Table of Contents
- Investigating and Defining Race and Racism
- Eradicating Racism, Classism, and Imperialism
- Moving Forward
- Works Cited
Race is one of the most complicated and ingrained social constructions in modern colonial societies like the United States. It is the most important factor in determining statistical likelihoods of lifelong outcomes and opportunities. It has great significance socially as well, through, for example, self-imposed racial segregation of social circles. Race is a modern invention that serves the sole purpose of unavoidable oppression of specific groups through the use and creation of distinct yet biologically nonexistent categories. Race and racism go hand-in-hand; they do not exist in isolation virtually anywhere on the planet. Racism is the way in which races are applied to people and utilized for systematic capitalist oppression or social victimization of people of specific subordinate racial categories. Since race is merely a social construct with no scientific validity, it can be deconstructed and disrupted, but not without a total overthrow of capitalism for socialism.
Investigating and Defining Race and Racism
When exactly race was constructed is debatable and not fully agreed upon in relevant areas of study. However, it is most logical that it was constructed during the late colonial period, specifically during the colonization of North America by the English in what is now the United States. There were intolerances present throughout all of human history. However, only during the late colonial period did the modern colorized racism that is seen throughout the world come to fruition. During periods of time prior to this, as George M. Fredrickson describes in Racism: A Short History, intolerance and institutional oppression were enforced through religious, national, and ethnic differences rather than differences in physical appearance. Furthermore, during this time distinct racial groups of human beings were not explicitly socially established as they later were in the colonial Americas and Europe during the late colonial period. Some claim that race was constructed first by Spanish colonizers in Latin America. However, this is refuted by the differences in treatment to Canary Islanders and West mainland African people. They would have logically been considered of the same race. Yet, the Canary Islanders were assimilated into Spanish culture while the mainland Africans were kidnapped and enslaved in the New World. More importantly, unlike the English, the Spanish were usually colonizing as a means of spreading religion, not to expand their empire or avoid government tyranny. As such, they desired to convert and assimilate the people they encountered into their culture, which is not possible for racism (as is discussed later). The Spaniards enslaving one ethnic group and assimilating others happened to indigenous American people as well as African people, as exemplified by the enslaved Lucayans (sometimes broadly referred to as Arawaks) of the Bahamas and the assimilated Miskitos of Nicaragua and Honduras. Therefore, the hierarchy constructed under this assumption of racism by the Spaniards does not make any logical or comprehensible sense.
Race is merely a social construction and has no biological significance. There is absolutely no currently accepted scientific evidence within the life sciences that suggests the existence of different biological human races or species (Smedley 11). Additionally, the sudden inclusion and exclusion of various peoples from racial groups shows that it has more sociopolitical meaning than scientific meaning. This is exemplified by the eventual inclusion of various European immigrants of the United States into the White racial group. Of course, the inclusion of European immigrants into the White group functioned as a way to repress non-White people from joining labor unions, weakening their power and strengthening the capitalist class (Hill). Furthermore, different nations have different racial definitions. For example, one who might be considered Mestizo (of both indigenous and Spanish ancestry) in Nicaragua would be considered Latino/Hispanic in the United States and immediately descend the hierarchy. Kosaku Yoshino describes Japanese and Korean people as being of different racial identities in Japan, even though in much of the world outside of Asia, Japanese and Koreans would be considered of the same convoluted “Asian” racial category. These examples show that race is a concept that is constructed with specificity to the cultural-economic context, and does not have a universal definition.
Knowing that race is a human social invention and not a scientific fact, it is logical to assume that it can be modified over time. The inclusion and exclusion of ethnic groups is not the only way in which race is mutable, as evidenced by new racial categories being explicitly and suddenly created throughout history. Leith Mullings describes the transformation of racial categories, attributing it largely to capitalist class hierarchy enforcement (673). Race’s mutability is particularly noticeable after the war on terror, in which Muslims became their own racial group in order to serve the purpose of Islamophobia. Because of sociopolitical circumstances in various countries like the Philippines and the United States, they could be considered their own race. This racialization of Muslims in the United States and the Philippines is very similar to the racialization of Jews in Nazi Germany. Though, perhaps a more explicit example is the addition of the “Portuguese Descendant and Portuguese Speaking” group in the United States 2020 Census. The inevitable and gradual diversification of racialized nations such as the United States results in the creation of new racial categories to include people not previously considered for their definitions and boundaries. This, along with the racialization of Muslims in nations occupied by the United States and the racialization of Jews in Nazi Germany, shows that race and racial categories are transformed to suit the genocidal and capitalist needs of the power elite.
Perhaps one of the main differences between religious intolerance or ethnocentrism and racism is that the assimilation between racial groups is impossible. Ethnicity and religious affiliation can be assimilated between. This is evidenced by the indigenous people and the Mestizos in most countries colonized by Spain assimilating into Spanish culture and Catholicism. Skin color and physical features are, unlike one’s self-representation of culture and their religion, unchangeable. Therefore, colorized race such as that in the United States and South Africa is not assimilable, and can only be changed by the elite. This is further reinforced by the fact that racial categories are assigned and defined to populations by the elite, and not by the assignees. This utility of race is seen particularly during the transition from White and Black servitude to solely Black slavery; Black people were chosen as the bottom slave class because of the ability to quickly identify their position on the class-race hierarchy.
Racism is the use of race to enforce a class hierarchy and differences in treatment and opportunities. There are two primary modes of racism: social and institutional. Social racism is the individual racist acts that people perform against others, like using racial slurs, making subtly racist statements– commonly referred to as “microaggressions”– or individual instances of physical racial violence. Meanwhile, systemic racism is a complex system that perpetuates and upholds racist values to reinforce a racialized caste system. An important center of discussion is the prison-industrial complex, which Angela Davis describes as more than just the prisons and their populations but the intertwining of various societal structures, like healthcare and education, that influence the disproportionate amount of people of color imprisoned (22). As would be expected, dismantling social racism and institutional racism are entirely different tasks.
Eradicating Racism, Classism, and Imperialism
Dismantling social racism is a fairly ambiguous task, as there isn’t a very clear, core problem. Social racism is perpetuated internally by everyone within a society. It is not a physical thing that can be attacked, like laws, but is instead created and reinforced through socialization. The best way to combat social racism is to address social intolerance head-on, like groups such as Antifa have been doing. This head-on tactic is also an important piece of dismantling the institutional racism that is bred by this intolerance. Likewise, addressing institutional racism is crucial to combating social racism that is justified by racists through structural disparities. By addressing social intolerance directly with force, it becomes known that these cultural values are no longer acceptable by the public. Systemic and social racism need to be fought together and with vigor, because they cyclically reinforce each other.
Before discussing the disruption of institutional racism, it is important to identify the major modes that should be the primary targets of antiracists. These systems are reinforced through core neoliberal-capitalist ideologies such as privatization and exploitation. At the forefront of American race relations is the prison-industrial complex, which is the interlocking of systems that perpetuate prison slavery. This is not limited to the criminal justice system, but also includes societal structures such as education, immigration, labor, housing, and healthcare. Though these structures of American society are not actually slavery, the ways in which they operate and their capitalist incentives create environments that often lead to mass incarceration. There are, too, aspects of American race relations that are not particularly relevant when discussing the prison-industrial complex. Of specific importance from a socialist perspective is global racist imperialism. Since most systemic racial issues in the United States are economic and based on industry privatization, they cannot be truly addressed without dismantling capitalism or any other market economic system and replacing it with a non-market socialist system.
Contemporary Abolitionism: the Prison-Industrial Complex and Perpetual Poverty
The criminal justice system of the United States is one of the primary oppressive forces against lower class people– specifically people of color– in the United States. The system is designed to disproportionately incarcerate people of color and prevent them from rehabilitating into the free society, producing recidivism. Virtually every step in the criminal justice system (i.e. the lawmaking process, policing, bail setting, plea bargains and trials, sentencing, imprisonment, and the following rehabilitation process) is racist, classist, and a product of capitalist advancement. Each step in the system must be examined as its own entity that perpetuates racism in a very specific way. Abolishing the system of incarceration in the United States cannot be discussed justly without describing each individual way in which the criminal justice system enforces race and class oppression.
The process of drafting and creating laws has long been corrupted by corporate interest at the expense of lower caste people. A prime example is Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070) of Arizona, or the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which enhances the role of racial profiling against Latinos for immigration charges; it allows and encourages police to stop anybody who “looks like an immigrant” to request proof of citizenship. This bill was drafted at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting, which included many representatives of corporations that directly benefit from increased incarceration, like the Corrections Corporation of America, and politicians of various states (Sullivan). Not only are laws drafted using racist wording and with racist intentions, but they are often drafted with help from corporations that benefit directly from their implementation. Racist laws like SB 1070 are created to increase the capitalist power of prison corporations, immigration agencies, bail corporations, and other beneficiaries by heightening arrest and incarceration rates.
Law enforcement serves the sole purpose of oppression through political repression, extrajudicial killings, civil forfeiture, and enforcing mostly immigration and drug laws. Historically, law enforcement has attempted to suppress and disband Black and Brown liberation movements by assassinating leaders like Fred Hampton or framing leaders like Assata Shakur (Davis). Because of this, police are the direct enemy of those who engage in the struggles for liberation. As shown in databases maintained by The Washington Post, as well as the famous killings of people of color like Philando Castile and Tamir Rice, their readiness to perform extrajudicial killings shows that they do not actually uphold their alleged duty to protect the public. Civil forfeiture allows police to steal any belongings they want from people suspected– not charged, arrested, or jailed– of crime (Nicks). This shows that law enforcement’s true purpose, along with political repression, is capitalist gain. Lastly, it is apparent that the majority of the matters pursued by the police are nonviolent drug and immigration offenses, which are hardly a threat to society, because drug and immigration offenders make up 63% of federal inmates (Bureau of Justice Statistics). Their role in pursuing criminal matters– which is only about 10% of their time on the job– lies at what is the most profitable: civil forfeiture and the enslavement of immigrants and drug users (Graeber). According to a study by Gallup, about half of the nation’s population does not have a high amount of confidence in the police. For these reasons, abolition of the police should not be a difficult sell, especially once the systems which produce these crimes are abolished or reformed.
After racial minorities are disproportionately targeted by the police and consequently arrested, they are sent to jails to wait for their trial. In jail, the bail is typically higher for people of color than for White people, often to “teach them a lesson,” despite the supposed presumption of innocence (Houston). Even if their bails were equal, it would still favor White people as they are typically more economically advantaged than people of color. To combat this, bail should be set according to the defendant’s income. While awaiting trial, people are given the option to plead guilty. Unfortunately, a huge majority of people take this option instead of having a trial, primarily because sentences for those who take plea bargains are typically shorter than the mandatory minimum sentences they would receive if they were found guilty at a trial (Rakoff). Furthermore, as showcased by Kalief Browder’s experience at Rikers Island in New York, people who choose to go to trial that cannot afford to post bail are forced to spend months, sometimes years, in jail just waiting to go to trial (Gonnerman). Plea bargains, economically unreasonable bail setting, and extremely long waiting periods for trials must be eradicated in order to attempt to create a just court system.
American prisons operate as slave labor camps as a solution for the abolition of non-criminal slavery. American inmates are exempt from labor rights like minimum wages, unions, and overtime restrictions. This brings an enormous economic benefit for the companies using inmate labor to produce goods, the retailers that sell inmate-produced goods, as well as the criminal justice corporations. The war on drugs has resulted in the majority of prisons being occupied by Black and Latino men functioning as prison slaves (Bureau of Justice Statistics). American capitalism has always been dependent on slavery, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. The only logical solution to slavery is the reformation of U.S. economics from capitalism to socialism with proper unionization of all workers. Prison labor itself is not inherently negative, as it can be used as a form of rehabilitation that gives inmates something to do during their sentence, so long as they are not forced to do it, and are treated as equal workers to the free society. If prison slavery is abolished without addressing the true problem of a slavery-dependent capitalist economic system, we are doomed to reproduce slavery elsewhere.
After released from prison, ex-felons are often barred from obtaining a place to live, jobs, social programs like food stamps, and other such necessities for preventing recidivism (Domonoske; Nolo: EmploymentLawFirms; Hager). This specifically combined with the first steps of the criminal justice system (law creation and enforcement) creates a cycle of imprisonment and slavery for disadvantaged people. Discrimination against ex-felons in housing, labor, and other systems produces an intergenerational cycle of poverty in which not only are the felons incapable of upward mobility but their offspring are often preordained to the same fate. A completed sentence should be treated as a completed payment of one’s debt to society rather than evidence of a person’s inhumanity and inferiority to those who have not been convicted.
Because this entire system is so unjust on every level, the only rational choice for eradicating its discriminatory policies and standards is to abolish it entirely. This would require reform of a variety of systems and institutions as well in order to prevent crime. However, these reforms should occur regardless of the abolition of the criminal justice system in order to promote equality. The criminal justice system exists only to create cycles of poverty and misery while building wealth for the bourgeois class of America. American corporations currently have far too much power in determining the lifelong outcomes and the misery or prosperity of people specifically because of their immense influence on the criminal justice system, and this has disproportionately affected people of color. This capitalist exploitation must be eliminated in order to achieve true racial equality.
Other Systems of Oppression
Education is often boasted in the United States as the pathway for upward economic mobility. However, funding disparities between schools in middle/upper class neighborhoods and lower class neighborhoods prove this to be an impossibility. Because public schools in most states are funded by property taxes in their neighborhood, poor education for lower income students is perpetuated (Public Broadcasting Service). An obvious solution to this issue is centralized district-wide equal funding for all schools, regardless of taxation. However, because the United States is a capitalist plutocracy, this change would be incredibly difficult to create. There must be a perpetual lower class to exploit in order for capitalism to be sustained. Without radical economic change, schools in lower class neighborhoods are unlikely to improve their graduation and dropout rates by any meaningful margin.
Throughout American history there has been an aspect of citizenship in the construction of race. As Mae Ngai describes, those who have been seen as non-White have been historically denied rights to citizenship. This is particularly the case for Asian and Latin American people whose citizenship was revoked in the 1920s, resulting in the destruction of their economic advancements. This attempt to keep non-White people, and specifically immigrants, out of America or at the bottom of the hierarchy has been persistent for all of American history, and indeed continues today. Immigration laws have evolved over the years from anti-Asian with the Chinese Exclusion Act to anti-Latino with the creation of the Border Patrol, the racial makeup of deportees, and the anti-Latino rhetoric of president-elect Donald Trump throughout his campaign (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The 2015 report by Immigration and Customs Enforcement describes 98% of deportees as public safety threats, meanwhile 98% of deportees also happen to be from Latin America. Anti-immigrant laws and restrictions for citizenship only exist to uphold the slavery of immigrants, while mass deportation is used as a tool to keep them down (Lopez). As such, escaping the age of American slavery cannot be achieved without abolishing all restrictions of immigration and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Labor unions are at the heart of every socialist argument. American labor unions have quite a long history of racism, primarily in regards to the complete exclusion of all non-White people from White unions. Marxist thought has long proclaimed that this exclusion is the result of the divide-and-conquer tactic of oppression. However, this, as Herbert Hill describes, fails to address that it was the actual workers, not the capitalists, that rejected people of color. Most labor inequalities stem from slavery of migrant workers and prisoners, global commodity chains, and social racism among the White working class. As imperialism, slavery, and social racism are slowly phased out, and socialism is phased in, racial exclusionism will likely and hopefully be realized to be unproductive and simply not occur. However, should labor unions attempt to enforce racial exclusionism, the antiracist proletariat must fight rigorously against this from both an antiracist standpoint and a pro-union standpoint.
Housing disparities create a larger gap between the capitalists (and petite capitalists) and the proletariat. Homes are used by the upper classes as investments to stockhold their money in the event of an economic collapse or sudden debt. The housing and realty industries build wealth for Whites and diminish wealth for people of color. These economic crises are very specific and natural to capitalism, and in theory do not occur in socialist or communist economies– this is one of the primary criticisms of capitalism by Marxists. If necessities that are currently treated as commodities become publicized, it is unlikely that the use of homes as investments would be particularly useful. Furthermore, it is completely illogical for any society to claim equality when there is even a single person who is unwillingly houseless. Thus, housing disparities for all people should be resolved by publicizing and paying for public housing with taxes, and eliminating the private housing industry. This would prove valuable for housing equality among people of color, who have historically been oppressed through property value differences, but also to the White working class.
The healthcare industry, like the housing industry, needs to be completely publicized and funded through taxes. It is illogical for any person to be restricted from any health services, mental or physical, because of their position in the class hierarchy. Non-Asian people of color statistically have less insurance, or are more poorly insured, than their Asian or White counterparts, especially for children (Artiga). Like houselessness, the lack of healthcare creates and contributes to the cycle of poverty of people of color, because the costs for virtually any health services are higher than most people of color can easily afford. Uninsured people are forced to endure a life of death, disease, or poverty (from having to pay for medical expenses), so that the insurance and medical industries can create profit. Instead, healthcare equity should be established and paid for, like homes, through taxes. This would increase the availability of drug treatment programs, and, combined with the abolition of anti-drug laws and drug incarcerations, improve the epidemic of drug addiction in lower-class communities nationwide.
Internal Colonialism and Global Capitalist Exploitation
The colonization of the United States is viewed as a piece of the past, since the country has already been established. With a large portion of Native Americans still living on tribal land, the corporations and government agencies of the United States have yet to stop encroaching on their land. With the recent development of the oil pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota, this issue became quite widely publicized via social media with the #NoDAPL hashtag. Though, this is by no means an isolated incident. Native Americans have long experienced their tribal and sacred lands destroyed at the hands of corporations through fracking and construction. The Indian New Deal, which intended to strengthen the indigenous tribes, resulted in the forceful removal of reservations and the alleged compensation to those forced out of their land– usually, Native Americans didn’t receive any compensation, or received payments as low as one dollar. Meanwhile, the reservations that still stand have little to no economic opportunities, forcing people to either live in extreme poverty, or to leave the reservation in search of other economic opportunities. Native land must be protected at the discretion of tribal governments rather than the federal or state governments, because they have shown their lack of respect for the land quite clearly throughout history.
Colonial and imperial conquests of the United States do not exist solely in its own country, but expands over the entire planet. Slavery is forced onto people of the third world through global commodity chains. American corporations that do not use immigrant or inmate slavery utilize the lack of labor restrictions in other nations as an opportunity for extreme profit. The racial order of this imperial conquest is shown quite clearly by the fact that the majority, if not all, imperialized countries are those which are largely inhabited by those that would be viewed as non-White by the US. Not only does this have negative impacts on the people enslaved, but has resulted in the decimation of the blue collar job market. The American military has vested interests in protecting the imperialism of economically important companies and industries, and has started wars over the corporate presence in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. To reduce the military presence in countries around the world, the link between corporations and the government must be destroyed. However, that will only solve the issue of imperialist wars, and not the issue of third world slavery. In order to solve that, corporations must be worker-owned, including the foreign manufacturing companies that American corporations utilize/own. In other words, socialism must become a global affair, and cannot be isolated to only American soil in order to prevent capitalist exploitation of the third world.
Moving forward, in order to achieve equality, the United States, and indeed the world, must work towards a socialist economy. This in and of itself will not bring equality, but capitalism will always be a blockade against the fight for equality. To end racial inequality, immigrants must be considered equal civilians, the criminal justice system must be abolished and replaced with criminal prevention infrastructure, and necessities like housing and healthcare must not be commoditized. Social racisms, on the other hand, must be fought alongside institutional racism, as they perpetuate each other. Eventually, the goal should be to eliminate the construction of “race” altogether. However, this is not a feasible goal for at least the next century, so facing racism with purely racial denial is ineffective and will permit its perpetuation. Races cannot be viewed as equals until they are treated as equals, and abolishing capitalism is a critical step in achieving this goal.
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