“Slavery was not born out of racism, but racism was born out of slavery.” – Eric Williams
We often use the word racism with a feeling of ‘otherness’ and a sense of disconnect, as if participating in racism is something that we’re all immune to. Yet, the history of racism dates back to hundreds of years, and after tens and thousands of revolutions led by Black folks, racism in all of its forms - ideological and systematic, is just as prevalent now as it was back then. The United States of America has been revolting and fighting for justice for Black lives after George Floyd’s institutionalised murder in the recent weeks. Many citizens have expressed their extreme discontent by looting and targeting multi-billion-dollar organisations. My question is, who are we to police how oppressed communities should fight against the system? Isn’t this an integral part of the fight against racism itself? Aren’t capitalism and racism inherently linked?
Most of us are equipped with the knowledge about the Atlantic slave trade. In summary, thousands of African Americans were enslaved by European colonizers in the 1600’s, when they, on a ludicrous quest to loot and colonise nations to facilitate trade and make profits, stumbled upon mass profiteering potential in the Caribbean, Africa and America, where valuable crops were aplenty. They were sold as slaves and made to work for hours extending to days at plantations. Many people mistake the enslavement of Black people as a product of racism, ignoring the capitalist intentions with which these atrocities were committed. A capitalist society rests on the principle of exploitation of the working class - the European colonisers treated Black people as a means of making profits; racial prejudices didn’t necessarily drive this motivation.
When the rich and elite slave-owners wished to create a divide between the working class so as to retain their influence and ‘divide and rule’, they introduced a system within a system; a system built on the colour and culture of a community. As a result, racism gradually emerged as a tool for many economic elites worldwide to keep the working class from uniting against a system making profits off of their hard labour. Racism was used as a justification for slavery, citing all the negative stereotypes relating to Black people - they are “lazy, unintelligent and violent”. Many modern-day American billionaires and millionaires are guilty of perpetuating the same.
Coming to the modern-day scenario, capitalism and racism work together to establish a system fundamentally against Black and non-Black people of colour. Capitalism will never thrive at full employment - it works on the existence of a certain percentage of unemployment. You ask how? When people fear being replaced, they’d be willing to work at the lowest of wages. The rich feed off of this fear and make profits in billions. Unemployment and poverty won’t deter many from scraping for money and food for their family, leading them to indulge in illegal ways of earning money. More often than not, racism is deployed as a tool to put Black people at the extreme bottom of income distribution, leading to higher rates of unemployment among them. So, when the rich threaten White people with unemployment, the latter think “No, I am not like them (Black people). I must earn enough money and become rich”. This is how capitalism and racism work in partnership and keep the cycle of exploitation and discrimination spinning.
This Marxist theory has laid out the foundations of two social evils we witness in our society. However, opponents of this argument deem that proponents of this theory often indulge in class-reductionist behaviour and that to reduce racism down to only class instead of addressing the years of social conditioning and building negative stereotypes is a huge disservice to Black folks, and I agree. Citing that the real issue is only class and not race propagates the notion that rich and middle-class Black citizens don’t face racism, which is nowhere near the truth. Racism has definitely emerged out of economics; however, it has also turned into a social exclusionary tool, stripping so many Black people of their rights and dignity.
Now, a debate has ensued on the extent to which looting billion-dollar corporations aids the fight against police brutality and racism. The answer lies in the question itself. The police serve the elite; they work for the protection of their interests and wishes in order to uphold the status quo. During the 1900’s, when more and more immigrant working citizens entered the economy, the ruling class employed hundreds of armed men to maintain ‘order’ within the working class. This has extended to the modern-day police who disproportionately target poor Black and Latino people. The use of the police force over Black people is significantly biased and racially-motivated. They are 3x times as likely to be victims of police brutality as their White counterparts. George Floyd was just one of many Black people to lose his life to a system so antagonistic toward people of his community. Under the farce of serving and protecting people of an area, the police are responsible for inflicting violence upon hundreds of unarmed citizens. Whose interest is the police upholding if not the ruling class? Why can’t citizens democratically vote for a police force rather than letting strangers exercise so much power over them?
Understanding the origins of things affecting us and thousands of lives everyday is of paramount importance. Racism didn’t appear out of nowhere; it was carefully woven into the very economic system of the US. In the same way, the police weren’t introduced to protect the common citizen, instead they are meant to control the ‘violence’ of the working class and resistors of the system, which in the American scenario, are mostly Black people. Racism and capitalism are the two sides of the same coin; each depends on the other to survive.
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