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Tue Aug 11, 2015, 08:08 AM

The Great Debate: Is systemic racism rooted in economics? Or is it a distinct, separate problem?

There's a debate within the progressive community about the degree to which economic inequality and systemic racism are separate problems. Some racial justice advocates who approach the world through a primarily identity politics and racial lens argue that "white supremacy" (using the sociological definition: structural white privilege built on anti-black oppression) is a completely separate system from unfettered capitalism, and that economic justice is near useless in alleviating structural racism. Such people point to how even wealthy and "successful" black people are racially profiled by the police, arrested outside of their homes, monitored and followed by security guards in stores, and so forth.

Some leftists point to how non-blacks clutch their purses when even wealthy black people enter elevators, and so forth. And how "successful" or "wealthy" black people are viewed as "outliers," and are often the only black people in their spaces. While "systemic racism" and "unfettered capitalism" do overlap, mutually reinforce each other, etc., they are ultimately very different problems with different root causes according to some leftists. Chris Rock explains this viewpoint in a 1999 routine: "There ain't a white man in this room that would change places with me. None of you. None of you would change places with me, and I'm rich!"

However, there are compelling counterarguments to the viewpoint that racism and economics are largely distinct problems. Benjamin Dixon in this video (from 36:26 to 41:17) argues that that "systemic racism" or "white supremacy" is ultimately rooted in economic exploitation, and that racism is genuinely a symptom of unfettered capitalism. Ta-Nehisi Coates also tweeted about this, writing about white supremacy has always been about "plundering, and economic exploitation."

Benjamin here says that white human traffickers didn't go to Africa to enslave black people because the white settlers in Charleston and other American colonies had a specific, enduring hatred of black people and wanted to oppress black people specifically because of their race. To Benjamin, slavery, racism, and white supremacy were a means to an end, with the end being economic oppression. exploitation. and wealth extraction. This is historically accurate, because if you do look at the history of Charleston, although the slaves were from Africa, slavery in America didn't originally have a racial connotation or association with it: the racial aspect was only added later. And Benjamin here acknowledges that you can be racially profiled and experience racism with money, and structural racism independent of economics should be dismantled. He understands white supremacy on a nuanced level: police harassment, internalized racism, societal conditioning about beauty standards, etc.

But Benjamin also feels that when Bernie focuses on economics, he's not "missing the point" as some racial justice leftists think, but rather, Bernie's hitting the nail on the head by identifying the root cause. Benjamin argues that if you don't believe that racism is rooted in economics, then you are only treating the symptoms, not the disease. And to Benjamin, the root disease is American-style capitalism, and Bernie Sanders is the only candidate equipped to communicate in a forceful income and wealth inequality. Benjamin argues that systemic racism in the U.S.: the prison-industrial complex, Jim Crow, and black Wall Street show that "the core of U.S. institutional racism has been economic exploitation, to get the cheapest labor possible: i.e. slavery." Jim Crow was designed to extract as much wealth from a community, according to Benjamin.

Anyway, I find all of this fascinating. The notion that systemic racism is rooted in economics is currently very controversial within the progressive community, and often attacked as being "class reductionist" or "non-intersectional" by leftists who favor a more identity politics based approach. But I think there is a very strong intellectual case for the idea that racism is genuinely a system of economic exploitation. And that argument is often overlooked.

I don't know where I stand, but what are your thoughts on all this? Is racism ultimately a symptom of unfettered, American-style capitalism as Benjamin and Ta-Nehisi Coates claim? Or are structural racism and economic oppression ultimately very different problems with different roots even if they have some overlaps?


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Reply The Great Debate: Is systemic racism rooted in economics? Or is it a distinct, separate problem? (Original post)
gobears10 Aug 2015 OP
gobears10 Aug 2015 #1
malaise Aug 2015 #2
socialist_n_TN Aug 2015 #6
WhaTHellsgoingonhere Aug 2015 #3
WhaTHellsgoingonhere Aug 2015 #4
cherokeeprogressive Aug 2015 #5

Response to gobears10 (Original post)

Wed Aug 12, 2015, 07:35 PM

1. Anyway this is what I think...

Right now, it is largely useless to address systemic anti-black racism without taking on economic inequality. Similarly, it is useless to address economic inequality without addressing anti-black structural racism. Making college tuition-free won't suddenly change the fact employers both consciously and unconsciously discriminate against people with "black-sounding" names, even if they are equally qualified as whites. And Sandra Bland had a college degree, yet she still was assaulted by a cop. Economic reforms won't stop racial profiling by police in stop-and-frisk, or police being 21 times more likely to kill black teens than white teens. It won't change the fact that whites and blacks use drugs at the same rates, but blacks are arrested 4-6 times as much. You have gerrymandering that creates majority-minority districts, racist Voter ID laws, the discrepancy between crack cocaine and power cocaine sentencing, the school to prison pipeline, and understaffed voting stations in black neighborhoods. Institutional racism continues to manifest itself in many ways by harming PoC while privileging whites: poor schooling, the school to prison pipeline, housing segregation, drug testing, and so forth.

Economics alone won't fix segregated schooling and housing. We need both economic and racial justice, and it is important for progressives to not view these issues as mutually exclusive, but intimately intertwined. A particularly grotesque example of racism and unfettered capitalism mixing is the existence of private, for-profit prisons. Also, white people living today didn't participate in slavery, but many do benefit from inherited wealth and power that came from a system that was openly white supremacist, whether it be slavery, Jim Crow, or the more nuanced versions of racism in other parts of the country (segregated neighborhoods and schooling).

Now, it is a tough question about whether systemic racism is mostly rooted in economic exploitation, or if structural racism is largely independent of economics and has completely different roots. I found Benjamin's argument convincing.

In my view, I think a convincing case can be made that most of "white supremacy" has is roots in economic exploitation and unfettered capitalism. Racism can certainly exist independent of economics, and it does, but most of it is intimately tied to and rooted in American-style unfettered capitalism. Due to systemic racism, you are judged by other people and institutions on the basis of your race, and we are far from a post-racial society. Our society does have white privilege built on anti-black racial marginalization, with PoC somewhere in the middle (the model minority East and South Asians face little structural racism and often benefit from positive stereotypes, but are still below whites. But latinos, native americans, and Southeast Asians are very marginalized). But the racial stereotypes on which people are judged are often based on the socioeconomic standing of the demographic group to which you belong.

You can make a very compelling argument that stop-and-risk, stand your ground, de-facto segregation, arresting PoC nonviolent drug offenders, etc., are rooted in horrible stereotypes people have of African-Americans being impoverished, prone to crime and threat, and not being as well educated as other demographic groups. That could also explain some of the racism experienced by wealthy black people when they are monitored in high end stores because security guards feel it is so unusual to see African-Americans who have enough money to purchase expensive items, and as a result, they must necessarily be thieves. That's why people clutch their purses in elevators, for both low-income and well-to-do African-Americans. That's why there's the "successful black man" meme, again, racial stereotypes based on economics.

The stereotype of African-Americans being disproportionately low-income could fuel implicit and explicit biases police officers have against blacks as well. African-Americans were also targeted by banks for subprime mortgages because they were seen as especially prone to predatory lending due to their low socioeconomic background

Ronald Reagan perpetuated much racism against African-Americans by portraying poor PoC as lazy "welfare queens." This led to welfare reforms that marginalized a lot of single women of color. The belief that PoC are poor and "underachieving" because of personal irresponsibility could definitely play a role in the paternalistic "tough-on-crime" policies of the three strikes, zero tolerance policies, mandatory minimums, broken windows policing, marijuana policing, the crack and power cocaine discrepancy in sentencing, etc. Remember the Texas pool party? That was caused by a white lady who told the black girls to go back to "Section 8 housing." Again, racism based on economic stereotypes of PoC.

Conversely, East Asians and South Asians are viewed as a "model-minority" largely due to their levels of education and socioeconomic background. I think the median income for Indian-Americans is around $100,000 in the U.S.? That certainly plays a role. But of course, they face some xenophobia, and after 9/11, Muslim-Americans regardless of socioeconomic background have faced hate crimes, serious discrimination, etc., so clearly, racism can exist independent of economics.

But yeah, city zoning laws, property-tax financed public schools, single-parent homes, etc., all are important in upward mobility. Healthcare, a lack of networking and connections, and avenues to college are extremely important. When the youth african american unemployment rate is 51%, tell me that that's not important. Affordable housing, minimum wages, jobs, education, etc., of course these are important, given that poverty causes more crime. With less crime, it'll be easier to call out cops for excessive use of force.

Economic inequality, in my view, is the most destructive force in our society, and it's something that cuts across race, sex, gender identity, etc. If you poll PoC on what issues they prioritize, jobs, the economy, healthcare, etc., top the list. The vast majority of our problems do boil down to $$$, and I think socioeconomic class is among the strongest determinants of our qualify of life (definitely stronger than race alone in my view). I think a lot of people would switch places with Chris Rock, actually, haha.

If black people had been rich and were living in the same suburban communities, you would naturally have more assimilation of children in schools, you would have people of different races working in the same jobs, you would have more conversation, more connection, more familiarity, more friendship, more compassion. Economics absolutely plays a role.

But despite the roots of systemic racism, it has grown into a entrenched problem that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with in its own right. That's why I'm 100% glad that Bernie is explicitly talking about structural anti-black racism, systemic white privilege, hired Symone Sanders as his national press secretary, and came out with a very explicit racial justice agenda. If we fixed all the economics, and if it's true that racism is ultimately rooted in economics, then maybe, maybe after many decades, institutional racism may naturally subside. But it may not. And that's a chance we can't take. We need to end institutional anti-black racism NOW, it's a national tragedy and horrible fact that African-Americans are killed at 12 times the rate of people in other developed countries. Systemic racism needs to be addressed as its own issue, and needs unique and specific solutions and beyond mere economic reforms. I like how Bernie explained it: racism and economic inequality are parallel problems that need to be dealt with jointly.

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Response to gobears10 (Original post)

Wed Aug 12, 2015, 07:51 PM

2. Intersting OP

It started out as economic exploitation and then they justified it with theories of our inferiority and laws and religious nonsense to enforce said exploitation.

There is no capitalism without the Atlantic slave trade. Check out Eric Williams classic Capitalism and Slavery

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Response to malaise (Reply #2)

Wed Aug 12, 2015, 08:14 PM

6. Yep. At it's base and in the beginning, racism was "for profit".......

the "good Christians" of the Americas had to justify owning people who they needed to work for free, so they created the concept of "race" to be the justification. They could even pat themselves on the back for bringing Christianity and "civilization" to the poor sub-humans on the African continent when they bought them.

Marxists have always had a more nuanced view on this subject. Using the conceptual chain of special exploitation leading to super oppression leading to super profits, Marxists recognize the economic basis of racism, but also recognize the current manifestations of that racism as intertwined problems that often require differing tactics and strategies.

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Response to gobears10 (Original post)

Wed Aug 12, 2015, 07:56 PM

3. Hell No



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Response to gobears10 (Original post)

Wed Aug 12, 2015, 08:03 PM

4. I've got a compelling argument


In this country in which you and I live, there are just 2 races: black and non-black. The non-blacks have avenues to economic mobility. The blacks never have. Not too long ago I recall the meme was, "Mexicans are the new blacks." Fast forward a couple of decades and Mexicans are just the latest ethnic group to join the non-blacks.

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Response to gobears10 (Original post)

Wed Aug 12, 2015, 08:09 PM

5. They are separate problems, but they need each other. Without one; the other wouldn't exist today.


I think racism is the cause for lack of economic opportunity. Take away the racism and the sky's the limit. On the other hand, racism can only go away through attrition. The older people hold it near and dear to their hearts but guess what? They'll be gone someday and there will be fewer to teach their racism to the young.

In the meantime I believe that the way to hasten the demise of racism is to make everyone economic equals. When everyone's rubbing shoulders economically, then racism gets harder and harder to sustain simply because of familiarity. That's why I like Bernie's message. Solving economic problems by giving everyone an equal stake in the outcome IS the road to fixing other top tier problems.

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