Globalization And Racialization
[This essay is part of the ZNet Classics series. Three times a week we will re-post an article that we think is of timeless importance. This one was first published August 13, 2004.]
In 1900, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, predicted that the "problem of the twentieth century" would be the "problem of the color line," the unequal relationship between the lighter vs. darker races of humankind. Although Du Bois was primarily focused on the racial contradiction of the United States, he was fully aware that the processes of what we call "racialization" today - the construction of racially unequal social hierarchies characterized by dominant and subordinate social relations between groups - was an international and global problem. Du Bois's color line included not just the racially segregated, Jim Crow South and the racial oppression of
Building on Du Bois's insights, we can therefore say that the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of global apartheid: the racialized division and stratification of resources, wealth, and power that separates Europe, North America, and
The political economy of the "New Racial Domain," by contrast, is driven and largely determined by the forces of transnational capitalism, and the public policies of state neoliberalism. From the vantagepoint of the most oppressed
The process begins at the point of production. For decades,
This July, labor researchers at
Neoliberal social policies, adopted and implemented by Democrats and Republicans alike, have compounded the problem. After the 1996 welfare act, the social safety net was largely pulled apart. As the Bush administration took power in 2001, chronic joblessness spread to African-American workers, especially in the manufacturing sector. By early 2004, in cities such as
Mass unemployment inevitably feeds mass incarceration. About one-third of all prisoners were unemployed at the time of their arrests, and others averaged less than $20,000 annual incomes in the year prior to their incarceration. When the Attica prison insurrection occurred in upstate
Mandatory-minimum sentencing laws adopted in the 1980s and 1990s in many states stripped judges of their discretionary powers in sentencing, imposing draconian terms on first-time and non-violent offenders. Parole has been made more restrictive as well, and in 1995 Pell grant subsidies supporting educational programs for prisoners were ended. For those fortunate enough to successfully navigate the criminal justice bureaucracy and emerge from incarceration, they discover that both the federal law and state governments explicitly prohibit the employment of convicted ex-felons in hundreds of vocations. The cycle of unemployment frequently starts again.
The greatest victims of these racialized processes of unequal justice, of course, are African-American and Latino young people. In April 2000, utilizing national and state data compiled by the FBI, the Justice Department and six leading foundations issued a comprehensive study that documented vast racial disparities at every level of the juvenile justice process. African Americans under age eighteen constitute 15 percent of their national age group, yet they currently represent 26 percent of all those who are arrested. After entering the criminal-justice system, white and black juveniles with the same records are treated in radically different ways. According to the Justice Department's study, among white youth offenders, 66 percent are referred to juvenile courts, while only 31 percent of the African-American youth are taken there. Blacks make up 44 percent of those detained in juvenile jails, 46 percent of all those tried in adult criminal courts, as well as 58 percent of all juveniles who are warehoused in prisons.
Mass incarceration, of course, breeds mass political disfranchisement. Nearly 5 million Americans cannot vote. In seven states, former prisoners convicted of a felony lose their voting rights for life. In the majority of states, individuals on parole and probation cannot vote. About 15 percent of all African-American males nationally are either permanently or currently disfranchised. In
Even temporary disfranchisement fosters a disruption of civic engagement and involvement in public affairs. This can lead to "civil death," the destruction of the capacity for collective agency and resistance. This process of depolitization undermines even grassroots, non-electoral-oriented organizing. The deadly triangle of the New Racial Domain constantly and continuously grows unchecked.
Not too far in the distance lies the social consequence of these policies: an unequal, two-tiered, uncivil society, characterized by a governing hierarchy of middle- to upper-class "citizens" who own nearly all private property and financial assets, and a vast subaltern of quasi- or subcitizens encumbered beneath the cruel weight of permanent unemployment, discriminatory courts and sentencing procedures, dehumanized prisons, voting disfranchisement, residential segregation, and the elimination of most public services for the poor. The later group is virtually excluded from any influence in a national public policy. Institutions that once provided space for upward mobility and resistance for working people such as unions have been largely dismantled. Integral to all of this is racism, sometimes openly vicious and unambiguous, but much more frequently presented in race neutral, color-blind language. This is the NRD of globalization.
The anti-globalization struggle must confront this New Racial Domain with something more substantial than tired ruminations about "black and white, unite and fight." The seismic shifts have created new continents of social inequality, transcending nation-states and the traditional boundaries of race and ethnicity. What is necessary is an original and creative approach that breaks with comfortable dogmas of all types, while advancing openly a politics of civic advocacy and democratic empowerment for those most brutally oppressed and exploited. I am not suggesting here that the anti-globalization movement play a "vanguard" role for global social change. In the tradition of C.L.R. James, I am convinced that the oppressed, on their own terms, ultimately will create new approaches and organizations to fight for justice that we now can scarcely imagine. Rather, it is our political and moral obligation to provide the critical support necessary for social struggles and resistance that is already being waged on the ground today. Examples of that resistance are in every city and most communities across the country.
The New Racial Domain's reliance on extreme force and the continued expansion of the prison system reshapes how law enforcement is being carried out even in small- to medium-sized towns and cities all over
The trend toward a
In February 2004,
How do we build resistance to the New Racial Domain, in the age of globalized capitialism? It should surprise no one that the resistance is already occurring, on the ground, in thousands of venues. In local neighborhoods, people fighting against police brutality, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, and for prisoners' rights; in the fight for a living wage, to expand unionization and workers' rights; in the struggles of working women for day care for their children, health care, public transportation, and decent housing. These practical struggles of daily life are really the care of what constitutes day-to-day resistance. Building capacities of hope and resistance on the ground develops our ability to challenge the system in more fundamental, direct ways.
The recently successful "Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride," highlighting the plight of undocumented workers who enter the
The anti-globalization movement must be, first and foremost, a worldwide, pluralistic anti-racist movement, with its absolutely central goal of destroying global apartheid and the reactionary residue of white supremacy and ethnic chauvinism. But to build such a dynamic movement, the social composition of the anti-globalization forces must change, especially here in the
There are, however, two broad ideological tendencies within this largely non-European, anti-globalization movement: a liberal, democratic, and populist tendency, and a radical, egalitarian tendency. Both tendencies were present throughout the 2001 Durban Conference Against Racism, and made their presence felt in the deliberations of the non-governmental organization panels and in the final conference report. They reflect two very different political strategies and tactical approaches in the global struggle against the institutional processes of racialization.
The liberal democratic tendency focuses on a discourse of rights, calling for greater civic participation, political enfranchisement, capacity building of community-based institutions, for the purposes of civic empowerment and multicultural diversity. The liberal democratic impulse seeks the reduction of societal conflict through the sponsoring of public conversations, reconciliation and multicultural civic dialogues. It seeks not a complete rejection of neoliberal economic globalization, but its constructive reform and engagement, with the goal of building democratic political cultures of human rights within market-based societies.
The radical egalitarian tendency of global anti-racists speaks a discourse about inequality and power. It seeks the abolition of poverty, the realization of universal housing, health care and educational guarantees across the non-Western world. It is less concerned about abstract rights, and more concerned about concrete results. It seeks not political assimilation in an old world order, but the construction of a new world from the bottom up. It has spoken a political language moreso in the tradition of national liberation than of the nation-state.
Both of these tendencies exist in the