's got to be better than somebody." - FBI Agent Rupert Anderson

Crime and incarceration around the world - U.S. versus Apartheid South Africa

Quote:
Incarceration rate per 100,000 population in South Africa under apartheid (1993) : 368

Incarceration rate per 100,000 Black males in South Africa under apartheid (1993) : 851

Incarceration rate per 100,000 African-American males in the United States under George W. Bush (2001) : 4,848

Systemic racism and capitalism in two of the most capitalist countries during the cold war. And capitalist Canada is world renowned for its racism and abuse of indigenous people.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Very interesting article, M. Spector. Particularly this:

Quote:
In short, the racialization of slavery, the construction of racist and white supremacist ideology in North American was a direct and carefully thought-out ruling class response to the unity of working people and labour solidarity. By instituting a system of racial privileges for white workers it was possible to generate, define and establish the idea of the white race, which then operated as an instrument of social control.

The legacy of this slide from, in Bennett's phrase, "racial wonderland" to a North America where racism is endemic - ideologically and institutionally - is not an accidental outcome. As a smokescreen, it hid - and continues to hide - the real dynamics and control of productive forces and finance; used not just to justify the bondage and exploitation of Africans - and other non-white peoples - but also to deflect the struggles of white workers into the cul-de-sac of national chauvinism. Moreover, racism has developed beyond a method to divide and splinter workers to encompass a pervasive set of social relations deeply rooted in the functioning and material reproduction of capitalism.

Again, I don't dispute any of this. But I would argue that Saney is not talking about racism per se, but the specific character racialized oppression takes in the early and late stages of modern capitalism. His example of Irish slaves, for instance, supports this reading: the Irish were secluded from the English as an ethnographic group as early as the 1100s. We need only read Edmund Spenser (of Faerie Queene infamy) in his A View of the State of Ireland (1596) to read a perfect expression of these pre-modern views as he argues for genocide against the barbaric, seditious and wicked Celtic race. As Saney rightly points out, racialization need have no basis in skin colour. What we are talking about, fittingly, is a distinctly modern form of racialization and racialized oppression. And of course, the revolutionary force of capitalism is breathless: there is nothing it can't subsume or co-opt, including racial prejudice.

I find this discussion a little beside the point, however. The charge made in Gorski's essay is that the current anti-racism educational strategy of discussing power is misguided:

Quote:
We, in the white privilege brigade, often, and somewhat generically, in my opinion, like to say that racism is about power. That word, power, might be the most often-spoken word in conversations about white privilege. Rarely, though, do we speak to the nature of power beyond the types of privilege so eloquently expounded upon by Peggy. This is where critical race theory, with its frameworks for deconstructing racism, has flown past the white privilege discourse. Critical race theorists centralize the fundamental questions too often left unasked in conversations about white privilege: What, exactly, does power mean in a capitalistic society? Why, in a capitalistic society, do people and institutions exert power and privilege? What are they after?

I'm a bit baffled by Gorski's distinctions here. In what ways is "power" different from "privilege"? Isn't the latter a form of the former? The purpose of McIntosh's knapsack is to render visible the ways in which our society excludes, marginalizes, separates and divides--which are insidiously made invisible by ideology. Furthermore, if he criticizes the "White Privilege Brigade" (educators) for using the word power too much, why does he credit "critical race theorists" (theorists) for making the question of power a central one? Isn't the question of how power circulates critical both to discussions of capitalism and race? Again, I ask: is the only form of oppression enacted through unequal access to or ownership of the mode of production? I don't think it is: I think that capitalism mobilizes pre-existing narratives of oppression (gender, race, etc.) in specific ways, but how can they be subjugated by it? I'm not convinced they can be. At least, I haven't been yet.

Slumberjack

Someone can have no discernable power, as with the case of the Grandmother from Appalachia in Gorski's article, but still benefit from localized race based privilege, which in itself constitutes a share of power bestowed by default from being a member of the beneficiary class.  The main point I took from the article is that in the campaign against racism, focusing too heavily on affecting changes to the economically based political power as a panacea will risk a lack of emphasis on systemic social deprogramming on the one hand, but also there is the fact that no one system can, or has yet to make a claim that racism will be eradicated if we were to select one mode of governance or another.  From the perspective of white activism in that regard, to say that strides are being undertaken as we move toward more socially responsible models places too much stock in that work, and perhaps not enough on the residule or human systemic work left behind.  It may not be the case for everyone, but the observation is being made based here upon a largely anecdotal account that I believe on the merits of it, should be taken seriously through examination.  How would it benefit 'us' to say that once we have identified the wider systemic power as the primary impediment and work toward its adjustment...and talk within our groups or in the mirror to say that certain milestones have been achieved...rightly or wrongly it doesn't matter for the purpose of illustration...we have to ask who actually stands to gain from making that assessment.

Fidel

Why would anyone want to discriminate against someone else based on skin colour or ethnicity? What profit-driven system would make it desirable to pay someone less wages, or no wages at all, based on the notion of inferiority of skin colour or country of birth, language, or whatever other reasons capitalists have used to hoodwink workers? That system of economic order which perpetrated the crimes of slavery since its dawning in the 15th century is on the tip of my tongue, and it starts with the letter C and rhymes with cannibalism.

6079_Smith_W

@ SJ

Again, I agree completely.

And I have to compliment you for putting it all in far more diplomatic language than I ever could. That post made me smile.

 

 

 

6079_Smith_W

Well who ever said racism made sense? Now if you want to know some of the other factors that help drive racism, there have been plenty that have been around long before capitalism:

Because they want their land they live on and its resources, or because they see them as a threat to their own resources.

Because they do not understand , or feel threatened by their culture. 

Because they want to use them to enslave, exploit or make war.

Xenophobia - Because they are just seen as different. And really Fidel, treating people who are "different" as if they are unintelligent, filthy, do not have souls, and are not human beings isn't that odd. Just look at the way women have always been treated, even by what we consider the most developed societies, like ancient Athens.

 

Fidel

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Well who ever said racism made sense?

It made all kinds of sense to slave owners of ancient Greece and Rome through to maniacally racist neoliberal capitalists re-colonizing Africa by proxy wars for resource grabs and by debt bondage today.

6079_Smith_W wrote:
Xenophobia - Because they are just seen as different. And really Fidel, treating people who are "different" as if they are unintelligent, filthy, do not have souls, and are not human beings isn't that odd. Just look at the way women have always been treated, even by what we consider the most developed societies, like ancient Athens.

Imperialists, feudalists, and colonialists to their youngest relatives, the Capitalists, have all been fully capable of exploiting a minutiae of difference between us economic serfs in order to justify paying as little as possible for their thefts of labour and gross human rights abuses along the way to enriching themselves. And the worst thing about it is that they have tried to justify it among themselves and for their citizenries by the most elaborate and unscientific notions of man and all the while claiming their ideologies were based on sound intellectual arguments.

Fidel

Pink Floyd, the animals album. Listen to pigs, dogs and sheep forwards and then backwards. The only album I ever played air guitar to. And, yep, you guessed it - we would be the sheep. We've just done what we're told down through the ages. But we'll get them when we master the art of karate. Then we'll make the buggers' eyes water.

6079_Smith_W

Fidel wrote:

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Well who ever said racism made sense?

It made all kinds of sense to slave owners of ancient Greece and Rome through to maniacally racist neoliberal capitalists re-colonizing Africa by proxy wars for resource grabs and by debt bondage today.

I think I mentioned myself that oppresion and personal gain were all strong drivers of racism throughout history. 

But beyond the fact that many people benefit from it, you asked the question of why anyone should be racist, and I agree that in and of itself it makes no sense whatsoever. It is a completely irrational aspect of human nature.

 

Slumberjack

The human nature part has to do with an innate sense of caution pertaining to the unknown or to the unfamiliar, but this certainly doesn't mean to imply that racism is part and parcel of our gene structure, and thus a waste of time to try and combat it's effects. I don't think it is incorrect to say that power systems throughout history have adapted in such a way as to capitalize in this regard, in order to better persuade subjects that it is in their interests to oppress a minority element within, or the survivors of a vanquished, neighbouring nation, particularly when noticeable differences become highlighted in a negative way toward that end. In the circumstances of today this means it is important to hold accountable and to challenge not only our own assumptions, but all of the institutions through which power manifests itself, which includes the government administrative structures and the various departments, the security apparatus most certainly, and in the extremely compelling case of today's bald faced corporatism, its behaviours against people here and the world over. This applies regardless of whatever political/economic system is in place, and it includes as well the places and venues where we attempt to discuss these matters.

eta:  I'm aware that I am not properly analysing the core element from the argument presented in that article.  I just don't know what it is exactly, or how to frame it.

6079_Smith_W

 

@ SJ

I agree. I think by itself, our tendency to fear or be offended by things we don't understand can be overcome. I do think there is a part of xenophobia which is hard-wired, though. That said, there are enough studies that show people tend to cooperate when they can.

But coupled with having to fight for scarce resources, protect yourself, and the inevitable point where people get greedy, it becomes a deadly mix.

@ Fidel

Rome is an interesting example. Although there certainly was racism, the empire, and its strata, were built far more on assimilation, and how "roman" a person was. Their policy of citizenship, whereby men (and to a lesser degree, women) from all territories enjoyed the protection of Roman law undercut what could have been a hierarchy based entirely on race.

In fact, discrimination was strongest against those who did not assimilate, not based on anyone's ethnicity.

We all hear about the invasion of the Goths. In reality a good part of the Roman army, including some of its leaders, were Goths.

 

 

MegB

I know that applying class analysis to all forms of oppression - racism, sexism, lookism, etc., is reductionist, but if nothing else class analysis provides a common language to all who are oppressed.  The reasons for the treatment of different classes of people being exploited by the few differ, and the history is as important as is the understanding of why, but it is essentially a class war.  A complex war, based in a multitude of definitions and realities of inequity, but still a class war.

I think the language we use to describe particular oppressions divides us, and while I understand why those particularities exist, I can't support them as apart from other forms of oppression, theoretically, because the language separates us and allows those who exploit us to use the division to their own ends.

Fidel

@6079_Smith_W: I think Roman economy was mostly agrarian and built on slavery. Food was a priority infeeding Mediterraneans and legionaires, barbarian hordes in the service of Rome etc. And what destroyed the empire was a violation of Hammurabi's laws for periodic debt cancellations. The unwillingness of today's oligarchs to write down debts that are unpayable is destroying today's capitalist economies similarly.

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