Law in Contemporary Society

How racism supports animosity towards "humanitarian ideals" of social welfare

-- By MalaikaJabali - 14 Feb 2012

Thurmond Arnold notes the success of Swedes in their ability to benefit from the “comforts” of government subsidies without hostility towards them. He further notes that Americans are afraid to have "humanitarian ideals" at the risk of appearing radical. Progressive Americans and foreigners are apt to praise Canada and Europe for promoting "humanitarian ideals" -- free healthcare! high wages! racial utopia! This mode of thinking disregards some reasons why non-US industrial nations can create social nets for the majority of their citizens. I find in a lot of the discussions on the faults of capitalism that they tend to exclude how racism plays into capitalism's success (failure?) in the United States. To create a society that is unafraid to be progressive, it is important to be aware of the link between racism and capitalism to achieve those ideals.

There is a disparity between reality and the progressive halo Europeans fix upon their continent’s head which progressive Americans celebrate. This was clear to me in a conversation with my ex-boyfriend, a Spaniard. In the U.S he would be considered “progressive” though in his country he was deemed conservative. Free healthcare and free graduate education are par for the course in Spain. He found it rather despicable that these are considered entitlements (evil socialism even!) in the United States. We found common ground in equally despising America’s various industrial complexes. Yet when it came to me addressing how Europe and America evolved differently that afforded his continent that luxury, he put on the color blind goggles that many like to don in the face of race discussions.

The appendages of American capitalism and the wealth inequalities that have since evolved from it find their vestiges in the slave societies of pre-Civil War America. There was a land owner (Chairman of the Board) who amassed the wealth. He micromanaged his overseers (managers) to make sure the employees (slaves) didn’t get out of hand. For decades, however, there were groups of the working class and poor (unions) consisting of both blacks and whites working together to check, even if only moderately, the landowners’ power. This changed significantly after Bacon’s Rebellion, which solidified race-based slavery.

Not a good reference. A better choice would have been Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom (1975).

In creating a loyal, race based managerial class, the ruling class awarded the white poor some crumbs of the pie after the rebellion to appease them, and they perpetuated scientific racism [i.e. blacks are inherently lazy, dumb, strong, fun-loving, immune to pain, and fertile (so more slave babies!)] to curb inter-racial unions and defend the inhumane practice of slavery.

More editorial than historical. That's a general problem here, where historical propositions alternate with ahistorical, presentist or anachronistic positions. The usual signal is the presence of an exclamation point.

Of course these were all strategies to maintain the wealth of the white landowners, yet, after 400 years these falsehoods about Black people still persist. The appeal to racism is still a clarion call for modern day elites to rally the white masses (and lord have mercy some blacks) to vote against their own interests. Why should we have food stamps? So, the baby having black welfare queens can use it all up (despite the fact that welfare was created for widowed white women whose husbands died during WWI).?

Food stamps are an immense federal subsidy to the food processors and agribusinesses upstream from them, as well as being a form of "subsistence crisis insurance" for working families. That's why they exist, and why the use of racialist rhetoric by politicians seeking to drive some other objectives never results in their elimination. Your use of rhetorical questions to establish a boundary-defining argument with opponents of social welfare spending serves the purpose rhetorical questions often serve: it prevents you from finding real arguments that might not only support your conclusions better, but also lead to other useful ideas for you.

Why no free healthcare? Blacks need to stop being so lazy and get jobs with health care so we don’t pay for them! (despite the fact that until affirmative action, which has since mostly benefited white women, black women were in the labor force more than females of any other race and unemployed blacks use as many tools to look for work as whites yet stay unemployed longer ).

I think it would be almost impossible to find a primarily racial motive in the long and complex twistings and turnings of opposition to "socialized medicine" in the US. No doubt there are people who would subscribe to views you've put into their mouths, but you'd have to provide something other than an exclamation point or a blog citation to convince me that this idea has been more influential than the economic interests of those who profit from privatized insurance and privatized care delivery.

Why no free education? I don’t want my hard earned money used for folks (mostly blacks and Mexicans of course) who aren’t as smart as me!

We do have free primary and secondary education, don't we? We "desegregated" it more than half a century ago, and we have refused to permit anti-immigration pressure to throw "undocumented" children out of it. You need to clarify what you're talking about.

Europe avoided such racial conflict simply because they had few other races to contend with (yet recent riots in England and France shows us what happens when they do).

It would be wrong to say Europe avoided ethnic conflict. Not believing in "races," I would hesitate to count how many there were or are in Europe. But I should point out that one hundred years ago it was still common for Englishmen to consider Irish people a distinct "race." Ethnic homogeneity is often cited as a reason for the success of the Swedish welfare state, but such a claim would make more sense as applied to Japan. It's certainly tenable to argue that social democracy in Europe was assisted by comparative ethnic, or linguistic, or religious homogeneity. But it takes more work than you've done here to make that the primary basis for the European move to social democracy in the course of the twentieth century. It requires forgetting a good deal of history, indeed.

Europeans started the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and, like American elites, their “enlightened” biologists and anthropologists mired in racist thinking to defend it. Except they didn’t have to deal with the consequences. Spain, which my ex heralded as some colorblind bastion of progression, is not only among those to use racism to maintain the status quo, but they were pioneers. They, with the Portuguese, were the first to bring enslaved Africans to the Americas and benefitted for centuries from the goods enslaved Africans cultivated and the wealth this free labor brought Spain under the tyranny of slavery.

Well, as you will have noticed, it didn't actually turn out that the Spanish New World Empire (which was sustained far more on the enslavement of indigenous people than on the importation of African slaves) was of much benefit to Spain, economically. The primary economic beneficiaries of the system were the Spanish King's Dutch financiers. The Dutch revolt (which resulted from Spanish religious repression in the Netherlands every bit as cruel as the worst genocidal violence perpetrated in the European enslavement of Africans) severed Spain from the actual recipients of the wealth of the Indies, produced the glories of the Dutch Apogee in the 17th century, and left Spain a moribund imperial corpse that took generations of inertia to die at last. Whatever the unfinished business is that you need to clear up with this ex-boyfriend of yours, the complex history of the decline of the Spanish Empire may not be the most straightforward way of working it through.

Europe didn’t magically form an Industrial Revolution from which working class Europeans found well paid manufacturing work, joined unions, and became educated enough to know how to not vote against their self-interest. Free labor will do wonders for anyone’s standard of living and progressive mindset.

But if this is to claim that "the industrial revolution" resulted primarily from the conscripted economic value of African slavery, it would be difficult for even as committed a Marxist economic historian as Eric Williams to go that far. Nothing happened "magically," but it didn't happen that way either.

As slave labor spurred manufacturing in the US and Europe from which a middle class could grow, Europe got the bonus of not having to figure out what to do with people they’d shackled up for centuries. The Dutch needn't maintain lies that blacks were ungodly and dangerous to keep them from sharing the same schools or job opportunities; blacks were out of sight. They kept them working in neocolonies in the Caribbean and in the mines of an apartheid South Africa.

There was no Dutch control of South Africa when apartheid was invented by the Nationalist Party in the 20th century. Dutch power in South Africa ended between 1795 and 1806. Again, your cited material (a student website), is poorly chosen. A better choice would have been George M. Fredrickson, White Supremacy : A Comparative Study in American and South African History (1981), which I commend to you for many reasons in connection with this essay.

The racial politics remained in the favelas and plantations with the workers, so no need for the CEOs in Portugal and England to get worked up about race, heavens no! So free education for all, except you know, the North Africans and Cameroonians escaping our colonies to get a taste of the benefits their ancestors’ labor provided.

Once again, this seems to me to have abandoned history for editorialization. What does it mean? Dutch society and the Dutch welfare state are remarkably non-racialist, so far as blackness is concerned, from an American point of view, in my experience as a resident. Portuguese socialism after 1975 had scant resources, but it did not limit its efforts to improve education and other sources of upward social mobility to poor people of Iberian origin, so far as I know. (I've never lived there.) English society's hardly a place to look for an absence of class or ethnic prejudice, but free tuition through university, for Commonwealth immigrants who faced no immigration exclusions, was available to all qualifying students of all races until this decade. And in Scotland, which wasn't racially exclusionary either with respect to Jamaicans or Pakistanis or Sri Lankans or Rhodesians after the collapse of the Empire, it still is. Could you be a little more clear about your point?

Despite this history, America can change. If Americans address racism and how it affects their animosity toward necessary, humane social programs, they may be more apt to combat the centuries long stranglehold the 1% has had over its disproportionate wealth. If people are less apt to think some poor "other" is more responsible for their economic well-being than the people actually in power, they will be more likely to direct their vitriol, and hopefully their votes, where it belongs.

I don't understand how this graf works. If Americans were less subject to ethnic, racial, religious and other divisions, their politics would be more redistributively socialist? Yes, I think that's right. Which is why the politics of this society is constantly being shaped by efforts to improve the wedging. It would be equally simple to say that if the US was a social democracy, there would be less racial, ethnic and anti-immigrant antagonism. But neither observation implies a direction of action.


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r5 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:40 - IanSullivan
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