Fred Perry, Proud Boys, and the Semiotics of Fashion

Anya Simonian

 

Over the past week the Proud Boys, a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization whose members are tired of apologizing for “creating the modern world”, have garnered media attention. Along with the disruption of an Aboriginal ceremony in Halifax by Proud Boy servicemen, the group is gaining notoriety for clashes with anti-fascist (Antifa) activists. Additionally, the Proud Boys have been involved with so-called anti-Sharia rallies . In New York, two Proud Boys and one “Proud Boys Girl” recently parted ways with their employers after their involvement with the alt-right group came to light and a social media campaign demanded the businesses take action. Proud Boys have degrees of membership. To become a “Fourth Degree” Proud Boy, aspiring members take part in “a major fight for the cause.” Founder Gavin McInnes explained: “You get beat up, kick the crap out of an antifa [anti-fascist activists],” to rise through the ranks.

Much Proud Boy media coverage has mentioned, in passing, the group’s “uniform”: a black Fred Perry polo shirt with bright yellow trim. The Washington Post’s recent article, “The alt-right’s Proud Boys love Fred Perry polo shirts. The feeling is not mutual” went further in its attempts to explain why Proud Boys have adopted a shirt that, at first glance, seems best suited for white middle-class dads out for a round of golf or game of tennis, quoting Zoë Beery’s piece in The Outline, ” How Fred Perry Came to Symbolize Hate “. While both articles offer an overview of the shirt’s popularity among Mod and traditional Skinhead subculturists and its eventual cooptation by racist skinheads and neo-Nazis, neither emphasizes the degree to which the brand has long served as a site of political contest between the radical left and the far-right. Since the early 1980s, attempts to associate the brand with right-wing politics have been met with resistance from two main camps: 1.) anti-racist skinheads and 2.) “traditional” (non-racist) skinheads — both of whom refuse to cede the meaning of the Fred Perry brand to the far-right in the same way that one might fight for the liberation of an occupied space.

The word skinhead most often conjures up images of white hooligans, or a particular aesthetic adopted by neo-Nazis. Yet, what it means to be a skinhead has changed over time. Periodizing skinhead culture is challenging but, broadly speaking, it can be broken down into three eras: the middle to late 1960s period of apolitical, multi-racial working class youth; the 1980s period of White Nationalist cooptation of the skinhead aesthetic and overtly anti-racist and left-wing skinhead political responses to that cooptation; and the period from the late 1980s to the present, in which the meaning of the skinhead culture and aesthetic is continually contested.
Skinhead Origins

In the late 1960s, the first skinhead subculturists were born of multiculturalism: the fusion of Jamaican “rude boy” styles and music brought to England by Jamaican immigrants in the post-war years, and the working class culture of the English Mods (short for Modernists) who decked themselves out in fine Italian suits and shoes, listened to American soul, jazz, and R&B, and rode Vespa scooters. Mod women sported miniskirts, flats, and sometimes men’s clothing. Skinhead style emerged in Britain in the late 1960s as a simplified version of the Mod aesthetic that placed greater emphasis on projecting working class masculinity and a love of Jamaican reggae and ska.
Interpretations

Social scientists took note of these subcultures and worked to explain their meaning in relation to a changing post-war Britain. The seminal work on subculture studies to which all later studies pay homage, or attempt to refute, is Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain,edited by Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson. Published in 1976, Resistance Through Rituals, as well as the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) from which the work emerged, understood youth subculture in Marxian terms as a manifestation of social, political, and economic change. The historical context for the CCCS interpretation was the post-war period of the 1950s that saw the rise of commercial television, age specific schools, and extended education that brought youth together for longer, more isolated periods of time. Adding to these challenges were the recent violence of war and more fatherless children as a result of war deaths. These factors contributed to the making of an isolated, and later unique subculture of resistance.

Drawing from Italian Marxist theorist Antionio Gramsci, a driving foundational assumption of Resistance Through Rituals is that one or more dominant groups in society hold “cultural capital” and subordinate groups or classes find ways to express or challenge their subordinate experience in their own culture. This dominant culture, according to the CCCS, exists solely within the framework of capitalism, whereas the struggle for “cultural capital” becomes a struggle between those with capital versus those who labor. The dominant culture acts as a hegemon and attempts to define and contain all other cultures, giving birth to opposition from less dominant cultures against this cultural hegemony. Although the less dominant culture (i.e. the subculture) enters into resistance against the dominant culture, the subculture is in fact derived from the “parent,” or hegemonic culture, and will inevitably share many of its attributes. For example, working-class culture is considered by the editors of Resistance Through Rituals to be a “parent culture,” yet the youth subcultures that arose from it have their own values, uses of material culture (which are often derived from the parent culture but are re-appropriated and given new meaning), as well as territorial spaces. The Fred Perry represents both an appropriation of the parent culture and a territorial “space” where politics play out.

The editors of Resistance Through Rituals write:

Sub-cultures, then, must first be related to the ‘parent cultures’ of which they are a sub-set. But, subcultures must also be analysed in terms of their relation to the dominant culture – the overall disposition of cultural power in the society as a whole. Thus, we may distinguish respectable, ‘rough’, delinquent and the criminal subcultures within working class culture: but we may also say that, though they differ amongst themselves, they all derive in the first instance from a ‘working class parent culture’: hence, they are all subordinate subcultures, in relation to the dominant middle-class or bourgeois culture. [1]

From this angle, Resistance Through Ritual examines the predecessors of the skinheads — the Mod subculture of the 1960s which, in its most basic terms, consisted of dressing sharp in the latest high fashion (but only wearing particular high fashion brands, often stemming from styles of those involved in organized crime in 1950s and 60s Britain), hairstyles, soul and rock n’ roll music, all-night clubs, riding Vespa scooters, and taking amphetamines. The Mod was all about style, and this sharp style, combined with the “uppers” they took, were cast by the CCCS in terms of opposition to the hippie culture of the day that to many Mods seemed to spell a slow, do-nothing death. This seemingly odd combination of interests was explained in terms of working-class resistance by Dick Hebdige in his contribution to Resistance Through Rituals, “The Meaning of Mod”:

The importance of style to the mods can never be overstressed – Mod was pure, unadulterated STYLE, the essence of style. In order to project style it became necessary first to appropriate the commodity, then to redefine its use and value and finally to relocate its meaning within a totally different context. This pattern, which amounted to the semantic rearrangement of those components of the objective world which the mod style required, was repeated at every level of the mod experience and served to preserve a part at least of the mod’s private dimension against the passive consumer role it seemed in its later phases ready to adopt…

Thus the scooter, a formerly ultra-respectable means of transport was appropriated and converted into a weapon and a symbol of solidarity. Thus pills, medically diagnosed for the treatment of neuroses, were appropriated and used as an end-in-themselves, and the negative evaluations of their capabilities imposed by school and work were substituted by a positive assessment of their personal credentials in the world of play (i.e. the same qualities which were assessed negatively by their daytime controllers – e.g. laziness, arrogance, vanity etc. – were positively defined by themselves and their peers in leisure time). [2]

As mentioned above, the skinheads were born from a combination of Jamaican immigrant “rude boy” culture and Mod subculture. Originating in the middle to late 1960s, the skinheads were of solidly working-class origin and resented authority and social pretensions. The skinhead community developed at a time of worsening conditions for working-class youth, and the CCCS interpreted this subculture as an attempt to recreate a traditional working-class community. Although the skinheads came from the working class, fewer opportunities meant that they almost acted out or performed working-class values rather than lived them. The early skinheads were intensely aware of their self-image and played up their exaggerated working-class style. They wore Doc Marten work boots, suspenders and blue jeans or Levis Sta-Prest jeans as a way to identify with this style and lifestyle in decline. Yet, they coupled this look with Ben Sherman button down dress shirts and Fred Perry tennis shirts — a scaled down Mod look — in an appropriation of neat middle-class style that turned middle-class values on their heads. This tennis shirt, worn by working-class skinheads, became a symbol of solidarity and a new kind of “class.”

At clubs in the evenings the skinheads would often wear suits like those of the Jamaica “rude boys” and dance alongside Jamaicans to Rock Steady and ska music. Anti-racist and traditional skinheads — sometimes dubbed Trojan Skinheads for their love of Trojan Records, producers of Jamaican music — look back on this period as a golden age for their subculture. The phrase “Spirit of 69′” which originated in the 1980s is used by traditional/Trojan skinheads as a reference point for what skinhead culture can and should be about: inclusion, racial harmony, and a multicultural celebration of working class culture. Naturally, the CCCS interpreted skinhead solidarity as an act of resistance to a hegemonic order and its particular characteristics felt by working-class kids coming of age in the post-war years. By the 1970s, however, this variety of the skinhead subculture had largely faded away, but elements of it would be revived, in bastardized form, in the following decade.

Within the early skinhead subculture there had always existed a focus on masculinity, or acting “hard” in order project an “authentic” working-class ethos. This masculinity was expressed in the skinhead interest in soccer and the joining of “firms,” or soccer clubs that rooted for their favorite teams and often used violence against opposing firms. The “firm” was also an expression of the desire to protect territory and, most importantly, an expression of collective solidarity. With the introduction and quick commodification of punk rock in the late 1970s, a second wave of skinheads was born. These skinheads, connected to the punk scene rather than the ska, Rock Steady, or reggae scenes of their predecessors, still aped working-class style while sporting the Fred Perry brand, yet their music was Oi — a more aggressive, simplified version of punk that could never go mainstream. Non-racist bands like Cock Sparrer, The 4-Skins, The Last Resort, Sham69, and The Cockney Rejects led the way.

While this second wave of skinheads was at first largely apolitical, their penchant for soccer hooliganism made them prime recruits for England’s far-right National Front. The Young National Front (YNF) began to recruit second wave skinheads at soccer matches, appealing to skinhead working-class sensibilities by scapegoating immigrants for the decline of the white working class. By 1979, the YNF had established Rock Against Communism, a music festival featuring white nationalist bands. In subsequent years neo-Nazi bands like Skrewdriver would bring hundreds of disaffected youth into the National Front. Along with this came the adoption of a new skinhead aesthetic that included the traditional Fred Perry or Ben Sherman shirt and Doc Marten boots, but added to it a paramilitary edge that included flight jackets, larger boots, more closely cropped hair, and symbols of white nationalism. This bastardization of the aesthetic and its coupling with far-right politics made its way to the United States in the 1980s.

Anti-racist and traditionalist responses to the aesthetic and political hijacking of the original “Spirit of 69′” skinhead subculture were swift. As historian Timothy S. Brown put it:

Reacting against this trend-which they considered a bastardization of the original skinhead style-numbers of skins began to stress the cultivation of the “original” look, making fashion, like music, a litmus test for authenticity. Violators of the proper codes were not skinheads, but “bald punks,” a category to which racists-who, in the eyes of purists, failed completely to understand what the subculture was about-were likely to belong. The connection between right-wing politics and “inauthentic” modes of dress was personified in the figure of the “bone head,” a glue-sniffing, bald-headed supporter of the extreme right, sporting facial tattoos, a union-jack T-shirt, and “the highest boots possible.” Although the emphasis on correct style was not explicitly political, it grew-like insistence on the subculture’s black musical roots-out of a concern with the authentic sources of skinhead identity. As such, it was heavily associated with the attempts of left-wing and so-called “unpolitical” skins to “take back” the subculture from the radical right in the early 1980s. [3]

In an effort to “take back” the subculture and its symbols from the radical right, Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) was founded in New York City in 1987. Although anti-racist skinheads and left-wing anti-racist skinhead bands like England’s The Oppressed had challenged the far right through song and protest, SHARP represented the first attempt to organize skinheads as a multiracial movement against racist, right-wing “boneheads.” SHARP’s logo was, in part, the logo for Trojan Records, producers of the Rock Steady and ska music so beloved by those first wave British skinheads. In fashion, SHARP emphasized a return to the early styles of skinhead dress, and sought to reclaim the Fred Perry brand (among others) as a symbol of multiculturalism, working-class pride, and the early skinhead subculture in general. As SHARP spread throughout Europe its growth, at times, led to violent clashes with white nationalist skinheads. The Oppressed led the charge in Great Britain, performing confrontational Oi music that pitted the group and its followers firmly against their racist opposition. For example, in their simple four chord song “I Don’t Wanna,” singer Roddy Moreno belts:

I don’t need no bigotry

I know where I’m from

I don’t need no racial hate

To help me sing my song

I don’t wanna make a stand

But what else can I do?

I don’t wanna be like you

Don’t wanna fight your race war

Don’t wanna bang your drum

I don’t wanna be like you

Don’t wanna live like scum

The Oppressed associated themselves with groups like Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) and wrote anthems like “The AFA Song” meant to inspire the skinhead left in its fight against the right — a fight that often resulted in street battles between rival skinhead factions in Europe:

We don’t carry shotguns

We don’t carry chains

We only carry hatchets

To bury in your brains

So come on

Let’s go

So come on

Let’s go

A.F.A.

In addition to overtly anti-racist organizations like SHARP, “traditional” or “Trojan” skinheads in the 1980s and 1990s avoided the political question altogether and instead simply decided to live the inclusive values found in the first wave skinhead movement while celebrating working-class pride coupled, at times, with an occasional soft patriotism. Other smaller groups like Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH) formed alongside SHARP that added a heavier dose of left-wing politics to SHARP’s anti-racist stance.

Both groups have worn the Fred Perry and both have incorporated the laurel wreath symbol associated with the brand into album covers and traditional and anti-racist skinhead tattoos. The Fred Perry polo then, for them, is an object reclaimed, re-sanctified, and restored to its original meaning.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, echoes of these conflicts between left, traditional, and right-wing skinheads continued, though never quite reached the fever pitch the conflict had reached in the 1980s.

As we move further into this period of political and ideological polarization, brought on by capitalist crisis, we are seeing old partisan battles reignite. It is no surprise then that the Proud Boys have adopted such a politically-charged piece of clothing for their unofficial uniform. For those with an insiders’ view of this decades-old culture war, the Proud Boys’ adoption of the Fred Perry polo makes an unequivocal statement: we identify with the far-right uses of this brand. The adoption of the Fred Perry is not lost on Antifa, the Proud Boys’ primary political opponents. Fashion, as one variety of symbol system, projects a clear political orientation for those able to “read” the language of what is signified by the brand. As anthropologist Edward Sapir pointed out: “The chief difficulty of understanding fashion in its apparent vagaries is the lack of exact knowledge of the … symbolisms attaching to forms, colors, textures, postures, and other expressive elements of a given cultures. The difficulty is appreciably increased by the fact that some of the expressive elements tend to have quite different symbolic references in different areas.”

For those who have adopted or who understand the skinhead subculture in all its variegated forms, the Fred Perry, viewed in certain contexts, sends one of three messages: that one espouses white nationalist politics, far-left politics, or that one is a traditional skinhead who celebrates multiculturalism. For those in the latter two camps there has been a long-standing contest to wrest the symbols of the “Spirit of 69′” from the hands of those who would corrupt them. While “ownership” of a brand may seem trivial or ill conceived, this “ownership” embodies a struggle for agency, space, and the dominance of an ideology through appropriation of contested material culture.
Notes

[1] John Clarke, Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson and Brian Roberts, “Subcultures, Class and Culture,” inResistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, ed. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (London: Routledge, 1993), 7.

[2] Ibid, 76.

[3] Timothy S. Brown, “Subcultures, Pop Music and Politics: Skinheads and “Nazi Rock” in England and Germany.” Journal of Social History 38, no. 1 (2004): 157-78.

Advertisements

From Solidarity to Trump: White Working-Class Culture in the Rust Belt

Michael McQuarrie

 

Before embarking on my current career, I worked as a labor organizer, mostly in West Virginia and Ohio. In the course of doing that work, I probably did two thousand “housevisits” with people I was attempting to organize. The purpose of these meetings was to understand people’s motivations and interests in order to assess how they would vote in a union recognition election (as the union president once said to the organizers: “I don’t care if you lose, I care if you can’t count”) and assess their leadership potential for either the union’s organizing committee or for management’s anti-union efforts.

The work entailed a never-ending confrontation with the slow social death of a region. Proud people-who once possessed the social honor that came with hard work, supporting a family, and meeting one’s civic responsibilities-were confronting the fact that their skills, their values, and their mores were not only no longer valued, but had become an object of ridicule. This is on my mind these days as I look at my RSS feed, awash as it is in horror that populist revolt, which has already claimed Brexit, Poland, and Austria, will soon claim the American presidency.

I sympathized, and I understood the people I visited. Not all of it, of course; not the racism, misogyny, or jingoism-all often coded in the language of merit and worthiness. What was refreshing about it was that it amounted to a rejection of the material calculus that dominates in so much of our political culture and in academic theories of action. In school I learned that politics was about delivering material incentives to people in order to win their support. Democrats win because they deliver the welfare state. When they vote for Republicans, people are being fundamentally stupid in a way that warrants intrepid journalistic explorations of how it is that people can have motivations they do (what’s the matter with Kansas?). But of course, Republicans have much to offer too: assertive nationalism, moral righteousness, and validations of white privilege and heteronormativity, to name a few.

The working class of the Rust Belt has been in its death throes for decades. Deindustrialization first began to take hold with the “Southern Strategy” of American manufacturers who moved to the southern United States where “right to work” laws ensure an environment that is hostile to unions. But Japanese competition accelerated the problem. Then there was Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who abandoned the working-class base of the party in his pursuit of free trade agreements. Companies received tax breaks for moving jobs overseas. Then there were the tax preferences for financial investment over manufacturing investment, practically guaranteeing that money would flow out of the industrial economy. In a valiant defense of their social order, workers in Youngstown and Wheeling tried to stem the tide by purchasing their plants and hoping that they would remain viable if only profit could be subordinated as a motive. The plants closed anyway.

Wages stagnated and even shrank for many. It was open season on unions not just because of deindustrialization, but aggressive union-busting. Today, the United Mine Workers, which once had 800,000 members and the fortitude to strike in the middle of World War Two, now has 60,000 members. My partner, also a former union organizer, recalls the elderly retired miner she met on a housevisit who bragged about happily paying union assessments to cover John L. Lewis’s legal fees when Roosevelt had him thrown in jail. Lewis, unlike many labor leaders today, was happy to fight a losing battle in the name of a principled defense of working-class autonomy and dignity. His combativeness earned loyalty. But West Virginia workers don’t have unions anymore to help them fight the decline of their communities.

With income stagnation the norm in the 1990s and 2000s, Democratic policy often focused on helping people maintain their standard of living through the possession of assets. Policy encouraged homeownership and investment in securities. Predictably, people lost their pensions or retirement savings in the tech bubble, and then lost their homes in the foreclosure crisis. The Democratic President, Barack Obama, chose to bail out bondholders while leaving homeowners to rot. He then pursued more free trade policies, expanding the number of countries that American workers would have to compete with. Cities like Cleveland had a windfall in their stock of postindustrial porn. In addition to rusting plants they now had naked and rotting houses. Suburban houses lost as much as 75% of their value in postindustrial Ohio. They were never worth anything to start with in West Virginia. Since that time, the problems of disinvesment and unemployment have been compounded by drug addiction. These are problems that, thanks to scholars like William Julius Wilson, we once associated with the urban black working class. They are now the problems of white, small-town America too. It turns out race isn’t the relevant variable for explaining the crisis of the family.

Young people are rare in many of these communities. Nursing homes have replaced mines and mills. Working as a nurse’s aide is a young person’s work, but not in this part of the country, especially in rural areas. The nursing homes I encountered were staffed by women who went back to work when their partner lost his job as a miner or a steelworker. Back then it wasn’t surprising to encounter a forty year-old nurses’ aide working two jobs, “one for the bills and one for health insurance.” Not only is the structural decay of towns a constant reminder of the demise of a way of life, but the decay of the people themselves is as well. It is hard to sustain optimism when the young people most imbued with the characteristic are gone.

Men lose their breadwinning jobs, making the justification for their authority in the household precarious. Women return to work. I was organizing at a moment when women carried with them an attitude towards bosses and unions that their husbands had learned in decades of struggle in their workplaces. This wasn’t all good, workers had plenty of fights with their union representatives too. But it did sustain a culture of combativeness and solidarity that was possible to transfer into healthcare, with modifications, of course. Patients had a different significance for healthcare workers than rivets did for autoworkers. Healthcare workers wanted to use unions to defend their patients against the depredations of the profit motive, though they probably didn’t mind the health insurance and wages they won in the name of patient care. As for the men, pride and combativeness can easily become authoritarianism and misogyny when they’re dependent on a female breadwinner. A shibboleth in the local I worked for recounts ex-UMW members opposing the unionization of their wives and girlfriends: “We know that if you teach them to fight the boss at work, they’ll know how to fight the boss at home,” they said.

In order to stave off the indignity of dependence on their wives and girlfriends, some men would go to extreme lengths that illustrate the value of white working-class identity for people who haven’t known anything else. I’ll never forget the autoworker I encountered on a housevisit to his wife, a nurse at a local hospital. He liked unions and what they stood for. He told me about the notorious Lordstown Strike against GM in 1971. He participated in the torching of a motel that was housing strikebreakers. He didn’t seem to regret it. When I met him he was still working as an autoworker. His UAW contract meant he could bid on jobs in other plants with seniority rights. Laid off at Lordstown, three times per week he would carpool with friends for the five-hour drive to another plant in order to maintain his income and, one had the sense, his working-class identity. Other men figured out that staying at home and maintaining their income meant a switch to healthcare and nursing, but that work didn’t confer status in the same way as manufacturing work did, it was “women’s work.” A Youngstown-area hospital I was organizing had a huge number of male nurses (nationally, about 12% of nurses are men, in Youngstown back then it was more like 25%). Obviously for them, the money was worth more than working-class pride.

The serial destruction that has faced the Rust Belt has not occurred without a struggle. “Fighting the good fight” was extremely important to many Rust Belt workers, as if it were a matter of social honor and recognition. And fight they did, often enough anyway. Why did they fight? Was it for material gains as so many assume? Sometimes. There is always the nurse that will throw some Randian entrepreneurial freedom stuff at you (workers read too), but that particular ideology wasn’t that common, despite the assumptions of economists, pundits, and union busters.

Union busters use a kit, a sort of paint-by-numbers sequence of things to talk about and do in the run-up to a recognition election. One standard item is the checks. This is a mock-up of a check with the worker’s name and current weekly pay. Next to it will be a comparison check with the costs of a strike deducted. How do workers react? Certainly some were influenced. People have different economic circumstances and different reactions to them. But often enough the response was something like: “that’s a small price to pay to tell the boss to fuck off.” And there it is. The value that many workers place on being able to express their opinion or fight just for a chance to speak is an awful lot higher than many expect. Workers stage sit-down strikes, even though they are completely illegal and could result in the bankruptcy of the union. Transit workers did this in New York in 2006, but nursing home workers were doing it in Ohio too.

Perhaps such a fight is worth a few dollars, but surely there is an underlying material instrumentality, isn’t there? Union staff often told the story of a contract fight for county mental health workers in Mentor, Ohio. The county had told the workers that if they refused to accept the contract the county would simply stop funding mental health altogether, costing all of the workers their jobs. As the votes were counted, it became clear that the workers had placed more value on their right to protest the behavior of their employer than they did on their own job. They ratified the contract, told the boss what they thought of his threats, and, presumably, headed for the unemployment line.

In 1998, I found myself on a picket line in front of a prison in Lima, Ohio. We represented the social service professionals who worked for the state: doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers. That year the union representing the non-professionals negotiated a concessionary contract with the state. We could either also accept the concessionary contract or fight it despite having very little workplace power. But our members and our president wanted to fight, not least to show everyone what cowards the other union was. Our picket had signs like: “Grandmas shouldn’t have to strike.” Prisoners were jokingly shouting “we want a contract too!” out their cell windows. We won. The threat wasn’t because our workers were off the job, and it certainly wasn’t because the guards respected the picket (though a few did). But the prisoners rioted. State troopers had to be called in to quell riots, including one at the notorious Lucasville Prison. It turns out representing nurses isn’t such a weak hand after all, at least when you’re striking a prison. The culture of solidarity reaches far in the Rust Belt, especially when people choose to fight the boss.

I have long thought that the workers of the Rust Belt and their communities were an underutilized political resource. Unions once did important work holding white workers in the Democratic coalition, despite the fact that Democrats have been ignoring them for three decades. But unions have mostly been destroyed in the Rust Belt. Michigan, the birthplace of the UAW and Industrial Unionism, became a Right to Work state two years ago, joining Wisconsin and soon to be followed by West Virginia. States which once had 40% of their workforces represented by unions now have 10-11%. As a result, the populist outrage of the white working class is available to both the Right and the Left. Over the years various Democratic candidates, Tom Harkin, John Edwards, and Bernie Sanders among them, have attempted to recapture white workers for the Democratic Party and, in the process, reorient the Party away from its deference to finance capital. These efforts have failed. The Democratic coalition is a party of free trade, finance, and tech with a diverse base recruited on the basis of social liberalism and fluency with identity politics. This is not a party of the working class and is especially not a party of the white working class.

Trump has stepped into this political vacuum and it has served him well, enabling him to trounce establishment and Tea Party Republicans in the primaries. Trump seems to be furious at the establishment politicians that long ago wrote off the Rust Belt. He is combative, he doesn’t defer to the political correctness that is sensitive to the feelings of everyone other than the white poor and working class. Trump’s performance emphasizes action as much as words and ideas, which exasperates the educated, but appeals to Rust Belt workers. Ideas and rational consistency are not, academic dispositions aside, particularly important to people without Ph.Ds. Trump performs the combativeness of Rust Belt culture, the lack of deference to odds or the focus-grouped lowest common denominator. He seems as lost playing the politically-coded game of pandering and recognition that people in Portsmouth, Ohio, are. He is a manifestation of the “fuck you” id of the Rust Belt that leads workers to fight their bosses even when they will probably lose. And sure, it isn’t exactly about the working class, but if Trump has been consistent on any issue, it has been trade. He promises to rip up the trade agreements that forced workers to make a choice between their dignity and their jobs, and that forced them onto an unfair playing field against workers with government health insurance or lower housing and food costs. He promises to protect them from immigrants that are somehow simultaneously competing for their jobs and sucking state coffers dry.

Hillary Clinton had a word for the Rust Belt in her convention speech, just like she did for every other constituency in the Democratic coalition. She pointed out that Donald Trump’s merchandise is made overseas. My first thought was that it was a good opener, but that was it. No policy, no recognition, just “That guy is a liar”. Now, granted, Rust Belt workers do get pissed off about stuff like that. For years the draw for the Central Labor Council annual picnic in Dayton, Ohio, was the destruction of a Japanese car with a wrecking ball. Watching a crane destroy a perfectly good automobile is exciting, but it’s downright cathartic when that car represents an existential threat to your existence and an offense to your patriotism. But I fully expect that Rust Belt voters, many of whom are pretty familiar with the dynamics of these issues (thanks unions!) would hear that and think: “ok, she’s taking us for suckers… again”. Just because that stuff worked with patrician Romney (and it did) in no way means that it will work with combative, disrespectful, trade-deal trashing, and immigrant-deporting Trump. Clinton’s move was calculated and condescending. She volunteered for an authenticity fight with Donald Trump, a fight she will lose.

Trump has nailed down populism for the Right. Sanders made a bid to win it back for the Left, but no one named Obama or Clinton is going to win it back for Democrats. Now pundits and Trump’s campaign are plotting a path to the presidency through the Rust Belt. Trump’s (former) campaign manager has said that victory depends upon winning Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania . Trump has talked about extending the map to Michigan and Wisconsin which, after all, are enthusiastic enough about Republicans to vote them into power in every branch of government and watch them pass Right to Work laws and create punitive social welfare regimes. The electoral map might be realigning to situate Democrats as the representatives of the New Economy and Republicans as the champions of Smokestack industries and their workers. Trump has made it clear that this potential political opposition is real.

But the anxiety and the worry is misplaced. There is no Brexit majority here. The path through the Rust Belt is actually a cul-de-sac, not because Trump lacks appeal with white workers, but because there are so few of them left. Cities aren’t filled with factories and working-class neighborhoods anymore; they’re filled with artist studios, tech startups, coffee bars, and criminalized hyper-ghettos. Latinos have been moving to Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, but they sure aren’t voting for Trump. White people have been leaving many of these states which has increased the minority share of potential voters. Trump polled at 0% among African-Americans in Ohio during the Republican Convention. The Rust Belt economy has been diversifying. Unemployment in Ohio and Pennsylvania has mostly been below the national average since the financial crisis. Ann Arbor, Madison, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati, Lansing and others have been increasing in importance. These towns are hubs for tech and pharmaceutical startups, advanced manufacturing, and software engineering. They have concentrations of educated people who are less likely to vote for Trump.

The work of economic transformation has already been done in the Rust Belt and the demographic results are real. Trump missed the window for exploiting the alienation of the Rust Belt as a path to national office. White workers were angrier, more numerous, more combative, and more motivated twenty years ago when they were smashing Japanese cars at picnics. But back then unions had more capacity to hold white workers in the Democratic coalition. Unmoored from unions, racism and terrorism can be exploited to harvest white votes. Trump’s combativeness is the ideal vehicle for effective exploitation, but the harvest is getting smaller every year. Trump can tap into the dispositions of the white working class, and speak to the issues of Rust Belt workers, but it is doubtful that he can overcome the demographically- and economically-determined fact of their declining relevance.
This was originally published at New Politics .
Michael McQuarrie is Associate Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. Prior to graduate school, he worked as a labor organizer in West Virginia, Ohio, and New York and as a community organizer in the South Bronx.

The Science of Corrosive Inequality

Dr. Nicholas Partyka

 

As the Presidential campaign season begins to get into full-swing, inequality will become a prominent topic, and misleading conventional narratives will abound. Both the presumptive nominees of the two major political parties have addressed this topic at length already, and will certainly have much more to say as the general election phase kicks-off. Inequality is a prominent topic because we are still dealing with the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis that spawned the Occupy Wall-Street movement, which did much to put the issue of economic and political inequality back on the table for discussion. This is why the topic came up in the 2012 Presidential election cycle, and why during this election cycle one candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary was able to attract a very large following by focusing predominantly on this issue. The success of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump shows that the issue of inequality, and its various social, political, and economic effects, still resonates deeply with large portions of the electorate on both sides of the mainstream partisan divide. This is the case, principally, because a great many non-elite Americans are still living with the economic consequences of the financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

Inequality, political and economic, not only helped to inflate the bubble whose bursting caused the crash, but it also determined in large measure who benefited from the bailouts and the “recovery”. Rising inequality from the 1970s on helped funnel more and more wealth to the top of the income scale. These people spend their money very differently from others. When this group has surplus income, they are very likely to purchase financial instruments. As more and more wealth was channeled into their hands by the economic and political policies of neoliberalism, as championed by the likes of Reagan and Thatcher, the demand for financial products grew correspondingly. Further, after the financial sector was deregulated in the late 1990s, this process of financialization only picked up speed. Once home mortgages were securitized, that is, made into financial instruments, the stage was set for the collapse. After the crash, elites used their political and economic clout to divert bailout funds from America’s proverbial ‘main streets’ to Wall-Street. This, combined with fiscal policy choices, that is, the choice by bourgeois politicians not to use it as a tool to combat unemployment, is why the so-called “recovery” has not extended all that far down from the top of the income scale.

In order to know what kinds of solutions are necessary to address the problem of inequality it is important to know what kinds of problems it produces, as well as their scale. Scientists and scholars studying inequality, and its various impacts, have revealed a number of striking conclusions about the nature and extent of the social, political, and economic, impacts of inequality. When taken together these various research results paint a very clear picture of the corrosive effects of economic inequality on society, economy, and democratic politics. The totality of these wide-ranging effects constitutes a significant threat to a society aiming to be democratic and egalitarian. In what follows, we will examine some of these interesting studies and their results to see what they reveal about the multifaceted impacts of inequality on persons, societies, and democracy. What we will find is that the scale of the problem far outstrips the scale of most of the mainstream solutions proposed; even those put forward by the self-proclaimed (though quite incorrectly)”socialist” candidate in the Presidential primaries.
Piketty on Inequality

It seems a safe bet that few would have predicted the overwhelming success that a hefty tome on economic inequality by a French economist would achieve in the spring of 2014.[1] The 2011 Occupy Wall-Street movement did much to bring the issue of economic inequality in society, as well as its many social and political effects, into the public consciousness, as well as into political debates. Nevertheless, Thomas Piketty’s book, and its success, caught many totally by surprise, and set off a vigorous debate, and vitriolic reaction, upon its translation into English. Both liberals and radicals pointed to his work as evidence, as confirmation, of what they have been saying for many years. On the other side, conservatives seemed wither to accept his findings, but dismiss his policy suggestions, or to find technical “flaws” with his data or methodology as a way of undermining all his conclusions. Using mainly tax-return records, from several countries, Piketty’s work presents the most comprehensive view of the historical evolution, and structure, of income inequality throughout the industrialized world. Several highly significant, and well-established, conclusions result from his research.

First, Piketty confirms empirically several notions the left has asserted, namely, income inequality in the United States has returned to a historic high level, and it has been rising since the 1970s. The level of income inequality in the United States, especially the growth of incomes at the very top of the income spectrum, has, according to Piketty, revived the social significance of capital in the 21stcentury, and is bringing back the more patrimonial economy that dominated earlier centuries, until the period between 1914 and 1975. That is, once dynamic and equalizing societies are now increasingly reverting to the kinds of more rigidly defined, and largely hereditary, social relationships and attitudes that dominated the economy and society of the Gilded Age, as well as preceding centuries.

Second, and very importantly, Piketty’s research provides much needed context for perceptions of growth, both of capital and wages. What Piketty’s historical research reveal is that average annual growth rates, even in this most recent and most fecund epoch, are actually rather small. Average annual growth rates for the most productive societies, in the most productive era, are still only about 1 – 1.5% per annum. Capital, on the other hand, has grown on an average of 4-5% per annum over the same historical period. This observation gives rise to one of Piketty’s fundamental conclusions, namely the law (r>g).[2] This law is the biggest source of divergence in market economies, because it directly implies that a capital, however small, will with time invariably become a large capital; exogenous shocks, natural catastrophes, and acts of God notwithstanding. What this law also implies, and very significantly, is that the economic and social landscape of the mid-20th century is an economically and historically unique, and likely non-replicable period.

Why did economic inequality decline in the United States during the middle part of the 20th century? Piketty’s answer is that this decline was largely the result of the confluence of historical events, namely the World Wars and the Great Depression. It is the historical conjuncture of these events in this period, as well as the political and social response to them, that accounts for the uniqueness of this era. Piketty’s fundamental law (r > g) was able to be broken in this period because of the exigencies of combating foreign military foes and domestic economic woes. One of the most significant results of the efforts to combat both is that working people in the Unites States accumulated during the war years the largest stock of disposable income ever. It was the spending of this money, as well as exploiting the United States’ position as global hegemon, that fueled the post-war economic boom up until the mid-1970s. When the economic effects of the 1914-1945 period wore off, inequality began to rise again.
Inequality & Social Mobility

One of the major implications of Piketty’s conclusions was on the topic of social mobility in the United States. Many on the left have been arguing for some time that social mobility in America is much lower than commonly thought, and Piketty’s data on inequality seems to support just such an argument. If economic inequality in a society is very high, and growing, then social mobility is likely to be low. The reasons for this are that as economic inequality increases, so the economy comes to be more and more patrimonial, and thus economic divisions come to settle more and more into sharp caste divides. This is, of course, because in a capitalist society, income determines the extent of an individual’s, or a family’s, ability to consume, that it, their income determines the range of their consumption choices.

One thing Piketty’s work demonstrated clearly was just how stark income inequality is in America. What he also, very importantly, showed that the growth of inequality in the United States since the 1970s is due principally to the rise in the incomes of the wealthiest 1%, and .1% of income earners. [3]This increasing concentration of wealth among the wealthiest certainly bodes ill for high levels of social mobility. One of the main features of a patrimonial economy is that, at least from the point of view of social mobility, it is not dynamic. Piketty appeals to interesting evidence from 19th century Victorian literature to demonstrate this fact. In a highly patrimonial economy the ability of individuals at the very bottom of the economic scale to advance into the “middle-classes”, let alone into the top 10% or 1%. A patrimonial economy also makes it very easy for those who have accumulated wealth to be fairly confident of never falling below the “middle classes”, if one falls out of the elite classes at all. One of the most striking features, at least to modern readers, of Piketty’s use of the economic evidence in Victorian novels, is that with conservative management an accumulated fortune is unlikely to be dissipated, and thus to be transmitted to the next generation.

The notion that classes, or castes, define American society is anathema to many pundits and commentators. Thus the vigorous attempts to rebut, dispute, and discredit Piketty’s work and conclusions. This image of a patrimonial economy does not square well with the cherished nostrum of capitalist society as dynamic and highly socially mobile. To some extent this belief in mobility is evidenced in empirical studies. What these studies often compare are the economic, or educational, outcomes achieved by parents and their children. What they reveal is a strikingly low-level of social mobility, at least as defined by the “rags to riches” mythos of America. Indeed only .2% of those born into the bottom 20% of the income scale will end up rising into the top 1% of income earners. And, as one might expect, the picture is more bleak for persons of color, and other marginalized groups.

What some researchers found is that the picture of social mobility in America is much more complex than simplified narratives from right or center-left suggest. The reality for the majority of Americans is rather fluid, in that people enjoy bouts of relative prosperity and affluence, as well as bouts of relative poverty and deprivation. If such a picture of social mobility were not shocking enough, research taking a different tack suggests that social mobility is actually much lower that the picture presented by inter-generational studies mentioned above, and has been very low throughout history. [4] Economist Gregory Clark studied the prevalence and endurance of ‘elite’ surnames in elite institutions as a way of measuring social mobility with societies.

Using a variety of sources, including Census records, tax returns, death records, graduation records, and others, Clark makes a case that the rate of social mobility in the United States is much lower than contemporary estimates suggest. He argues that the common perception of very slow long-term mobility is more accurate than the estimates presented by social scientific research. For the case of the United States, Clark first identifies certain elite surname groups, as well as underclass surname groups. Then, he looks to test the prevalence of both groups among occupations identified as high status. Clark uses membership lists, mainly from professional associations, of doctors and lawyers as the high status occupations. Among the elite surname groups in America Clark lists Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, what he calls the 1923-1924 rich, and pre-1850 Ivy League graduates. The underclass groups are black Americans, and a groups Clark terms New French settlers. What his research concluded was that elite surnames show a very strong persistence, between 0.7 and 0.9, over the long-term, that is, for Clark, at least three generations.[5]

Another very interesting body of research suggests that humans have innate physiological and physiological reactions to the particular stresses induced by scarcity, by having less than is needed to make ends meet. Researchers found that these reactions impair humans’ long-run decision making faculties, even if boosting short-term focus, resulting in patterns of behavior that lead the poor to be likely to remain in poverty. [6] The experience of scarcity causes people to ‘tunnel’, that is, focus on immediate goals and concerns, and thus to neglect many other important goals or other things one values. While this focus does yield an important benefit in increased productivity, the long-run consequences can lead to what researchers call a ‘scarcity trap’. As one tunnels in on pressing immediate goals, the things that fall outside ones view are neglected, and thus become shocks as they suddenly appear on the tunnel of the person experiencing scarcity. As one reacts to each successive shock, even when “shocks” are predictable and routine events, one resorts to increasingly dodgy schemes to make ends meet. This is how people end up in, and unable to extract themselves from, one or another of the many kinds of scarcity trap.

This is only compounded by the fact that the experience of scarcity imposes a kind of tax on humans’ cognitive capacities, such that as scarcity increases one comes to have less and less of the most important mental resources for escaping scarcity. Will-power is a finite resource, and the effects of scarcity are such that this resource is heavily depleted by scarcity, and the tendency of humans to psychologically obsess about their deprivations. Moreover, scarcity erodes intellectual capacities, in some studies the effect was the equivalent of as much as 13 or 14 IQ points. Thus, as scarcity taxes one’s cognitive capacities, shocks continue to arise, and one must constantly react, always seemingly one step behind. Thus, one will end up making poorer, more impulsive decisions that meet short-term needs, but at the expense of the individual’s long-term goals and interests. Scarcity, in this way, perpetuates scarcity, leading people to remain locked into debt and poverty. Unfortunately, even when poor people do escape poverty, or debt, they often fall back in because they lack any kind of buffer or cushion. The truth is that the poor tend to stay poor because of the physiological and psychological effects of the experience of scarcity, and the rich tend to stay rich because of the effects of abundance.
Inequality and Personality

Beyond its effects on the rates of social mobility, and how this affects people’s lives, inequality also seems to change who people are on a deeper level. Inequality has some interesting, and disquieting, impacts on what people think, their attitudes, their moral values, their perceptions of situations and of other people, and more. Wealth, or the lack thereof, impacts on individual’s personality in many ways. It directly provokes the question of whether the wealthy and the poor are qualitatively different sorts of persons, or whether they are constructed that way by their social environment. The results of empirical research suggest that the experience of inequality, from the top or the bottom of the economic scale, has profound effects on our personalities. The clear implication is that our personalities are in some very significant ways shaped by the contingent realities of the social environment.

In the wake of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis, and its aftermath, came much scorn, and condemnation of Wall-Street’s recklessness and greed. The Great Recession brought increased scrutiny to the 1% as a class, and to the mis-deeds and cupidity of the finance industry and financial institutions in the lead-up to and during the 2007-2008 Crisis. The treatment of the whole matter by the federal government angered many citizens, and further fueled the public’s fury and indignation. One of the threads that emerged from this storm of vitriol that was poured on Wall-Street bankers was comparing corporate CEOs to sociopaths. The callousness, selfishness, and nonchalance with which many in the financial industry profited from the crash which they themselves had both created and precipitated, even as others were being fired en masse, made many Americans think of corporate CEOs as basically sociopaths. Some pundits took this to the logical conclusion and compared clinical symptoms ofsociopathic behavior to the characteristics of successful CEOs. As it turns out, a growing body of empirical research is suggesting that the wealthy are indeed very different from others, e.g. morally and emotionally, as a result of their wealth.

A series of creatively designed studies by researchers Paul Piff, Dacher Keltner, Michael Kraus, Stephane Cote, and a host of collaborators, has revealed some very interesting results about the moral and emotional differences of rich people from persons of lower social class. Piff and Keltner, et al , demonstrated in both naturalistic and laboratory settings that those of higher social class, i.e. the wealthy, are more likely to lie, cheat, steal, and break the law than their counterparts in lower social classes.[7] On the naturalistic side, they found that wealthier drivers, as determined by the model of the car, were more likely to illegally cut-off both other drivers at intersections and pedestrians at crosswalks. On the laboratory side, they found that in experimental simulations those of higher social class, even if artificially created, were more likely to lie, cheat, and steal in order to win prizes. Moreover, in experimental simulations, even those whose position of wealth and dominance had been engineered as part of the experiment, showed the signs of feeling entitled to their totally un-earned wealth. Other research found that those who had attitudes characteristic of social dominance were found to be more likely to come to feel entitled to their position in the inequality hierarchy, or to believe the “legitimizing myths” of inequality. [8]

Other studies have produced similarly striking results. One study showed that lower-class individuals were more “empathically accurate” than their wealthier counterparts. ‘Empathic accuracy’ here refers to the ability of persons to correctly judge or predict the emotional states of others. [9] They hypothesize that since poorer people have to rely more on others to get by, they become more accurate at judging other people’s emotional states, since their success in obtaining cooperation depends on managing the emotions of others. In another study, Kraus & Keltner demonstrated that the wealthier subjects in their experiments were less likely to pay attention to others, as demonstrated by a prevalence of “disengagement cues”, e.g. looking at one’s cell phone while others are talking.[10] A further study revealed that the wealthier subjects were more likely to have a predominance of “self-oriented affect”, that is, the rich are more likely to think about themselves before others. [11] In yet a further study, Stellar, Keltner, & colleagues, demonstrated that wealthier subjects were not only slower to feel compassion, but reported feeling less compassion, for others experiencing suffering.[12] Higher social status individuals were also shown in one experiment to be stingier than their less wealthy counterparts.

Inequality, in addition to warping the perceptions and sensibilities of the rich, also distorts the perceptions of the working-classes. Kraus, Piff, and Keltner found in one study that those of lower social class position were more likely to favor contextual explanations over dispositional ones, because of a perceived lack of personal control over the outcome.[13] This means that poorer people tend to explain, or rationalize, their own choices, or the events of their lives in terms of external causal factors, that is, factors over which they as individuals do not have control. This perceived lack of control is characteristic of how researchers Melvin Kohn, Carmi Schooler, and their collaborators, understand the concept of alienation.[14] Their research demonstrated important connections between inequality in levels of alienation between high and low status groups in the workplace. The difference between the high- and low-status positions in the workplace roughly matches the colloquial “blue collar”, “white collar” distinction, where the latter type of jobs contain an abundance, and the former a paucity, of opportunities to exercise “occupation self-direction”, that is, control over their work. Each of these groups was found to have a distinct set of values and social orientations associated with it.

The correlation between the social stratification position of lower-status workers within the firm, and the personal values, social orientations, and psychological functioning that predominate among these workers is troubling.[15] The results obtained by Kohn and Schooler, et al, demonstrate that the more alienated low-status group are more likely to have specific set of values, attitudes, and social orientations. In particular, more alienated, “blue collar”, workers tend to take on personality traits like authoritarianism, conformity to authority, resistance to change, and a focus on the letter rather than the spirit of the law. This is in turn related to the lower levels of psychological functions, or intellectual flexibility, observed among the high-alienation, low-status workers. This research also shows that the observed connection between these traits and social-stratification position within the firm are mediated by the division of labor in the typical capitalist firm, whereby the low-status workers are denied opportunities to exercise self-direction at work. Of course, we should note that an individual’s social-stratification position with the firm is in many ways correlated with, and even determined by, that individual’s social class in society generally. This latter is not a conclusion issued by the research we’ve been discussing, but rather a more general observation about the fit, under capitalism, between low-status persons and those who perform the low-status work in society.

One very telling, and worrisome, result of the work of Kohn and Schooler, et al, is that alienation experienced in the workplace spilled over into the non-work life of workers, effecting their leisure time preferences. The rate of interest in discussing non-political matters was found to be consistent across both the high- and low-alienation groups. However, interest in discussing political topics was distinctly lower among the high-alienation group. Moreover, the intellectuality of the preferred leisure time activities among highly alienated workers was seen to be much lower than among their counterparts in the low-alienation group. As a further kind of informal test, the researchers conducted their survey in two separate parts. One part of the survey covered non-political topics, the other political topics. After controlling for Swedes’ cultural tendency to comply with researches requests, they found, quite suggestively, that the political part of the survey was returned later on average by the high-alienation group. This specifically political withdrawal by the high-alienation, low-status workers will have profound implications for the well-being of political democracy.
Inequality & Health in both Individuals and Societies

A growing body of research in public health has shown that economic inequality is highly related to certain significant socials ills, e.g. high levels of violence, as well as higher rates of illness and early death among those of lower class position in society. Building off this work on the “social determinants of health”, Richard Wilkinson presents an argument that societies with more inequality are also, e.g. less trusting, less cohesive, less sociable, more prejudiced, and more violent. [16] He begins by noting an apparent paradox. Modern societies are more wealthy and productive, and with more luxuries readily available, than most of our ancestors would have ever dreamed. He cites the example of indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water as luxuries often taken for granted. And yet, modern societies also appear rife with unhappiness, e.g. high rates of suicide and depression, illness, violence, and early death. Wilkinson links the sources of these manifestations of unhappiness with economic inequality and its social, as well as physiological, effects.

Wilkinson’s work successfully showed that almost all the social problems that are indicators of unhappiness, are more concentrated in poor areas, and more common among poor people. He argues that, as a result of the “epidemiological transition”, the most common causes of death for all in developed countries shifted from infectious diseases to degenerative diseases. What he found is that health is graded by social status, that is, largely by income. His results demonstrated that as income increased so did health, according to a range of metrics, and vice versa. He appeals to a range of studies to help show that social problems indicative of unhappiness are caused by the same sources of stress as chronic diseases. Wilkinson points to three main categories of psychological risk factors, namely, early childhood social and emotional development, being more socially isolated, and high or low social status.

As inequality in a society rises, Wilkinson argues, the social relationships of that society increasingly become characterized by relations of dominance and subordination, that is, by increasing social distance. The more this latter is the case, the more the sense of autonomy, or of self-direction, decreases for the proverbial have-nots as their dependence on the haves increases. In Wilkinson’s causal mechanism, increased inequality leads to increased competition for social status, and subsequently the adoption of anti-social values and attitudes as people become more detached from and less reliant on others. These latter values progressively erode social relations and community life, and thus contributing to the social problems afflicting society. Basically, the psychological factors that create unhappiness, produce ill health and other social issues through increases in stress associated with inequality, and deprivation. For, indeed, as Wilkinson acknowledges, the connection between economic inequality and ability to access consumption goods will play a large part in explaining the connection between inequality and ill health.

On the one hand, inequality makes societies less healthy. For example, one study based on data from the U.S. General Social Survey by Kawachi and Kennedyet al, Wilkinson cites, demonstrates that states with higher inequality were less trusting than in more equal states. [17] Two studies by Robert Putnam and colleagues, one conducted in the U.S. and the other in Italy, found that the strength of community life varied with the level of inequality. The more inequality there was, the less likely people were to be involved with social, or civic organizations or activities.[18] Building off others’ data for ten U.S. cities, the more inequality there was the more hostility three was.[19] Moreover, as Wilkinson notes, there are more than fifty studies showing a relationship between inequality and homicide rates.[20] Other studies have shown that higher rates of economic inequality were related with increased racial prejudice, as were lower social status for women. [21] Lastly, but by no means least, studies have shown that where inequality is greater political participation decreases, when participation is measured by propensity to vote.[22]

On the other hand, inequality also makes individuals less healthy, resulting in the early death of those on the short-side of social inequalities. All three of the main psychological risk factors for unhappiness and stress, and thus illness, that Wilkinson identified are directly related to economic inequality. Pre-natal and early childhood stress have been linked by studies to a range of later life health problems. The scientific evidence points to the stress hormones like cortisol as an important influencing factor.[23] Social isolation, that is, lack of embeddedness with a robust network of friendships, and other social connections, has been shown to be related to higher mortality rates. [24] Low social status has also been shown to be related to higher rates of mortality. What may be the most striking thing about what some of the research in this area suggests that, yes the material conditions attached to poverty matter, but that the position of inequality, of subordination and deprivation, itself produces negative consequences for health.[25]

Compounding these effects of inequality on health is the visibility of inequality, which research has found further increases inequality. [26] Subjects were experimentally manipulated into higher and lower status groups, the higher the status the more the initial endowment of the participant. The subjects participated in a game designed to test their choices given specific incentives. Basically, the experiment consists of a turn-based game where fake money is waged. The participants can choose to act cooperatively, i.e. contribute to a common pool or bank. Alternatively, players can also choose to act selfishly, and defect from cooperation, and thus gain more money for themselves than if they had cooperated. The outcome of each round depends on the choices of each of the players, and each of the player’s choices effects the choices of each of the other players. The researchers found that when the levels of inequality were more visible in these experiments the outcomes of the games were more unequal distributions of wealth than in games where the levels of inequality were invisible to the players. If the visibility of wealth increases inequality in the distribution of wealth, then it stands to reason that, given the link between inequality and social health, visibility of inequality will exacerbate the negative health effects of inequality.
Inequality is Anti-Democratic

I am in deep agreement with Wilkinson when he asserts that the surprise should not be so much that inequality is as harmful to ourselves and to society as it is, but rather that we should have forgotten this. For, indeed, when we look back into the history of our modern democratic political culture, we see that the concern about economic, and thus social and political, inequality has been a major one. Both the ancient Greek and Romans had important laws, not always scrupulously abided, that limited land ownership by individuals. The idea behind these laws was to attempt to preserve a wide distribution of land-ownership, because owning land and political and social independence were linked. Indeed, in ancient minds, the former was the necessary material foundation of the latter.[27] For the Greeks , someone who depended on another for work, for a livelihood, would be thought of as an unreliable citizen. This was because the relationship between employer and employee, patron and client, is one of domination and subjugation. If one’s ability access important subsistence goods hinges on the disposition of another, then one is unlikely to oppose that other politically; especially in a time when political debate and voting was done face to face, and in public. The rise of patron – client relationships was in part responsible, in the case of the Romans, for the fall of the republic.

Consider the classic slogan of the French revolution, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, or liberty, equality, and solidarity. As Wilkinson rightly notes, each one of these values, is a demand, and is addressed or related to inequality. We’ve seen already that inequality lead to subordination, which is the anti-thesis of democratic political relations. Solidarity has to do with our understanding of social relations themselves, and their quality. A robust democratic culture must maintain a certain level and quality of social cohesion, built on relationships that affirm liberty and cooperation. We’ve see already that research shows that as inequality increases the quality of social relations decreases, importantly, inequality was found to decrease levels of participation. Equality can thus be seen as the basic pre-condition for liberty and solidarity. This is because of the importance of the material bases of liberty and solidarity, and the link between access to these material bases and income. Thus, the most essential foundation of any democratizing reform must be a change in the distribution of levels of access to the material pre-requisites of a decent life, the enables substantial political participation.

Inequality is also anti-democratic because it skews the outcome of public political deliberative institutions and processes, as well as “competitive” elections. A recent study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page demonstrated that that the majority of the U.S. electorate had little or no control over the legislative outcomes of their “democratic” institutions. That is, as their research shows, there is no statistically significant connection between the preferences of the majority of voters and the legislative outcomes of their political institutions.[28] The wealthiest elites have a statistically significant lead over the rest of the American citizenry in the likelihood of their preference being realized in public policy and law. The recent Citizens Untied ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court only further entrenched the role of money in the contemporary American political system, by legally equating money with speech. It is very likely because people perceive the way that their political elites serve economic elites and their interests much more than those of the proverbial “common man”. This is also very likely behind the deep decline in voter participation in America over a period of many years. It is also almost certainly part of why other research found that a full one third of survey respondents replied “not at all” when asked, “(H)ow democratically is your country being governed?”[29]
Conclusion

Economic inequality is thus highly corrosive of democracy because it limits social mobility, creates ill health and social problems, warps the personalities of those involved in un-democratic ways, and distorts the outcomes of the political process in favor of the wealthy. Inequality lowers mobility and results in more rigid social hierarchies divided by class, that is, by income. The result of this is a society in which a great gulf opens between these classes as their social, political, and economic experiences become increasingly divorced from each other. Further, because of the link between income and consumption, there is a connection between income inequality and health; both in persons and in societies. Inequality makes people more stressed, triggering physiological reactions, that when sustained over long durations produce consequences leading to more illness and earlier death. Inequalities in societies, in particular inequalities in income, resources, and opportunities, help produce unhealthy social maladies like increased violence and crime, reduced levels of compassion, higher levels of hostility, reduced levels of trust. In essence, inequality tends to decrease social cohesion, and the robustness of participation in community life, leading to increased levels of social isolation. Inequality also leads to the creation of social and economic conditions, and structures of work, under which individuals are incentivized to become persons with anti-democratic values, attitudes, and preferences. Increases in exposure to relationships of domination and subordination lead those subordinated to taken on adaptive preferences, e.g. the specifically political withdrawal noted in the work of Kohn & Schooler et al.

What we can see now is that the responses to the problem, really problems, of inequality are woefully inadequate to address the wide range of maladies created or exacerbated by inequality. Raising taxes on the rich, and spending that money on social programs sounds like an appealing solution. But, from what we have just seen, this strategy is not capable of providing real solutions to the variegated social, economic, and political problems related to high levels of inequality in society. Tackling the problem of inequality will require much more robust measures. What should be clear from what we’ve discussed here is that the political and economic problems of economic and political inequality cannot be addressed singly or in isolation. Only a comprehensive strategy addressing them all simultaneously will suffice to effect real change. The economic power of capitalists gives them political power, which they use to preserve and even enhance their economic power. Unless the very social and economic foundations of this feedback loop are extirpated, the hold of bourgeois elites on both economic and political power is unlikely to be broken. This is why even a successful “political revolution” would be ineffecti ve in combatting inequality; let alone reversing the four decade old trend towards rising inequality. The only effective means of combatting inequality, and its myriad of detrimental consequences, is the seizure of political and economic power from the capitalist class by a working class that is conscious of itself as a class both in-itself and for-itself.
Notes

[1] Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the 21st Century. Tr. Arthur Goldhammer. The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2014.

[2] In this equation r = average annual rate of growth of capital, and g = average annual rate of growth of income, or output. See Piketty, (2014), 25.

[3] See Piketty (2014); figs.8.5 – 8.10

[4] See Clark, Gregory. The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Princeton University Press, 2014.

[5] See Clark (2014) ch.3.

[6] See Mullainathan, Sendhil & Eldar Shafir. Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives. Picador, 2014.

[7] Piff, Paul, et al. “Higher Social Status Leads to Increased Unethical Behavior”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol.109 no.11 (2012): 4086-4091.

[8] See Wilkinson (2005), 196.

[9] Kraus, Michael W., Stephane Cote, & Dacher Keltner. “Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy”. Psychological Science. Vol.21 no.11 (2010):1716-1723.

[10] Kraus, Michael W., & Dacher Keltner. “Signs of Socioeconomic Status: A thin Slicing Approach”.Psychological Science. Vol.20 no.1 (2009): 99-106.

[11] Kraus, Michael W., Paul Piff, & Dacher Keltner. “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm”. Current Directions in Psychological Science. Vol.20 no.4 (2011): 246-250.

[12] Stellar, Jennifer, V.M. Manzo, Michael W. Kraus, & Dacher Keltner. “Class and Compassion: Socioeconomic Factors Predict Response to Suffering”. Emotion. Vol.12 no.3 (2012): 449-459.

[13] Kraus, Michael W., Paul Piff, & Dacher Keltner. “Social Class, Sense of Control, and Social Explanation”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol.97 no.6 (2009): 992-1004.

[14] Kohn, Schooler, and their colleagues take their conception of alienation from work done by Melvin Seeman in the early 1960s. See; Seeman.”Alienation and Social Learning in a Reformatory”. American Journal of Sociology. Vol.69 no.3 (1963): 270-284. Also see; Seeman, & John W. Evans. “Alienation and Learning in a Hospital Setting”. American Sociological Review. Vol.27 no.6 (1962): 772-782.

[15] See; Kohn, Melvin. Class and Conformity: A Study in Values. 1969. University of Chicago Press, 1977. Also see; Kohn and Schooler, et al. Work and Personality. Ablex Publishing, 1983.

[16] See; Wilkinson, Richard. The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier. The New Press, 2005.

[17] Kawachi, I., B.P.Kennedy, K.Lochner, &D.Prothrow-Smith.1997. “Social Capital, Income Inequality and Mortality. American Journal of Public Health. Vol.87 no.1: 21-32.

[18] See; Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster. 2000. Also see; Putnam, R.D., R. Leonardi, & R.Y. Nanetti. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press, 1993.

[19] Wilkinson (2005), 51.

[20] Wilkinson (2005), 47-50.

[21] Kennedy, B.P., I. Kawachi, K. Lochner, C.P. Jones, & D. Prothrow-Smith. “(Dis)respect and Black Mortality. Ethnicity & Disease. Vol.7 (1997): 207-214. Also see; Blau, F.D. & L.M. Kahn. “The Gender Earnings Gap – Learning from International Comparisons”. American Economic Review. Vol.82 (1992): 533-538.

[22] See Mahler, V.A..”Exploring the Subnational Dimension of Income Inequality”. Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper 292, January, 2002. Also see; Blakely, T.A. B.P. Kennedy, & I. Kawachi. “Socioeconomic Inequality in Voting Participation and Self-rated Health”. American Journal of Public Health. Vol.91 no.1(2001): 99-104.

[23] Wilkinson (2005), 81-85.

[24] Wilkinson (2005), 78-81.

[25] Wilkinson (2005), 73-76. Also see; Shively, C.A., & T.B. Clarkson. “Social Status and Coronary Artery Atherosclerosis in Female Monkeys”. Arteriosclerosis & Thrombosis. Vol. 14 (1994): 721-726.

[26] Nishi, Akahiro, Hirokazu Shirado, David G. Rand, & Nicholas A. Christakis. “Inequality and Visibility of Wealth in Experimental Social Networks”. Nature. Vol.526 Oct., (2015): 426-429.

[27] See; ; Havell. H.L.. Republican Rome. 1914. Oracle Publishing, 1996. Also see; Hanson. Victor Davis. The Other Greeks. University of California Press, 1999.

[28] Gilens, Martin & Benjamin I. Page. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”. Perspectives on Politics. Vol.12 no.3 (2014).

[29] See World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014).

To Live Among Broken Men: Theorizing Rape and Incest

Danny Shaw

 

On April 9th, Ronald Savage rocked the hip hop world with his testimony about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Zulu Nation founder, Africa Bambaataa. Initially, the Zulu Nation dismissed the allegations “as nothing more than a continuation of the decades long HIP HOP COINTELPRO campaign to discredit and destroy the Universal Zulu Nation.” However, as more survivors of Bambaataa’s abuse emerged, the momentum shifted. It was clear that Bambaataa had abused children, other leaders had covered up for him and that a thorough investigation and process of healing was necessary.

While many people are understandably shocked that sexual abuse could penetrate the inner-most circles of pioneering Zulu Nation, this is also an opportunity for our communities to reflect on just how commonplace sexual abuse, incest, pedophilia and rape is.

The May 21st gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl in Brazil by 33 men and Brock Turner’s rape of a 23-year old woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University are the latest high-profile examples of the everyday terror exercised against women.

Ronald Savage’s story, my family’s story, my story and so many other stories of survival highlight the need for a Marxist historical interpretation of sexual violence & incest. Marxism-the painstaking, socio-economic investigative method-does away with the vacuous theory that sick, depraved abusers are merely an aberration of the human spirit. The wide prevalence of sexual violence speaks volumes about the criminal, decadent nature of capitalism. There is a specific system that engenders the widespread abuse of women and children. The facts speak for themselves-one in four girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives.[1] 40-60% of Black women are abused before they reach 18 . 3% of men report they were raped.

A political orientation towards sexual violence and trauma reveals that it is the product of a specific, temporal confluence of factors. The dialectical materialist method, a profound examination of the deep-seated causes of a social phenomenon, explains why sexual violence and incest are both widely prevalent and inevitable under capitalism.

This article will examine the connections between poverty, patriarchy, rape and incest both in my own life and family and in the writing of organic intellectuals and community leaders who have honestly grappled with this urgent issue.
My story

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. Two different AAU basketball coaches, Jim Tavares and Jack McMahon, whose teams I played on, were known pedophiles. A 1999 Sports Illustrated article , “Every Parent’s Nightmare,” outlined the sexual abuse that hundreds of us survived at the hands of Jim Tavares.

Tavares preyed upon me and other young boys who came from poor homes where there was only one parent trying to make ends meet. He gained access to our homes by giving us money and taking us on trips across the U.S. to play in national Junior Olympic AAU championships. If I had a father or a family with money, I would not have been an easy prey.

Just as the marksman knows how to hunt and snipe, the molester knows how to prey on children and attack.

There is no need for me to repeat the details as the article outlines Tavares’ pattern of abuse. Predictably, the authors, William Nack and Don Yaeger treat Taveres and the other coaches as society’s outliers, extremely demented individuals who went astray. This article argues a different perspective-that rape and incest are inevitable and predictable products of a specific social system that we have the power to unmask, confront and overcome.
Theorizing rape and incest

I was raised by woman warriors. Many of the women in my family survived horrific episodes of rape, incest and sexual terrorism which I have written on elsewhere. From my earliest memories, I felt the pain and trauma of my mother, my sisters, aunts, grandmother and other women in my family seethe through my own being. Why did my loved ones and I endure degrading, sadistic abuse? Their scars and my own have been formative in my story. With no strong male role models, I was mentored by the pain and survival of women. All of the suffering they experienced and survived made me question from an early age the source of so much horror.

Sexual violence is bigger than African Bambaataa, the priests convicted of child molestation within the Catholic church and the sexual violence that occurred within my own family. Sexual violence is an endemic, society-wide phenomenon that we must tackle and resist with a broad, revolutionary approach if we want to spare our children from the trauma so many of us survived.

My family of mixed Irish, Scottish, English and Finish roots was not unique in terms of the intensity of what we survived. As I discovered through my travels to other continents, hearts, islands and memories, there are survivors of rape and incest spread across the world. The U.S. has the thirteenth highest rate of rape in the world.[2] My family, then, was not an exception, but rather the very incarnation of larger social forces at work.

A critical view of rape and incest challenges the widespread view that men intrinsically act like “pigs” and “dogs.” No one can dispute that many of us men act like pigs and dogs, but what explains thepigicization or dogification of male behavior?

Feminist sociologist Maria Mies explains that “human sex and sexuality have never been purely crude biological affairs. ‘Human nature’ has always been social and historical. Sex is as much a cultural and historical category as gender is” (Patriarchy and Accumulation 23). In more proletarian terms, men are not born as piglets but are rather pigified-or groomed to be pigs-over time. The inverse is also true; we can fight to undo patriarchal socialization and create a safer, healthier world to raise our children in. It is this political orientation towards sexual trauma that guides our work as revolutionaries. We fight for another world not just because of the pain of the present but because of the infinite promise of the future.
Scarred children

The social scientist seeks to unearth the nature of the childhood that the rapist / molester experienced. A baby is not born a rapist or a sadist. The mainstream media’s dominant perspective that rapists are biologically-flawed, unredeemable sociopaths projects a pessimistic view of humanity. While there may be individual examples of perpetrators who were biologically or mentally engineered towards violence, this is a rare exception and not the rule.

According to Family Violence Interventions for the Justice System, men who witnessed their fathers’ violence are 10 times more likely to engage in spouse abuse in later adulthood than boys from non-violent homes.[3]

Men who commit brutal violations of children’s inner-sanctity most often experienced this violence themselves as children. They internalized their own skewed view of themselves and the world. They never knew what it meant to be complete, integral, loved or healthy. Broken from an early age, if not in the period of gestation, they learned to reproduce the insidiousness. Buried in their own self-torment and self-hatred, they struck out against what was most precious and vulnerable around them, children and women. Deprivation begat deprivation.

A system of patriarchy shapes the behavior of the rapist who shows an utter disregard for the humanity of women. The potent combination of poverty and patriarchy mold the acting out of the self-depreciation in a particular way. Having never known inner peace, the impoverished and unhealthy psyche annihilates the peace closest to it. Only a thorough exploration of the violator’s childhood and formative years can begin to connect the missing dots.
Broken men

In addition to being criminal and perverse, sexual violence against children, women and men is a self-effacing behavior. To subject a defenseless child or woman to sexual abuse is the work of a broken man. The question before us is what overarching forces convert so many men into vile, demented creatures, who carry contempt for life itself in their fractured hearts?

Black Panther Soledad Prison Field Marshal, George Jackson asserted before white supremacy: “You will never count me among the broken men!”

A 25-year-old sociologist-with a PhD earned in the streets of LA and the prison cells of San Quentin-Jackson theorized about the outward reflexes of the broken man. Informed by a keen understanding of the wanton ruthlessness that surrounded him in America’s internal colonies (ghettos) and prisons, Jackson refused to become ensnared in the trap that pitted Black on Black, man against woman, and oppressed against oppressed.

In Soledad Brother, Jackson charted the source of the broken reflexes-petty fights, alcoholism, rape and murder. From solitary confinement, within an 8-by-12 foot prison cell, Jackson sought to dominate the insidiousness so that it did not dominate him.

Like another great anti-colonial thinker, Frantz Fanon, who was writing in the same time period in Algeria, Jackson observed how his contemporaries acted out their trauma in reactionary ways because of their conditioning and precisely because they were deprived of a penetrating, revolutionary understanding of social reality.
The political economy of rape, Part I: The abuser

It is only in the social laboratory of intense class exploitation and misogyny that so many rapists can be called into existence. My analysis is not an attempt to justify Bambaataa’s abuse nor apologize for the rapist but rather an effort to explore the malignant social forces that call so many rapists into existence.

In such a profoundly patriarchal society, different social-psychological forces act on men and women’s psyches. Men are expected to be protectors and breadwinners. But what happens when their whole world-and with it their entire self-image-has been obliterated by material reality?

Too many men-conditioned by misogyny and deprived of employment and dignity-are broken men. In their deranged psyches, formed in the crucible of a materialist and patriarchal society, they seek to assert and insert themselves in twisted ways as “men” in a society that rejected and emasculated them. The inability to live up to their socially contrived ideals renders them depressed and broken.

Women in oppressed communities are hit the hardest by rape. Some 34.1% of Native American women have been raped. The next highest percentage was among mixed race women, 24.4% of whom reported being raped.[4] Incapable at this historical juncture of articulating their social rage in a revolutionary direction, the oppressed misdirect their fury in reactionary ways.

Rape is about power. Rape is one demented form of misdirected vengeance in which the oppressed assert power when they have lost control over their surroundings. Soldiers, under stress of battle, also often become ruthless perpetrators of rape, or gang rape, while pillaging the wealth of the conquered.[5] Alcohol and drugs-the traditional opiates of the oppressed-further distort reality, ensuring the stunting of proactive, revolutionary sentiments.
The origin of patriarchy

Two questions now confront us: what is the nature of the dog-eat-dog, patriarchal rat race that defines everyday working-class survival and how did we arrive at this point?

Bourgeois science argues that sexism and racism are inevitable. Because they see these learned behaviors as a product of man’s nature, they seek to convince everyone that these systems of domination have always existed.

History proves otherwise, debunking the prevailing ideas of the historical defeatists.

Friedrich Engel’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State documents the existence of matriarchal societies for thousands of years. Thoroughly researching what he calls “primitive communist societies,” Engels shows that for the bulk of the human timeline, women were in positions of power in the family and community.

One prominent example was in the Taíno culture of Quisqueya, what is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The warrioress and cacica (chief), Anacaona, went off to battle and led resistance against the Spanish invaders, with her partner, Caonabo, taking charge of the home and raising the children. In 1503, upon capture she was publicly executed because she refused clemency in exchange for being the concubine of one of her captors. The Spanish colonizers were determined to eradicate the leaders of any resistance to their double enslavement of Native and African women.

Marxists pinpoint the emergence of private property, surplus and profits-or class society-as the origin of patriarchy. The origins of rape, incest and violence against women are the result of what Engels called the “world historic defeat” of women. With the development of private property and “the right” to inheritance, the son was elevated above the daughter as the heir to the estate. Just as the enslaved of the colonized countries existed as chattel property for the colonizers, women too were converted into their property; the masters and lords could do as they wanted with “their” women.

Under feudalism, the lord’s “droit de seigneur” empowered him to take a “serf’s wife” into his bed before she married and slept with her husband for the first time. In other words, the lord was allowed to rape the daughters and mothers of the exploited class because they were his property. This “droit” or “right” also entitled the lord of the estate to prey on peasant girls and to violate their virginity whenever he chose. This was often ceremoniously witnessed by male members of the court who were powerless to intervene.[6]
Social systems theory

Every social system merits its own analysis but feudalism, slavery and capitalism share these predominate features: 1) the sanctity of private property 2) the prioritization of profits over human dignity and 3) the relegation of women to a position of the slave’s slave in the productive process.

Where does patriarchy fit into this exploitive economic base?

Maria Mies’ Patriarchy and Accumulation tracks how for centuries women’s unpaid, invisible work enabled the massive theft of the surplus labor of the wage earner. The productive process rested on the exploitation of the workers’ labor which was not possible without the wife’s behind-the-scenes toil. The woman then was the serf’s serf, the slave’s slave and the wage laborer’s laborer.

To dig up the historical roots of the monstrous epidemic of rape and incest in the U.S. context requires a profound historical reckoning with one of its original sins-slavery.
The legacy of slavery

Through the dehumanization of Blackness, the slavocracy justified infinite predations upon the bodies of Black women and Black men.

The entire slave quarters were at the disposal of the slave traders and masters. The Portuguese slavers built their castles with a master bedroom that had two doors leading to two corridors. One corridor led to the slave quarters, where there was an army of slaves at the master’s sexual disposal. The other corridor led to confession, where the slavers asked their priests and their gods for forgiveness for their acts, before committing the next round of transgressions.

W.E.B. Du Bois’ masterpiece Black Reconstruction in Americacaptured the white Southerners’ attitude toward the Black man and woman. In order to capture the dehumanization process, Du Bois cited a visiting German sociologist, Carl Schurz, who was hired by President Andrew Johnson to study the South: “Men who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors, will cheat a Negro without feeling a single twinge of their honor. To kill a Negro, they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman, they do not think fornication; to take the property away from a Negro, they do not consider robbery.”[7] In his gripping sociological portrait of the antebellum South, Du Bois breached theunbreachable and spoke the unspeakable: “Southerners who had suckled food from black breasts vied with each other in fornication with Black women, and even in beastly incest. They took the name of their fathers in vain to seduce their own sisters. Nothing-nothing that Black folk did or said or thought or sang was sacred” (p.125).

The very essence of slavery was the breaking of the Black mind, body and soul.

A culture of white rape of Black women-hiding behind its antithesis, the publicly-flaunted, genteel South and morally-robust Bible Belt-has traversed centuries. The myth of the “Black rapist” was used to mask the identity of America’s original rapists-a wealthy class of roughly 60,000 white slave owners. The myth of the Black rapist served to deflect focus away from the slave master’s abuse of Black and white women and funnel mass discontent into “populist” campaigns, such as lynching and state executions. Society was mobilized in pursuit of “the boogey man” while the true “boogey-man” held the noose.

Describing the typical slave master, Du Bois wrote: “Sexually they were lawless, protecting elaborately and flattering the virginity of a small class of women of their social clan, and keeping at command millions of poor women of the two laboring groups [Black and white] of the South” (p. 35).

Lawrence Konner’s remaking of Alex Haley’s Roots in June 2016 served as a vivid reminder that the slave owning class used rape as a weapon against the Black family.

Slavery birthed patterns of rape and incest that our society has yet to heal from.
Rape and brokenness in Beloved

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a gripping account of the twin terrors of sexual violence and slavery.[8] A cursory examination of the central characters of Beloved reveals the wanton, white supremacist terror unleashed on Black America.

Halle and Paul D represent generations of Black men pinned down and broken by slavery. Sexual violence against Black men, women and children was one of slavery’s preferred weapons “to break” their slaves.

Halle was Sethe’s partner and father of her children. After witnessing a gang of white men rape his wife, Sethe, and then drink her breast milk, Halle went crazy. Feeling powerless, he disappeared for ever from the family unit because what “he saw go on in that barn that day broke him like a twig” (68).

Paul D, Sethe’s friend, confidante and a fellow slave, alludes to a rape he suffered on the Sweet Home plantation: “Saying more might push them [Sethe and Paul D] both to a place they couldn’t get back from. He [Paul D] would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lids rusted shut. He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him” (73).

The scars from the whip, tattooed onto Sethe’s back, form a chokecherry tree, symbolizing the slave experience. The barefoot, poor white woman Amy who helps Sethe deliver her fourth child, Denver, describes the scar: “A trunk-it’s red and split wide open, full of sap, and this here’s the parting for the branches. You got plenty of branches. Leaves, too, look like, and dern [darn] if these ain’t blossoms. Tiny little cherry blossoms, just as white. Your back got a whole tree on it. In bloom” (79). According to Morrison’s’ poignant metaphor, “the fire on her back” is the Black nation, which despite the indescribable abuse, is strong and full of life, giving birth to future generations who will carry the scars but resolutely confront the slave master’s terror.

Slavery and rape pushed Morrison’s characters to extremes. When the slavecatchers came to abduct Sethe’s four children and sell them out of state, Sethe resisted the only way she could. As she breastfed her youngest daughter, Denver, she simultaneously beat her other daughter, Beloved, to death, to save her from the horrors of slavery. Her two young boys and Denver were soaked in their sister’s blood and only survived the grueling scene because of the intervention of another slave.

Toni Morrison recreated these tormenting images in order to bring slavery alive for the reader. Without understanding this original sin, little else can be understood in the American narrative.
Historical trauma

Dr. Joy Degruy Leary explored the effects of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome on generations of African Americans.[9] The slave system was a breeding ground for incest within the slave quarters, as well. Upsetting the traditions and stability of the family, slavery disempowered the husband figure and humiliated the father figure. Slavery was crafted to make the oppressed internalize a sense of shame and humiliation.

Men, women and children were packed into barns and stables unfit for human existence. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglas described the barbarism he was born into in Baltimore, Maryland.[10] Deprived of space and privacy and unable to clothe their children, the masters packed multiple families into shacks, without mattresses, blankets or adequate clothing. Slavery was a vortex of bestiality that spiraled out of control destroying human connections.[11]

Unable to stand down the oppressor, the emasculated slave-the trapped lion-projected his hatred towards those at home.[12] Sexual transgressions were the reincarnated transgressions of the master, once again unleashed on the double victims, Black women and children.

This historical trauma-set in motion-by a four-century long reign of terror reappears in families today. The conventional wisdom and oft-repeated, racist claim that “slavery occurred so long ago and Black people should just get over it” is designed to disconnect the terror of the past with the terror of the present. Sethe, Baby Suggs, Beloved and Toni Morrison’s other characters remind us that the legacy of slavery lives within, and part of that legacy is sexual trauma.

History offers context for the harrowing fact that 40-60% of Black women are sexually abused before they are 18 . Failure to spiritually and consciously come to terms with the historical trauma damns the present fighters to wallow, unconsciously or semi-consciously, in the past. This is an apt metaphor for the survivor of sexual violence, whose only way out of the trauma, is through it.
From chattel slavery to wage slavery

The enslavement of Africans in the Americas was one branch of the patriarchal system Engels denounced and the most vicious reenactment of boss-worker relations which played out in other social systems. Slavery was America’s original sin, upon which the descendant systems of exploitation were based.

The heir to slavery, capitalism-through its disempowerment of women-continues to be a breeding ground of sexual violence.

The following formula synthesizes the reproduction of the class system and the cycle it sets in motion. An exploitative economic base (i.e. serfdom, slavery, industrial and extractive capitalism) gives birth to internalized discord, self-hatred and a distorted sense of identity among the exploited, leading to the acute need to numb and escape (i.e. alcoholism) which is intertwined with violence projected outward and acted out at home, resulting in the victimization of the next generation, which grows up damned by both the exploitative economic base and a demoralizing family environment.

This exploitative economic base and internalized oppression again sets in motion a cycle that repeats itself with individualized symptoms that are reflective of the same disease.
The political economy of rape, Part II: The abused

The disempowerment of women is both economic and psychological and transcends national borders. Rape has a specific economic, not geographic, terrain. Not unique to the U.S., the dominant economic model-patriarchal capitalism-produces dependency.

Because housework is not compensated, the mother figure finds herself trapped.

Deprived of an empowering education, self-esteem and social and economic rights, many oppressed women cannot see beyond their immediate environs. The coterminous forces of women’s oppression feed off one another, trapping women and children within the male-dominated, misogynist household.
Testimony

The testimonies and writing of organic intellectuals struggling against patriarchy and capitalism highlight the fact that the political economy of rape traverses national boundaries.

A scene from Germinal, Émile Zola’s epic novel, captures the power dynamics within the miner’s home. Half-starved and still sullen from the coal mines, the protagonist, Maheu arrived from the bowels of the earth demanding his dinner and sex. Showing total disregard for his wife, Maneude’s humanity, he bends her over, raping her in front of the children, as they prepare to bathe in a basin. This scene from a French mining family’s home was a snapshot of the twin evils of capitalism and patriarchy that have acted upon women for centuries.

In Don’t Be Afraid Gringo, Elvira Alvarado described the typical social existence of the Hondurancampesina (peasant woman). In her testimony, Elvira provides poignant snapshots of the cruel social terrain where patriarchy and economic disempowerment produce violence against women and children. Like the French miner a century before, the banana plantation worker existed to produce surplus value for transnational business. The housewife in the plantation worker family produced the conditions necessary for the exploitation of the wage laborer. She was doubly exploited. For both the boss and the sub-oppressor, for 365 days a year, it was open season on women like Elvira Alvarado.

Describing her everyday routine, Alvarado explained that she worked the land and attended to her husband and eight children: “Even when we go to sleep, we don’t get to rest. If the babies wake up crying, we have to go take care of them-give them the breast if they’re still breast-feeding, give them medicine if they’re sick. And if our husbands want to make love, if they get the urge, then it’s back to work again. The next morning, we’re up before the sun, while our husbands are still sleeping” (p. 52). Robbed of autonomy in both spheres of her life, Alvarado existed to produce for the oppressor and sub-oppressor.

Enraged by his powerlessness, Elivira’s husband subconsciously recreated his exploitation lower down on the social hierarchy where his violence had no repercussions. The state’s monopoly of violence ensured that his humiliation had no positive, externalized revolutionary social outlet. Meanwhile, he was socially sanctioned to drink himself into oblivion and lash out at home. Family was the private domain where the exploiteds’ pent-up anger crystalized. Having learned well from his boss, he recreated the violence onto his wife and children, the only social figures disempowered enough to tolerate the wanton abuse.

What the husband considered sex or “his marital right,” constitutes rape for many women like Elvira Alvarado. Her words deliver the point home: “I’ve heard that there are men and women who make love in all different ways, but we campesinos don’t know anything about these different positions. We do it the same all the time-the man gets on the woman and goes up and down, up and down and that’s it. Sometimes the woman feels pleasure and sometimes she doesn’t. We don’t have any privacy either, because our houses are usually one big room so we have to wait until everyone is asleep and then do it very quietly. We just push down our underpants and pull them back up again” (47). For the Honduran housewife, sex, like cooking and cleaning, was a chore or an obligation. Stripped of her self-determination, both the home and the wider society were a forcing house of male domination.
‘Stay in your place’

Employing the same literary genre as Elvira Alvarado, the Bolivian mining activist, Domitila Barrios de Chúngara, wrote Let me Speak! The Testimony of Domitila A Woman of the Bolivian Mines.[13]

Her autobiography deepens our understanding of patriarchy as a weapon to divide the miners. The misnamed “barzolas” were working class women employed by the mining bosses as reactionary shock troops to attack and humiliate the miners’ wives.[14] When the Housewife Committee refused to stay quiet and confined in their homes and came into the streets to protest, the “barzola” shock troops threw tomatoes at them, accused them of sleeping around and physically attacked them.

The disempowerment of the Housewives’ Committee was the disempowerment of the working class. Preoccupied with secondary contradictions, the exploited protagonists-the miners-lost sight of the primary contradiction between labor and capital. Blind before the oppressor’s strategy to keep them in their confinement, they prevented the fruition of class unity. The divide and conquer strategy sought to confine women to the home, “shame” them and stunt their ability to make world-historic change.

Women hold up half the sky” but when they are held back, the entire working class is confined to a social inferno. Capitalism and patriarchy have a codependent relationship; they feed off one another. The crushing of one hierarchical system necessitates the overthrow of its twin.

Women’s liberation is humanity’s liberation.
The role of class

Centuries of state-sanctioned and state-enforced rape established a legacy that continues to play out today.

Angela Davis’ Women, Race and Class looks at the triple burden Black women confronted the span of American history.[15] Davis examined the rampant sexual abuse committed by white male employers within the home against Black women forced by poverty into domestic labor. How many bosses, supervisors, sex tourists and other men in high positions still believe they have unfettered access to Black and Brown women’s bodies?

There is also sexual abuse in other layers of class society. Daughters and sons of rich families have survived sexual trauma. The widespread occurrence across class divides illustrates the omnipotence of sexism under capitalism. A rich woman may also find herself psychologically stuck. In contrast to a working-class woman, she may possess the economic resources to flee but may face the judgement of her family who will threaten to “cut her off” if she dares to forge her own independence. Raised to be pretty and thin, some upper class women may not possess the skills to move on. Patriarchy is pervasive and even privileged women-who from an outside perspective appear to have it all-struggle within their gilded cages.
A culture of impunity

In addition to raising the rapist, capitalism offers the rapist free reign.

The story of the anonymous young woman who was drugged and raped behind a dumpster at Standfordis chilling. Although her rapist, Brock Turner was caught and found guilty by a jury, a judge only gave him six months in jail because “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”[16]

Turner’s light sentence is not the exception. Factoring in unreported rapes, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail; 15 out of 16 will walk free.[17] Every 107 seconds a woman is raped in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, twenty million women in the United States have been raped. The study asserts that the number could be three times as high because only 1/3 of sexual assaults are reported.[18] There is no accountability. There are no popular reprisals. In too many cases, no one dares confront the perpetrator. Often, the sadist moves from one generation to the next.

In my own abuse case, when I was 16, I contacted the Plymouth county District Attorney’s office in 1997 to file a report. It was four years after the abuse. The DA said he had 73 similar complaints against the basketball coach, Jim Taveres. After hearing my statement, the public official concluded, for at least the 74thtime, that he “did not have conclusive proof” to put Jim Tavares back away in jail.

Capitalist society, from the U.S. to Brazil is, in essence, a school of unchecked patriarchy and pedophilia.

On May 21st on this year, a 16-year-old Brazilian girl was gang-raped by 33 men, some of whom then went on social media to boast about their acts. It is tragic that it took such a heinous case to re-highlight the rape culture that threatens every Brazilian woman.

In Brazil, the statistics are even more deplorable than in the U.S. According to the Brazilian women’s organization, Rio de Paz, every 72 hours, 420 women are raped in Brazil.[19]

The liberal observer remains shocked at the harrowing rape statistics while failing to realize the very cause of the horror; a depraved system can only produce depravity. Incest and rape are not natural or inevitable phenomena, but rather symptomatic of the current economic and social order. Token efforts to raise awareness among children about their rights and to facilitate violence prevention workshops are important in the short run but will do little to erase the overall problem. An end to the suffering requires a systematic overhaul of existing class relations.
Denial is complicity

There is another rung in the social inferno that is oppression to which we must descend in order to more fully understand the plight of the survivor.

There are other social actors who become complicit in the crimes spawned by a criminal system. Many mothers-too traumatized to stare the truth in its eyes-became indirect apologists for the offender, giving cover to the crimes with their silence. Feeling powerless before the crime of the century, too many times they have internalized and projected their own subconscious guilt and self-hatred onto the victims. Instead of appearing on the historical stage as the ultimate defenders of their daughters, how many mothers have appeared as collaborators of the crime?

Silence, reproduced between generations, extends the lease life of the pain. Silence within the family is collusion. Denial is collusion. Covering up is collusion.

Sapphire’s novel Push, brought to the cinema in the 2009 film Precious, graphically documented the complex relationships that resulted from incest.[20] Sixteen year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones is pregnant with her father’s second child. The heartbreaking novel examined how Precious’ mother, Mary, instead of protecting and defending her daughter from her rapist husband, Carl, turned the blame on her daughter. Precious was the object of her mother’s scorn. Stripped of a childhood and her parents’ affection, Precious had to learn to navigate society on her own.

The mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles who looked the other way were knee-deep in the swamp of insidiousness. Patriarchy pervaded their lives; more concerned with protecting the reputation of the family before the good town-folks, they sacrificed their children’s health and happiness-their childhoods-so they could keep smiling at church on Sundays. They too were deeply affected by patriarchy and rape culture. Converted into silent bystanders, enablers and perpetuators of the insidiousness, they ignored the truth and blamed the victim. They too were broken; the illusion of an “American dream” was worth more to them than truth and redemption.
Internalized blame

When we paint the entire sorry portrait, we see the convergence of the different social-emotional factors acting on the survivors. Overwhelmed by the insidiousness, the matriarch escapes into booze or god. The primary witnesses often subconsciously rewrite history. Denial buries the dagger deeper into the chest of the abused. Searching for acceptance and validation, they find blame and hatred.

Unable to externalize their anger; the pain consumes the survivor, resulting in the cyclization of the insidiousness i.e. heroin, addiction, cutting, anorexia, morbid obesity, alcohol etc. Every form of self-injurious behavior is an agonized cry for help.

Heroin, bulimia and other self-loathing behaviors are a giant middle finger to America; no one ever cared about me, so why should I care about myself? Heroin and bulimia are rebellions devoid of direction and grit, a quest without a compass.

Robbed of support from the patriarchal society, the survivor slips into self-torment. Nince Inch Nails’ lyrics, famously covered by Johnny Cash, capture the “Hurt:”

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything.

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end.
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.

The Somali writer, Warsan Shire writes: “Not everyone is okay with living like an open wound. But the thing about open wounds is that, well, you aren’t ignoring it. You’re healing; the fresh air can get to it. It’s honest. You aren’t hiding who you are. You aren’t rotting.”

The suppression of pain is ineffective because pain will only find other outlets. We, survivors, can run and escape all the way to the grave but until we cough up all of the pain, there can be no thorough-going healing. Silence is not an option. Some form of therapy is necessary to help survivors understand the roots of their self-harm and to find meaning in an alienating society.

Ronald Savage and other survivors of abuse are heroes. Protectors of future generations, the survivors fought to overcome “the shame” patriarchy imposed on them and tell their stories.

Digging up and speaking the pain is the first step but it cannot happen without outside support. Because class society seeks to atomize and isolate the survivor, there must be an effort to collectivize our pain in a supportive, conscious community setting. There are 12 step programs and support groups called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and Incest Survivors Anonymous. There are also research-validated treatments such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that are effective for assisting those whose trauma has led to severely self-harming or suicidal behavior. These methods help the survivor see things differently and not blame themselves. Healing occurs when the survivor recognizes that they are good and beautiful and let’s go of the poisonous negative thoughts and low self-esteem that the abuser and patriarchy have instilled within them.

As I argued in an article on trauma, addiction and capitalism, a survivor who is able to theoretically grasp the hell-hole they were born into, begins to empower themselves to turn on the class system, the source of their trauma. A revolutionary’s work is to provide a political orientation towards trauma. If overcoming fear and denial is the individualized part of healing, revolutionary organizing against the monster, responsible for the crimes of the century, is the collective part of healing.

Therapy, support groups and the party, working together, all play their role in helping the survivor rise up on the society that violated them.
Our responsibility

Afrika Bambaataa was a pioneering hip hop voice who resisted injustice and capitalism, but this did not mean that he was beyond all of its insidiousness-patriarchy, white supremacy and homophobia.

On June 1st, 2016, Julien Terrell, cofounder of The Renaissance Zulu Chapter 64, issued the following statement condemning the covering up of Bambaataa’s sexual violence against teenage boys and announcing the chapter’s separation from the traditional Zulu Nation: “Many have said that Bambaataa’s accomplishments in hip hop should not be included in the critique of his so called personal life. I say that any so called political and cultural commitment that does not transfer to your personal actions is NOT a commitment at all. It’s nothing but talk and the time for putting ego aside has come. He [Bambaataa] is still lying but there is space for humility and compassion that the victims have offered despite the pain he caused. I hope those that are close to him support him in stepping to the allegations with integrity. That is what this culture is supposed to represent.”

As revolutionaries and community leaders, we all carry the social baggage of the old world and must hold one another accountable for our actions. As Terrell explains, we have a responsibility to uproot and go to war with all of the contradictions, less they chaotically spill out and hurt others.
Socialism is healing

Experiments in rehabilitation in the U.S. are limited today because of the “lock them up and throw away the key” strategy of the state. In a transformed society, the abuser would undergo isolation, therapy, rehabilitation and slow reintegration. Reconciliation would involve the recounting of their own childhoods and the social crimes they went on to commit. There is no healing in denial. Anything short of a full, public admission and acceptance falls short of justice.

In a socialist society, inherited with all of social baggage of capitalism it will take generations to do away with all of the wicked inheritance-white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, individualism, consumerism etc. As the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and other socialist societies can attest, in a new world born of the old-with all of the birth marks of wickedness and depravity-there will be no shortage of challenges for nations reborn.

The ruling class vilifies these human experiments in social re-organization in order to contain our dreams and ground our visions, less we conceive of emancipation from the current social disorder. The unofficial religion of the U.S. today is anti-communism, for this very reason.

From the perspective of the extractors of surplus value, what has to be protected is not the right of a little girl to a childhood but their own unfettered access to profits. The anonymous survivor of rape at Stanford, the 16-year-old Brazilian girl, Ronald Savage and all of the nameless survivors-caught in the crosshairs of patriarchy and exploitation-demonstrate the urgency to organize for the toppling of the capitalist system.

Dr. Martin Luther King called for “a revolution in our nation’s priorities.” A socialist society would immediately and decisively intervene to halt and reverse the monstrous patterns of incest and rape.
Towards a culture of women’s liberation

What would a world based on freedom-as opposed to necessity-look like? There is no way to predict the future but we can assert that it will not look anything like the degradation-what Engel’s called “pre-history”-that today’s oppressed communities and families confront.

In a healthy future, crystal meth, domestic abuse, and trauma itself will be remnants of a dark, distant past from which we will have emerged.

The goal then is to convert our current society into a school of women’s liberation.

Society’s superstructure must be torn up from the roots and reorganized to concretely confront the scourge of misogyny. The advertising industry sexually objectifies women. Viacom, General Electric and the entire mass media produce music and videos based on chauvinist caricatures of women as objects, shallow gossips, video vixens, hoes, thots and gold-diggers. Many actors in capitalist, consumer society are guilty in playing a role in the reproduction of rape culture. They cannot be let off the hook.

Socialist society will project empowering reference points through billboards, education, TV and social media.

In Cuba, where class relations are organized differently, the incidence of such crimes against women and children is far less common. After 1959, Cuba outlawed the exploitation of women in advertising. Housing, education, transportation, health care and a job were guaranteed social and economic rights. A society that had ceased to be a patriarchal, dog-eat-dog world took the bite out of the dog.

Though we can only make conjectures about the future, we can be sure that it will look nothing like this hell-on-earth that exists today.

Only a new, socialist society can provide real healing and in the words of martyred Irish revolutionary, Bobby Sands: “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” We fight so that no little child or adult ever again has to live with what Ronald Savage and all survivors live with-the pulsating scars of incest, abuse and rape buried beneath their skin.
Thank you to Emmanuella Odilis for the feedback, edits and support. As the tears and truths emerge, the words and strength stream fourth…
This was originally published at Liberation School.
Notes

[1] “Statistics about Sexual Violence.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 2015.

[2] Chemaly, Soraya. “50 Actual Facts about Rape.” Huffington Post. December 8th, 2014.

[3] 1993.

[4] National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence against Women Survey. 1998.

[5] It is not uncommon for cops to use their batons to violently penetrate their captives. This has nothing to do with homosexuality, but are rather acts of aggression, power and contempt.

[6] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s well-known opera Marriage of Figaro is about precisely this, peasants and servants, in the early dawn of the revolutionary movement in France, conspiring and outsmarting a philandering count who sought to prey upon the young women of an Italian village.

[7] Page 136. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1935.

[8] New York: Penguin. 1987.

[9] DeGruy, Joy. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. Uptone Press, 2005.

[10] Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston: 1845.

[1] Frederick Douglas’ testimony conjured up images of what Haitian families endure today in exile in the Dominican Republic. According to my research living and organizing within the Haitian communities of the D.R., the results are eerily similar with women and children twice victimized – by a system of anti-Haitianismo and by the alienated male sub-oppressors within the exploited Haitian community.

[12] There is a reactionary, “nationalist” trend that posits that Black men are damaged because they were not allowed to play a “traditional” patriarchal role. This chauvinist position submits that the solution is to allow the Black male to assume their “proper” place as patriarchal protectors. It should be stated that patriarchal “protection” in any class society, including pre-colonized Africa, has its own antithesis of rape and abuse.

[13] Originally published in Spanish as Si Me Permiten Hablar. New York: Monthly Review Press. 1978.

[14] This group expropriated the name of Maria Barzola, an Aymara activist assassinated in 1951 by the Bolivian government.

[15]On the plantation, Black women were at the same time domestic, breeder and field slave. As she picked cotton, tobacco or sugar, she laid her baby down beside her just out of arm’s reach. Still reeling from the pain of childbirth, she was forced to contribute to the productive process. She was thrice enslaved.

[16] Fantz, Ashley. Outrage over 6-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case. CNN. June 7, 2016.

[17] Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) calculation based on US Department of Justice 2010 Statistics.

[18] “Raising Awareness about Sexual Abuse Facts and Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice.

[19] Bearak, Max. “Women’s Underwear Strewn on beach in Rio to protest Brazil’s rape culture.” The Washington Post. June 8th, 2016.

[20] Vintage. 1997.

Fuelling the Mob: Differences Between the London Riots and Ferguson

Kelly Beestone

 

For many in the United Kingdom, watching the news of the riots unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, brought to mind images of the aftermath of Mark Duggan’s death in London in 2011. In both cases, police officers responsible for the death of an unarmed black man were investigated and found guilty of no wrongdoing. In both cases too, the aftermath entailed widespread destruction of property, violence and a deepened distrust of police.

Beneath the surface, however, there are significant differences between the rioting in England and the Ferguson unrest. Most significantly, the English working-class has maintained a greater ability to collectively confront police injustice due, at least in part, to the history of class-based political organization in England. This is in stark contrast to the American context where elites have attempted (with a great deal of success) to divide its working-class through racism.

On August 4th 2011, police gunned down Mark Duggan, a twenty-nine year-old resident of Tottenham, London. Newspapers reported that police had killed Duggan in self-defence after they discovered he was carrying a gun. The Independent Police Complaints Commission [IPCC] revealed that Duggan was under investigation by Operation Trident and that two shots were fired by a policeman, known only as V53, which resulted in his death. Ultimately, a lack of forensic evidence proving that Duggan had ever been holding a gun at all caused several newspapers, including The Guardian, to issue an apology for misinforming the public but not before widespread community outrage boiled over into violence.[1]

On August 6th more than one hundred people protested in Tottenham. Two police cars were attacked. Rioting quickly spread from London to Birmingham, to Leicester, to Nottingham, Liverpool, and Manchester and to Bristol. The inquest into Duggan’s death was adjourned on the 9th; the unrest lasted until the 11th (with some minor “aftershock” incidents even later in the week).

According to the BBC, at least 3,000 people were arrested for crimes relating to the riots during this period. [2] Many of these were in London where the riots initially broke out and manifested, as Ann and Aisha Phoenix note in their paper Radicalisation, Relationality and Riots: Intersections and Interpellations, as a “multi-ethnic” uprising. [3] That claim is, in fact, bolstered by Ministry of Justice statistics that listed 33% percent of those facing charges for riot-related incidents as “white,” 43% as “black” and 7% as “Asian.”[4]

Even more interesting is that while the above statistics reflect the riots overall, the arrest figures fluctuate wildly depending on the ethnic make-up of individual neighborhoods. For instance, white defendants in London made up 32% of those appearing in court, while in Merseyside, which also experienced significant rioting, the percentage of whites arrested in connection to the riots is closer to 79% of total arrests. [5] Of those convicted for riot-related crimes, 35% were claiming working benefits (the national average in the UK is 12%) and of those juveniles convicted, 42% were claiming free school meals (compared to an average of 16% nationally). [6] This uprising drew support across racial lines in the UK, but the overwhelming number of participants were still working-class people.

While the public reacted against the police, media coverage was quick to condemn the rioters. Several news outlets (including the BBC) attempted to place the blame for the unrest on the “black influence” on the (white) British working class. Historian David Starkey used his appearance on Newsnight to theorise that “the chavs have become black. The whites have become black” and to condemn the “nihilistic” attitudes of the rioters. [7] For all the problematic (and racist) implications of Starkey’s commentary, however, he is one of the few commentators who attempted to link the white working-class response to Duggan’s death to the black community’s response.

Many media outlets highlighted incidents of individuals attempting to incite others to riot in areas such as Newcastle via social media, fixating on a narrative of opportunistic rioters interested primarily with mindless “battle” with the police,[8] because they were, somehow, inherently “violent”[9] and prone to behaving like “thugs” because of poor parenting.[10] The Telegraph went so far at one point as to call the children involved “feral.” [11] At another point, conversely, the Telegraph’s editors suggest that this disorder “was an assault […] on the established order of benign democracy” itself, no small feat for a mob of feral chavs, it would seem. [12]

Perhaps most telling of all however, was the media’s exoneration of the police dealing with the Duggan case. An in-depth study by the BBC asserted that police were so stretched in London that volunteer police entered the fray without riot gear or training in order to defend against the rioters. This is intended to create a binary opposition between the ‘brave’ police who attempted to supress the violence and the ‘hooded teenagers’ [13] who perpetuated it. Meanwhile, the policeman who killed Duggan was found to be acting in self-defence by the investigation and cleared of the murder. Despite being pressured into resigning, no further action was taken against him and the final decision of a lawful killing due to an ‘honestly held’ fear for police safety was delivered on January 8th 2014. [14]

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 echoes that of Duggan in-so-much that Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot on August 9th 2014 by white police officer Darren Wilson in dubious circumstances. Witnesses claimed Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was shot yet police claimed Brown was reaching for a gun, while simultaneously charging through a hail of gunfire, and that Darren Wilson acted in self-defence.

This state of affairs led to widespread public outrage that culminated in rioting in Ferguson. However, in this case, it is not the “multi-ethnic” reaction witnessed in the UK but an overwhelmingly African American protest that emerges. Scenes of unrest from the protests show US police in riot gear firing canisters of tear gas and pepper spraying protestors. Several photos also demonstrators in defensive positions, kneeling before advancing police who were using these particularly aggressive tactics in order to pacify the protestors.

In the UK, police were called in to monitor demonstrations and to arrest those involved in riot-related crimes. In areas where there were rumours of riots brewing, such as in Newcastle, police stood outside train stations in order to deter potential rioters. In Ferguson however, the streets were patrolled by armoured cars and officers who were armed with assault rifles and stun grenades who fired rubber bullets into crowds of unarmed demonstrators.

Media reactions to the violence in the US varied. The right-wing media organization, Fox, included headlines calling for rioters to pay for the damage caused[15] and several headlines focused on the moral failure of the “rioters.” Indeed, Fox’s coverage seemed to imply that the police were acting with justifiable force to prevent what it characterized as criminal, not political, violence. CNN took a more nuanced view of the “protestors” (rather than “rioters”), even as the focus of their coverage was the violence and destruction of property resulting from the protests.[16] CNN also made an attempt to focus on the larger issue of public outrage at the police response in Ferguson, focusing on peaceful ‘die-in’ protests made by students in high schools and universities across various states. The August 26 th edition of the New York Times, often described as a liberal journal, featured a prominent photo of Michael Brown’s family sitting behind Brown’s coffin with the headline “Amidst mourning, call for change.”[17] Largely absent from this coverage, however, were corresponding images of white rioters or of police reacting to white rioters with the sort of force that was marshalled against the people of Ferguson.

As far back as Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, we see racial legislation emerge to counteract the emerging solidarity between indentured white servants with indentured black servants which culminated in Jamestown burning to the ground with its colonial governor fleeing for his life before the crowd. In particular, the passing of the Virginia Slave Codes in 1705 severely limited interactions between white and black people and it was this type of legislation that would determine the parameters of interracial engagement amongst the working classes for decades to come in the English colonies in America. Historian Paul Finkleman notes in his book Slavery and the Law that this sort of legislation would ensure that white people, regardless of class, would occupy a privileged caste position in relation to black people. These legal limitations imposed on black people–including constraints on intermarriage, owning weapons and baptism–created a hard and fast caste order in which black people would always be considered inferior to white people, a state of affairs that inhibited class solidarity across (racialized) caste lines.[18]

Historian Eric Foner argues that the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 remains “the largest civil and racial insurrection in American history” outside of the Civil War.[19] The riots were caused, initially, by resentment that wealthy citizens could pay $300 to escape the draft. Yet, in the wake of white bosses’ decision to import African American scab labour to break (Irish) union organization on the docks in the weeks prior, the violence that consumed New York City between the 13th of July and 16th of July in 1863 took on a disturbingly racial quality. Black citizens, exempt from draft laws, were scapegoated and as (predominately Irish) white rage erupted over competition for jobs, more than a dozen were killed in race-related incidents.

Working class whites in New York did not perceive working class blacks as comrades.

Unions such as the Longshoreman’s Association believed the danger that James Gordon Bennett, editor of the (WHAT CITY?) Herald, evoked of a black population that would permanently undermine the interests of the white working class if Abraham Lincoln pursued universal emancipation. “Are you ready to divide your patrimony with the negro? Are you ready to work with him in competition to work more than you do now for less pay?” Bennett asked. [20] Rather than engaging them in solidarity, white working class rioters in 1863 New York chose instead to hang innocent, working class, African Americans from city lamp posts and burn an orphanage for coloured children to the ground.

Bennett’s anxieties were not unreasonable. Lorenzo J. Greene and Carter G. Woodson observed in 1930 that after the Civil War, the American working class was economically weakened across the board, regardless of the individual skill of the worker. This was in part due to the increased competition generated by immigrant workers, but also because of the wide availability of a large, perpetually under-employed African American population which was a result of the “unwillingness of employers to hire Negro mechanics, and the keen competition for jobs, in which the white workmen were usually given the preference.” [21] This arrangement often forced black workers to seek the most dangerous and distasteful of jobs, when they could find work at all. And when they could not find work, they remained as an ever-present (and perpetually resented) reminder to white workers to remain servile, replaceable as they were.

Economist Warren Whatley noted that throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, African-Americans were called upon for “almost every major confrontation between capital and labor.” For many American entrepreneurs and businessmen, the boogieman of black scab labour was wielded as the perfect deterrent against strikes. As a result of racially discriminatory union policies that rejected class solidarity between white and black workers, African Americans had no incentive to respect white picket lines. Even when unions did not exclude African-Americans by constitutional provision, often the racism of the rank-and-file members made it impossible for black workers to earn union membership.[22] In modern-day America, there are still lingering traces of this divide.

While the working class as a whole has lost stability and security since de-industrialization, African-Americans continue to disproportionately suffer the effects of economic disenfranchisement when compared to whites. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that unemployment rates amongst African Americans in the last decade is consistently higher than it is amongst whites.[23]

The increase in financial instability and insecurity among working class people in the wake of de-industrialization is not unique to the US; in fact, this pattern has is not so dissimilar to the socio-economic and political realities of post-industrial Britain. In both places, this increased financial instability and insecurity among working class people has grown in tandem with an increase in police repression of working class people. In one way, the slaying of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri represents a manifestation of this dynamic that is mirrored by the slaying of Mark Duggan of Tottenham. However, and significantly, the UK has manifested a capacity for meaningful transracial solidarity based on class identity, which does not exist in the USA. Through organizations such as Class War, ANTIFA and NUS, the UK allows for a more multi-racial foundation for protesting grievances amongst the working class, while in the US, the systematic destruction of multi-ethnic relations across the class system makes this impossible. As a result, when the UK protestors felt they had nowhere to turn to, the nation became aware that this was a riot founded in these economic problems. While in Ferguson, where such political organization did not occur, the riots were portrayed exclusively as a product of black rage and despair, shored up by the fact that no other outlets existed to channel the anger in a less destructive way.

Both Ferguson and the London unrest should give us pause for thought. In both cases, people have felt driven to destruction by the ineptitude of the judicial system. Yet for all their surface similarities, the significant differences between the two riots proves that the insidious racism preserved amongst the working-class in America continues to drive a wedge between the very people who ought to be united in their grievances. Until the disproportionate suffering of black citizens is addressed, it is clear that incidents like Ferguson will continue to be the only way many Americans believe they can let their voices be heard.

Bibliography

Anti-Fascism Network “About Us” https://antifascistnetwork.org/about/ ANTIFA [date accessed 16/05/2016]

Basu, Moni and Faith Karami “Protestors Torch Police Car in Another Tense Night in Ferguson” CNN.com http://edition.cnn.com/2014/11/25/justice/ferguson-grand-jury-decision/ [date accessed 16/05/2016]

BBC News “England Rioters ‘Poorer, Younger, Less Educated'” http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-15426720[date accessed 15/05/2016]

Boisseron, Benedicte “Afro-Dog” in Transition 118 [2015] p.15

Bureau of Labor Statistics “Table A-2. Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Race, Sex, and Age” United States Department of Labor http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t02.htm [date accessed 16/05/2016]

Bush, Jonathan A. “The British Constitution and the Creation of American Slavery” in Slavery and the Law ed. Paul Finkleman [Maryland; Rowman and Littlefield, 2002] pp.379-410

Davey, Monica “Amid Mourning, Time For Change,” New York Times, August 26, 2014 p.1

Dodd, Vikram “New Questions Raised Over Duggan Shooting” The Guardian,http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/nov/18/mark-duggan-ipcc-investigation-riots [date accessed 14/05/2016]

Dodd, Vikram and Caroline Davis “London Riots Escalate as Police Battle for Control” The Guardian,http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/aug/08/london-riots-escalate-police-battle [date accessed 14/05/2016]

Foner, Eric Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 [New York; Harper and Row, 1988] pp.32-33

Gov.uk “Transcript of the Hearing 15 October 2013”http://dugganinquest.independent.gov.uk/transcripts/1207.htm [date accessed 14/05/2016]

Lorenzo J. Green and Carter G. Woodson, The Negro Wage Earner, [Chicago; The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1930] pp.3-5

Kaplin, Karen”Black Americans are Closing the Life Expectancy Gap with Whites, CDC Says” L.A. Times http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-black-white-life-expectancy-gap-20151105-story.html [date accessed 16/05/2016]

Kelley, Robin Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class [New York; Simon and Schuster, 1996] p.32

Kirkham, Elyssa “62% of Americans Have Under $1000 in Savings, Survey Finds” GOBankingRateshttp://www.gobankingrates.com/savings-account/62-percent-americans-under-1000-savings-survey-finds/ [date accessed 17/05/2016]

Lund, Jeb “Watching Ferguson Burn: What Constitutes Appropriate Rebellion?” RollingStone.comhttp://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/watching-ferguson-burn-what-constitutes-appropriate-rebellion-20141125 [date accessed 16/05/2016]

Man Jr, Albon P. “Labor Competition and the New York Draft Riots of 1863” in Journal of Negro History36.4 [1951]

Moran, Lee and Allan Hall “British Youths are ‘the Most Unpleasant and Violent in the World’. Damning Verdict of Writer as Globe Reacts to Riots” Daily Mail Online http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2024486/UK-RIOTS-2011-British-youths-unpleasant-violent-world.html [date accessed 14/05/2016]

National Union of Students “Who We Are” http://www.nus.org.uk/en/who-we-are/ NUS [date accessed 16/05/2016]

NPR.com “50 Years of Shrinking Union Membership, in One Map”http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/02/23/385843576/50-years-of-shrinking-union-membership-in-one-map [date accessed 17/05/2016]

Parry, Ryan “Young Thugs Got a Lift Home With Mum When They Finished Looting” The Mirrorhttp://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/london-riots-young-thugs-got-a-lift-146673 [date accessed 14/05/2016]

Phoenix, Ann and Aisha “Radicalisation, Relationality and Riots: Intersections and Interpellations” inFeminist Review, no.100 [2012] p.61

Riddell, Mary “London Riots: The Underclass Lash Out” The Telegraphhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8630533/Riots-the-underclass-lashes-out.html[date accessed 14/05/2016]

Sunstrom, William A. “The Color Line: Racial Norms and Decriminalization in Urban Labor Markets 1910-1950” in The Journal of Economic History 54.2 [June 1994] pp.382-396

Thomas, Cal “Ferguson Unrest: Make Protestors Pay for Riot Damage” Fox News.comhttp://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/12/02/ferguson-unrest-make-protesters-pay-for-riot-damage.html

TruthCauldron, “David Starkey-BBC Newsnight ‘The Whites Have Become Black'” Filmed 14/08/2011, Youtube Video, 10:36 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVq2bs8M9HM

Whatley, Warren C. “African-American Strikebreaking from the Civil War to the New Deal” in Social Science History 17.4 [Winter, 1993] p.529

Whatley, Warren and Gavin Wright, “Race, Human Capital and Labour Markets in American History” inLabour Market Evolution ed. George Grantham and Mary Mackinnon [London; Routledge, 2002 [2ndedition]] pp.528-558
Footnotes

[1] Vikram Dodd “New Questions Raised Over Duggan Shooting” The Guardian,http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/nov/18/mark-duggan-ipcc-investigation-riots [date accessed 14/05/2016]

[2] BBC News “England Rioters ‘Poorer, Younger, Less Educated'” http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-15426720 [date accessed 15/05/2016]

[3] Ann and Aisha Phoenix “Radicalisation, Relationality and Riots: Intersections and Interpellations” inFeminist Review, no.100 [2012] p.61

[4] BBC News “England Rioters ‘Poorer, Younger, Less Educated'” http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-15426720 [date accessed 15/05/2016]

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] TruthCauldron, “David Starkey-BBC Newsnight ‘The Whites Have Become Black'” Filmed 14/08/2011, Youtube Video, 10:36 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVq2bs8M9HM

[8] Vikram Dodd and Caroline Davis “London Riots Escalate as Police Battle for Control” The Guardian,http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/aug/08/london-riots-escalate-police-battle [date accessed 14/05/2016]

[9] Lee Moran and Allan Hall “British Youths are ‘the Most Unpleasant and Violent in the World’. Damning Verdict of Writer as Globe Reacts to Riots” Daily Mail Onlinehttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2024486/UK-RIOTS-2011-British-youths-unpleasant-violent-world.html [date accessed 14/05/2016]

[10] Ryan Parry “Young Thugs Got a Lift Home With Mum When They Finished Looting” The Mirrorhttp://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/london-riots-young-thugs-got-a-lift-146673 [date accessed 14/05/2016]

[11] Mary Riddell “London Riots: The Underclass Lash Out” The Telegraphhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8630533/Riots-the-underclass-lashes-out.html[date accessed 14/05/2016]

[12] Mary Riddell “London Riots: The Underclass Lash Out”

[13] Ibid

[14] Gov.uk “Transcript of the Hearing 15 October 2013”http://dugganinquest.independent.gov.uk/transcripts/1207.htm [date accessed 14/05/2016]

[15] Cal Thomas “Ferguson Unrest: Make Protestors Pay for Riot Damage” Fox News.comhttp://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/12/02/ferguson-unrest-make-protesters-pay-for-riot-damage.html[date accessed 16/05/2016]

[16] Moni Basu and Faith Karami “Protestors Torch Police Car in Another Tense Night in Ferguson” CNN.com http://edition.cnn.com/2014/11/25/justice/ferguson-grand-jury-decision/ [date accessed 16/05/2016]

[17] Monica Davey “Amid Mourning, Time For Change,” New York Times, August 26, 2014 p.1

[18] Jonathan A. Bush “The British Constitution and the Creation of American Slavery” in Slavery and the Law ed. Paul Finkleman [Maryland; Rowman and Littlefield, 2002] p.392

[19] Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 [New York; Harper and Row, 1988] pp.32-33

[20] Albon P. Man Jr. “Labor Competition and the New York Draft Riots of 1863” in Journal of Negro History 36.4 [1951] p.379

[21] Lorenzo J. Green and Carter G. Woodson, The Negro Wage Earner, [Chicago; The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1930] p.4

[22] Warren C. Whatley “African-American Strikebreaking from the Civil War to the New Deal” in Social Science History 17.4 [Winter, 1993] p.529

[23] Bureau of Labor Statistics “Table A-2. Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Race, Sex, and Age” United States Department of Labor http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t02.htm [date accessed 16/05/2016]

The Ancestors, Africanism, and Democracy

Nyonsuabeleah Kollue

 

My mother begins every important discussion with the phrase “the old people used to say”, first, for the purpose of showing respect for the ancestors, and second, to give a sense of legitimacy to the knowledge that she intends to pass on to me. However, as I have become older and more in tune with the reality of an African legacy that is equal parts beautiful and gruesome, I’ve often wondered, why is it that African peoples only seem to incorporate knowledge passed down from our ancestors into the private and domestic aspects of our lives? Why isn’t this knowledge applicable to the political and economic structures in independent African countries today? After all, the old peoples managed to establish complex trade systems, educational facilities and working governmental institutions. Some political pundits would like to credit this phenomenon to the influence of Western powers on fledgling African democracies. While I agree with this idea to some extent, I believe that the explanation put forth is too simplistic for a topic so intricate and multifarious. Therefore, in an effort to present an exhaustive response as to why modern African nations lack the capacity to establish governmental facets that are essentially African, I have set forth an analysis of the aftermath of counter-cultural movements as it affects the power component of communication in intercultural relations between African countries and their former European colonizers.
In the aftermath of Counter-Cultural Conflict

Dr. Gary Weaver describes counter-cultural identity movements as a challenge of dominant culture and the refutation of traditional cultural norms [1]. He references the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the hippie movement of the 1970s as perfect illustrations of counter-cultural conflict in American society. These were periods in history whereby, young, university educated Americans directly and successfully confronted the systems and institutions of racism as well as challenged the practices of modern warfare.

Across the Atlantic, African countries were involved in a more intense and violent form of counter-cultural conflict. After enduring European imperialism and colonization for more than a century, African colonies began to demand the right to self-determination, a global recognition and a respect of a progressive identity that was inherently African, and a promotion of a dominant culture that celebrated Africanism. Between the late 1950s and the early 1990s, all European colonies in Africa had achieved independence.

One might even venture to say that counter-cultural conflict in colonial Africa was successful because independence was achieved. However, for the purpose of this analysis, emphasis will be placed on the issues that arise after a successful counter-cultural movement.

Dr. Weaver presents the theory that in the aftermath of counter-cultural identity movements, society often reverts to the established rules that existed prior to the genesis of the identity movement[2]. This occurs as a result of a fear of the unknown. A successful counter-cultural identity movement opens up the window for the establishment of new societal structures and institutions. Upon the realization that they might be responsible for the creation of these new systems, members of identity movements become afraid of having to function in uncharted territories of society and more times than not, they begin to re-embrace traditional values because said values provide a sense of familiarity and safety. This is quite evident when observing how young Americans openly supported and embraced conservative values in the 1980s and early 1990s after the student movements of the 1960s and the 1970s.

This theory is also applicable to the former colonies in Africa in the aftermath of the fight for independence. Tasked with the responsibility of establishing legitimate democracies in multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious nation-states, new and inexperienced African leaders were quickly overwhelmed by the urgency of their responsibilities as well as by the voices of dissenting factions in their governments. Keeping in line with the characteristics symbolic of post counter-cultural conflict, African leaders began to re-establish relationships with former colonial powers in Europe – unconsciously reverting to the culture of African dependence on colonial leadership prior to the fight for independence.
Power Component in African – European Communications

In his piece “The Role of Culture and Perception in Communication”, Marshall Singer presents the idea that “every communication relationship has a power component attached to it.”[3] The power component in communications determines what party becomes the dominant player and what party assimilates into the dominant culture. In the case of emerging African democracies, the power component of communications dictates that wealthier, more politically and economically stable European powers would become the dominant players in this relationship. This also meant that African countries would have to assimilate into Western culture by incorporating European ideas of democracy and economic practices in African societies. This ensured that African nations never had a chance to cultivate an African form of democracy that would have been unique to the cultural and geographic climate of the region.

Unfortunately for Africa’s first democratic leaders, this relationship provided embittered European countries – that had been unceremoniously relieved of their colonies – with the perfect platform needed to re-establish control over the continent via newly established global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. African leaders who sought much needed financial support from European countries were forced to sign crippling austerity measures and agree to structural adjustments that supported European foreign interests on the African continent at the expense of the development of Africa’s economies and infrastructure. These measures called for privatization, limited role of the state in the economy, reduced level of domestic production etc.[4]

Mounting pressures and demands of European financiers coupled with domestic issues such as corruption, nepotism in government and rising incidents of ethnic clashes allowed former colonizers to insert themselves in the affairs of various nation states under the banner of building democracy and encouraging stability. This resulted in the undermining of African leadership at the domestic and international level.
Power Dominance: American Influence on the African Continent

Former European powers would not have been able to successfully regain control of African nation states without the financial and military support of the United States[5]. While countries like Britain and France were still recognized as major world players, the United States’ role during WWII and in its aftermath solidified the country’s position as the world’s newest ruling power. As such, the United States was allowed to unofficially assume the role of the world’s police. During this time period, much of America’s foreign policy was centered on promoting and establishing an American brand of democracy and capitalism on a global scale as well as actively combating all signs of communism [6].

This is where the power component in communications takes a dangerous turn down a path of what I like to call the power dominance of communications. As aforementioned, the power component of communications dictates what party assumes the role of dominant culture, however power dominance of communication occurs when the dominant culture is allowed to wield power without the oversight of a working regulatory system.

African leaders who objected to the stipulations of the “aid” provided by western countries were viewed as obstacles of democracy and capitalism and many found themselves disposed of the offices that they had been elected to serve in. A perfect illustration of power dominance at work on the African continent would be the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, by a coalition of CIA operatives, Belgian forces, and Congolese opposition factions on January 17, 1961. As the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lumumba’s socially progressive views on economic equality and indigenous ownership and control of the DRC’s natural resources served as a direct threat to American and Belgian access to the vast supply of natural resources in the region. Lumumba was unlawfully arrested, tortured, and killed and his assassination allowed for western powers to install a leader that would promote their interests in the region[7]. It is not until February of 2002 that the Belgian government openly apologized to the people of the DRC and the family of Patrice Lumumba for their role in the murder of one of Africa’s greatest minds [8]. Other instances of power domination would be the United States’ early support of Charles Taylor’s rebel forces during the Liberian civil war[9] or France’s provision of weapons and combative training to Hutu militias in preparation for the Rwandan genocide[10].

Power dominance on the African continent has fostered the practice of installing ineffectual agents in places of leadership. As long as the leader helps promote western economic interests and provides a semblance of western democratic leadership, he or she is automatically accepted by the international community. This has led to more of a rise in corruption in African governments as well as a general discontent among citizens of nation states in Africa.
A New Scramble for Africa

The new millennium introduced a new player in the form of China. As China continues to solidify its position as an emerging economic powerhouse with the credibility and propensity to compete, the United States and Western European countries have to fight to secure their interests and access to African markets and natural resources. For many African countries, this is the first time in many years whereby they’ve been presented with a realistic option in trading partners.

Very much like the relationship that exists between Africa and the West, China is the dominant culture in the relationship between Asia and Africa and therefore, a level of power dominance exists. Lax labor laws, corruption, and a lack of citizen protection has allowed China to exploit Africa’s peoples and its resources[11].

However, China differs from its counterparts in the United States and Western Europe in that the Chinese government has taken steps to aid in structural development in various African countries[12]. In recent times, more and more African leaders are willing to engage in trade agreements with Asian countries rather than the West, because Asian leaders view African leaders as equal partners in trade agreements rather than subordinates. This has resulted in strained relations between the West and the East as well as the West and the African continent.
Accountability in Modern African Countries

In order for African countries to have complete ownership of their governmental and economic institutions, and to establish a democracy that is compatible with Africanism, African countries will have to take control of the power component in their relationships with foreign agents. This in turn means that African countries will have to reject foreign aid, and invest in their own industries and educational institutions. Without incoming aid, African governments will be forced to address issues of corrupt spending by officials in order to ensure an availability of funds necessary for structural development. No longer should African countries continue the colonial model of selling natural resources to developed regions and buying finished products from outside the continent. Harvesting of natural resources, refinement and production should begin and end on the African continent. This will help combat the issue of unemployment, boost economies and give Africans control of their own markets.

In today’s world, it is only when African countries are able to compete economically on the international level that they can have a realistic chance of creating systems that are based on the examples provided by the ancestors before them. Until then, as the old people used to say “we will continue to dance to beat that the drummer decides to play.”

Nyonsuabeleah Kollue is a Nigerian-born student currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Relations with a double concentration in International negotiation and conflict resolution, and Global Security from American University. Her academic research is geared towards the analysis of conflict cycles, and governance structures and processes in West and Central Africa. She currently serves as a Policy Analyst for United Nations NGO coalition members: Nonviolence International and the International Action Network on Small Arms, where she is responsible for research on non-coercive methods in the enforcement of the Arms Trade Treaty, tracking the use of small arms and light weapons in conflict areas, and incorporating aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals into workable domestic policies.

Bibliography

· Akerman, David. “Who Killed Lumumba?” BBC News. October 21, 2000. Accessed December 15, 2015. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/correspondent/974745.stm.

· Arsenault, Chris. “Accused War Criminal Taylor ‘worked with CIA'” – Al Jazeera English. January 21, 2012. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/01/2012120194243233526.html.

· Bert Jacobs. 2011. “A Dragon and a Dove? A Comparative Overview of Chinese and European Trade Relations with Sub-Saharan Africa.” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 40 (4): 17-60.

· Bustin, Edouard. 2002. “Remembrance of Sins Past: Unraveling the Murder of Patrice Lumumba.”Review of African Political Economy 29 (93): 537-560.

· Iwereibor, Eheidu. “The Colonization of Africa.” The Colonization of Africa. Accessed December 15, 2015. http://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-colonization-of-africa.html.

· Lagon, Mark P. “Promoting Democracy: The Whys and Hows for the United States and the International Community.” Council on Foreign Relations. February 1, 2011. http://www.cfr.org/democratization/promoting-democracy-whys-hows-united-states-international-community/p24090.

· “Patrice Lumumba: The Most Important Assassination of the 20th Century.” http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jan/17/patrice-lumumba-50th-anniversary-assassination.

· PAUL SCHMITT. 2009. “The Future of Genocide Suits at the International Court of Justice: France’s Role in Rwanda and Implications of the Bosnia V. Serbia Decision.” Georgetown Journal of International Law 40: 585-1271.

· Shah, Anup. “Structural Adjustment-a Major Cause of Poverty.” – Global Issues. March 24, 2013. http://www.globalissues.org/article/3/structural-adjustment-a-major-cause-of-poverty.

· Wall, Wendy. “Anti-Communism in the 1950s.” Anti-Communism in the 1950s. http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/fifties/essays/anti-communism-1950s.

· Weaver, Gary R. Intercultural Relations: Communication, Identity, and Conflict. Rev. 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Pub., 2014

· “World Briefing | Europe: Belgium: Apology for Lumumba Killing.” The New York Times. February 5, 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/06/world/world-briefing-europe-belgium-apology-for-lumumba-killing.html?_r=0.
Citations

[1] Gary R. Weaver, Intercultural Relations: Communication, Identity and Conflict, (Boston, MA: Pearson, 2014), 103

[2] Gary R. Weaver, Intercultural Relations: Communication, Identity and Conflict, (Boston, MA: Pearson, 2014), 104 – 105

[3] Gary R. Weaver, Intercultural Relations: Communication, Identity and Conflict, (Boston, MA: Pearson, 2014), 43

[4] Shah, Anup “Structural Adjustment – Cause of Poverty.” Global Issues, March 24, 2013

[5] Lagon, Mark P. “Promoting Democracy: The Whys and Hows for the United States and the International Community.” Council on Foreign Relations. February 1, 2011.

[6] Wall, Wendy, “Anti – Communism in the 1950s.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,

[7] Bustin, Edouard. “Remembrance of Sins Past: Unraveling the Murder of Patrice Lumumba.” Review of African Political Economy (2002).

[8] “Belgium: Apology for Lumumba Killing.” The New York Times, February 5, 2002.

[9] Arsenault, Chris. “Accused War Criminal Taylor ‘worked with CIA.” Al Jazeera, January 21, 2012

[10] Paul Schmitt, “The Future of Genocide Suits at the International Court of Justice: France’s Role in Rwanda and Implications of the Bosnia V. Serbia Decision.” Georgetown Journal of International Law(2009).

[11] Bert, Jacobs. “A dragon and a dove? A Comparative overview of Chinese and European Trade Relations with Sub-Saharan Africa.” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, (2011)

[12] Bert, Jacobs. “A dragon and a dove? A Comparative overview of Chinese and European Trade Relations with Sub-Saharan Africa.” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, (2011)

American Violence in Chicago and Beyond: The Morbid Symptoms of Our Interregnum

Jim Burns

 

On November 24th, Chicago police officer Jason van Dyke was indicted on first-degree murder charges for the public execution of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. The same week, the Chicago Police moved to fire police detective Dante Servin for murdering 22 year-old Rekia Boyd in 2012, and on December 1st, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Chicago Police Commissioner Garry McCarthy. Those events have shed even greater light on the systematic racist violence woven through the history of the Chicago Police Department and the city government more broadly. That brutal history includes the Department’s complicity in the assassination of Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and fellow Black Panther Party leader Mark Clark in December 1969.

The most recent stories about police violence in Chicago are occurring at the same time as allegations have surfaced about the Dothan, Alabama Police Department. According to documents leaked by department whistleblowers, a group of narcotics officers planted drugs and weapons on African American men “for years,” and the District Attorney covered-up an ensuing internal affairs investigation to protect the officers’ careers (see Carroll, 2015). The unit’s supervisor, current Police Chief Steve Parrish, Sgt. Andy Hughes, now Alabama’s Director of Homeland Security, and other officers involved were reportedly also active in a Neo-Confederate organization, which advocates the return of Blacks to Africa and has called the Civil Rights Movement a “Jewish conspiracy.” The actions of those officers could impact hundreds of criminal cases in which African American men were prosecuted and many sent to prison. Those White police officers viewed Black men as nothing more than commodities on which to build their careers, and many have reportedly received promotions and now occupy leadership positions in law enforcement.

Back in Chicago, Emanuel’s firing of Police Commissioner McCarthy cannot obfuscate the culpability of Emanuel himself, Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez, and perhaps others in what Columbia Law Professor Bernard Harcourt characterized in the New York Times as a cover-up of Mr. McDonald’s murder during Emanuel’s re-election campaign. Considering the city government’s extensive history of numerous forms of violence against Persons of Color and its willful negligence, abuse of power, and betrayal of the public trust, Harcourt and others are calling for the resignations of Emanuel and Alvarez as well. Further, cover-up allegations must be investigated, and if warranted Emanuel, Alvarez, McCarthy, and any others involved should face criminal prosecution.

In addition to the police murders of Mr. McDonald and Ms. Boyd, the Guardian (see Ackerman, 2015) earlier this year filed a transparency lawsuit and reported an “off-the-books interrogation warehouse” at Homan Square where between August 2004 and June 2015 the Chicago Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people, nearly 6,000 of whom were Black. The Guardian report indicates that police allowed lawyers to access Homan Square, for only 0.94% of the 7,185 arrests logged during that 11-year period, and reportedly held those arrested for hours or days, denied them phone calls to their families or attorneys, and pressured many to become informants.

Another example of the City of Chicago’s institutional violence against communities of Color includes Emanuel’s 2013 closure of 49 public schools that served primarily African American and Latino communities, the largest mass closure of public schools in a single city ever, despite massive protests by teachers, led by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, parents, students, and community members. Speaking on Democracy Now! in 2013, education historian Diane Ravich characterized Emanuel’s school closures, also a contentious issue in his re-election bid, as an economic development plan predicated on gentrification and the privatization of public education in the form of charter schools, which will transfer public funds to private edupreneurs. That same racist neoliberal formula has eviscerated public education for poor communities of Color in places like New Orleans and Philadelphia as well.

The contemporary violence perpetrated by the criminal injustice system against communities of Color, exemplified by the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer, and the police murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and too many others also brings into sharper focus the long and complex history of multiple forms of institutional violence targeted at African Americans and many Others at the behest of corporate power. In Chicago alone, examples of police violence against African Americans and organized labor include the Haymarket Labor Uprising of 1886, the Pullman Strike of 1894, the 1919 Race Riots, the 1931 Chicago Eviction Riot, and the 1968 police violence directed at anti-war protestors during the Democratic National Convention.
Racist Violence and the History of Public Policing

The recent visibility of violence against African Americans makes clear the long history of institutional racism in policing and the criminal justice system more broadly. Marlese Durr’s research traces contemporary police violence against African Americans to the beginning of colonial policing, which in the American South centered on slave patrols, the first publically-funded police departments. As Black Americans migrated to Northern cities from the South due to vicious political, social, and economic repression and violence during early Reconstruction by the military, state militias, and the KKK, which took the place of disbanded slave patrols, Northern police adopted violent tactics similar to Southern slave patrols to control and segregate African Americans from Whites (Durr, 2015). Current aggressive police practices such as racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, and driving while Black, as well as the unjustified use of deadly force continue the slave patrol ethos in modern policing and other judicial and political institutions (Durr, 2015).

Durr’s work and scholarship by Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson on the Post-Jim Crow racism underlying our criminal injustice system, the neoliberal prison-industrial complex, and school-to-prison pipeline further illuminate the complexity of institutional and individual racialized, classed, gendered violence ubiquitous in U.S. history.
Individual and Institutional Violence in Broader Historical Context

The history of the U.S. is the history of militarism and violence. In American Violence: A Documentary History, Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace (1970) documented American political, economic, racial, religious, police, and personal violence as well as domestic terrorism, from the violence between Puritans and Pilgrims to the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy. Hofstadter and Wallace noted that American violence is widely regarded as representative of a history, but not a tradition for two reasons:

“First, our violence lacks both an ideological and geographical center; it lacks cohesion; it has been too various, diffuse, and spontaneous to be forged into a single, sustained, inveterate hatred shared by entire social classes. Second, we have a remarkable lack of memory where violence is concerned and have left most of our excesses a part of our buried history.” (p. 3)

While I agree that Americans, particularly White Americans, suffer, as Hofstadter and Wallace put it, a pervasive “historical amnesia” about domestic violence, I disagree somewhat with the contention that American violence lacks cohesion, particularly in the current historical moment. Perhaps this is because Hofstadter and Wallace defined violence purely in terms of physical violence rather than interrogating American violence in both its physical and institutional forms. Their organization of American violence in terms of religious, racial, class, and political violence suggests a cohesive ideological nexus through which acts of individual violence have occurred in the context of institutional support of the corporate state. Over the last five decades particularly, many assumptions that have historically driven classism, racism, gender discrimination, religious intolerance, nativism, militarization, and a hyper-masculine ethos of violence as restorative have coalesced through the enthrallment with neoliberalism into an ideology that rationalizes, celebrates, and markets violence.

Thus, during the same week that Jason van Dyke was indicted for Laquan McDonald’s murder, Robert Lewis Dear allegedly murdered three people and wounded nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. While Dear, a White 57 year-old male, was being taken into custody-a radically different fate than that which befell Mr. McDonald and Ms. Boyd-he reportedly repeated the words “no more baby parts,” a reference to an incendiary undercover, heavily edited video created by an anti-abortion group that purports to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal tissue (see Holpuch, 2015). Evangelical Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who has long articulated staunch anti-abortion and homophobic rhetoric, called the Colorado Springs attack “domestic terrorism, especially for those of us in the pro-life movement” (see Bobic, 2015). Yet considering the history of outrageously violent rhetoric and actions among many in the “pro-life” movement, Huckabee’s condemnation seems more a disingenuous attempt to distance himself from his own violent rhetoric to bolster his failing presidential campaign.

Reflecting further on Huckabee’s statement equating the Colorado Springs massacre with domestic terrorism reminds me of a 2013 National Public Radio interview with John Lewis on the 50th anniversary of George Wallace’s 1963 inaugural address after being elected Governor of Alabama in which he vowed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” (see NPR, 2013). Lewis reflected on the power of words to create a climate in which some rationalize an entitlement to violence:

“My governor, this elected official, was saying in effect, you are not welcome, you are not welcome. Words can be very powerful. Words can be dangerous. Governor Wallace never pulled a trigger. He never fired a gun. But in his speech he created the environment for others to pull the trigger in the days, the weeks, and months to come.”

Considering the deep and complex history of multiple, intersected forms of violence in the U.S., is it any wonder that America has descended into a de-socialized milieu marked by fear and the militarization of our social and political institutions? The twisted neoliberal ethos of markets above all else, bereft of any ethic of social responsibility and imbued with voracious selfishness and greed thrives on the manufacture and manipulation of crises through which all forms of wealth are redistributed upward to an oligarchic elite. That elite, who consider democracy itself a disposable excess and an impediment to capitalism, has largely succeeded in reconfiguring the state to serve the interests of corporate power. Corporate power has thus become overwhelming, ubiquitous, invisible, and unaccountable, professes no loyalty to any nation-state, has rendered establishment political parties a joke, and elections a high-priced reality show-like farce. The corporate state has facilitated the concentration of wealth and power into so few hands that the state wields what Max Weber called the monopoly of the use of force solely in service of a corporate oligarchy against a sea of dispensable people.

The lexicon of neoliberalism has functioned similarly to George Wallace’s hateful words by dispossessing burgeoning groups of people of any opportunity for a decent life. As Michael Kimmel demonstrated in Angry White Men, the violence and rage we see engulfing America and the world is gendered, raced, and classed. Despite maintaining control of every social, political, and economic institution, White men portray themselves as victims of discrimination because they interpret those social, economic, and political positions of power as their birthright. As women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and many Others have demanded equality and the breakdown of White, straight, patriarchy, some White men, particularly working-class Whites who have suffered economic dispossession, have turned their simmering rage into what Kimmel calls an aggrieved entitlement to the use violence to restore their thwarted sense of masculinity. Most outrageous, neoliberal elites and political demagogues have carefully cultivated that sense of aggrieved entitlement, and, like George Wallace more than 50 years ago, created a fertile ground for the mindless violence now consuming us.
Safe Spaces, Discomfort, and Transformation in a Death-Saturated Age

Violence against African Americans, Women, Queer Communities, Native Peoples, Immigrants, Organized Labor, and many Others has a long history and has taken many forms in the nexus of corporate-state power: slavery; the violent suppression of civil and political rights; genocide against Native Americans; the proliferation of the militarized carceral state; the poverty created by what Chris Hedges calls capitalist “sacrifice zones” filled with destroyed environmental landscapes and disposable people; massive educational inequities; and union busting to name a few. The concomitant upward redistribution of wealth and power has reached the point at which we find ourselves in what Henry Giroux (2014), quoting Robert Lifton, calls a “death-saturated age” in which “Political authority and power have been transformed into a sovereignty of corporate governance and rule” (p. 183). Giroux (2014) further warns:

“The United States has moved from a market economy to a market society in which all vestiges of the social contract are under attack, and politics is ruled by the irrational notion that casino capitalism should govern not simply the economy but the entirety of social life. Since the new Gilded Age began, not only are democratic values and social protections at risk, but the civic and formative cultures that make such values and protections central to democratic life are in danger or disappearing altogether.” (p. 184)

Educator and education researcher Lisa Delpit (2012) has written that “true culture supports its people; it doesn’t destroy them” (p. 7). The market society of which Giroux (2014) writes has only hardened ethics of cruelty and violence such as racism, gender discrimination, homophobia, religious intolerance, hyper-nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment, etc., which have always existed in the U.S., but have increasingly been mobilized to the extent that they have come to define America. That viciousness and the anti-politics associated with the creation of a market society has spawned a destructive, survival of the fittest anti-culture expressed in Margaret Thatcher’s cruel maxim that “there is no such thing as society, only individuals and families” (Giroux, 2014, p. 187). Sadly, Tocqueville saw the darker side of Thatcher’s de-socializing hyper-individualism in his 19th Century study of American democracy:

Individualism is a recent expression arising out of a new idea. Our fathers knew only the wordegoism….Individualism is a reflective and tranquil sentiment that disposes each citizen to cut himself off from the mass of his fellow men and withdraw into the circle of family and friends, so that, having created a little society for his own use, he gladly leaves the larger society to take care of itself.” (2004, p. 585)

Considering the pervasiveness of the neoliberal marketizing ethos as it seeps into every social and political sphere, is it any wonder that everyone and everything has become commodified with a “market value?” Our environment is valued only to the extent that the “surplus value” can be extracted from its resources. Human value lies in the ability to serve the market society through consumption, debt, and adherence to a cruel ethos of self-interest driven, as Toni Morrison (2015) writes, by a perverse sense of individualism as a taxpayer with no sense of obligation to serve others as a citizen.

My greatest concern as a teacher lies in the cooptation of education, both in formal and informal educational spaces, by neoliberal edupreneurs. Marketized education reframes schools, colleges, universities, and public educational spaces as profit centers for all sorts of “educational” products and envisages education as a reductive, instrumental system of technical training and disciplinary control by which to churn out compliant worker/consumers bereft of the critical conscience to question institutional power or imagine any other future than the present that has been engineered for them. As Giroux (2014) explains:

“Public education has become a site of pedagogical repression, robbing students of the ability to think critically as a result of the two political business parties’ emphasis on education as mindless testing, standardization, and the deskilling of teachers….low-income and poor minority students increasingly find themselves in schools in which the line between prison culture and school culture is blurred.” (p. 184)

Just as outrageous in the context of a history of institutional violence against Persons of Color are the rants by privileged White anti-public anti-intellectuals like Kathleen Parker, who excoriated “thin-skinned” students and “safe spaces” in a November 24th Washington Post op-ed. Considering the proximity Parker’s own “hissy fit” to anti-racism actions at numerous colleges and universities and public mass actions against police violence, Parker’s commentary is uninformed, flawed, and racist as well. What Parker and those of her privileged ilk prove incapable of even attempting to understand is that their entire lives, as has mine as a White, straight, cisgender, middle-class American man, have been lived in one continuous safe space in which their Whiteness, class, and culture have been unreflectively affirmed in every textbook they have ever read, every relationship they have been privileged to have chosen, every form of media they have seen, and the very society they have, as Tocqueville wrote, created for themselves. They have never had the courage to confront their partial experiences and flawed assumptions about themselves, their culture, history, and Others, and they have worn their culture and Whiteness as a “neutral norm” against which all else is Other. They have been privileged to live in a safe space described by the late Ronald Takaki as the Master Narrative of American History:

“According to this powerful and popular but inaccurate story, our country was settled by European immigrants, and Americans are white. ‘Race,’ observed Toni Morrison, has functioned as a ‘metaphor’ necessary to the ‘construction of Americanness’: in the creation of our national identity, ‘American’ has been defined as ‘white.’ Not to be ‘white’ is to be designated as ‘Other’-different, inferior, and unassimilable.” (Takaki, 2008, p. 4)

The Master Narrative derives its power of marginalization through expunging the histories of Others. It is a selective history in which stories that support the Master Narrative are included, while the stories of Others that might trouble the false narrative of a righteous, “exceptional” White Christian nation are selected out. One recent example includes the McGraw-Hill Company’s catering to the Texas State Board of Education’s historically nativist anti-intellectualism by creating a World Geography textbook that discusses Slavery as part of a pattern of immigration that brought “millions of workers from Africa to the Southern United States to work on agricultural plantations” (see Fernandez & Hauser, 2015). Another is the effort by then Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, who embodies the trend of non-academics running colleges and universities as the current president of Purdue, to ban the use of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in public universities in Indiana (see Jaschik, 2013a, b). In response to Daniels’ anti-intellectual attack on Zinn, John Tirman of MIT noted:

“As to the anti-American canard, I see this as the last refuge of a politician who is quite ignorant of the discourses in many quarters of American intellectual and activist life….Daniels does not understand that a vibrant civil society has many voices, many perspectives. To be contrary to the old mainstream construction of history is not equivalent to being anti-American. That should be obvious, but to a politician who still seems to be campaigning for something, it never will be. His unsuitability to be Purdue’s president is glaring.” (See Jaschik, 2013b)
The Morbid Symptoms of the Interregnum

The fundamental aims and philosophy of mass education, curriculum, and pedagogy have always been highly contested, and the pendulum has historically swung back and forth between capitalism and democracy, between justice and injustice. Today, however, the anti-politics of the market society created through contemporary neoliberalism have become so de-socialized and democracy itself so eviscerated that formal political mechanisms no longer seem capable of controlling the obscene excesses and multiple forms of violence inherent in unfettered capitalism. As our public institutions, particularly schools, universities and other public educational spaces, succumb to the logic of the market society, they increasingly become complicit in what Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressedcalled the banking concept of education. Banking education suffers a “narration sickness” in which teachers-and I argue anyone in a pedagogical role in formal or informal educational spaces-talk about “reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable” and expound “on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students” (Freire, 2009, p. 71). Banking pedagogy views human beings as empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge and dispositions to benefit the oppressor, an utterly de-humanizing process.

John Ralston Saul, in The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World, quotes Antonio Gramsci, who wrote: “The old is dying, the new struggles to be born, and in the interregnum there are many morbid symptoms” (p. 215). People all over the world are seeing neoliberalism and all its pathologies, which extend far further into history than the neoliberal era itself, for what they are: broken promises that have broken societies, souls, and threaten to break the world. It is, as Saul writes, a dangerous time in which those who cling to power and its accouterments do so with such violence that they are blinded to the inevitable collapse of their system and the beliefs and assumptions on which the system rests. Yet Saul also asserts that we have choices:

“The belief that we do not have choices is a fantasy, an unfortunate indulgence in abdication. And so the curious thing about inevitability is that it tends not to last very long. The more the true believers in a reigning theory of truth insist that its growth is inevitable and therefore eternal, the faster the rest of us, who have a bit of distance, tend to decide that we do have the power of choice. And all things considered, we would rather choose some other approach” (p. 13)

In contrast to the banking concept of education, and our passive acceptance of the inevitable, Freire (2009) proposes a libertarian education as a process of reconciliation. Although Freire’s writing inPedagogy of the Oppressed was contextualized in adult literacy education, his conceptualization of liberating education has implications for all aspects of education, society, the economy, and governance. The key to liberation lies, as Freire wrote decades ago, not in integrating Others into the existing system-the inevitable-but in transforming institutions and structures as radically democratic so that everyone, can become “beings for themselves.” Importantly, that transformation requires coalition building among and between some seemingly unlikely partners, who as yet fail to recognize their common interests in transforming the world through breaking hegemonic power and reframing power relations as more just.

In the epilogue of American Violence, Richard Hofstadter referred to the fatalism expressed by Lincoln, who saw the Civil War as divinely ordained as a “terrible but just way” of ridding America of slavery (p. 478). Yet Hofstadter, like Saul, condemns such fatalism as “hardly suitable to those who sense a potential catastrophe that they can still hope to avert,” further noting: “The metapolitics of divine judgment are the last resort of those who have failed; the appeal to human judgment must be the first resort of those who expect to succeed” (p. 478). In the last analysis, we are in Gramsci’s interregnum filled with morbid symptoms. Proceeding with educated hope and the expectation to succeed requires not a return to some romanticized notion of citizenship, but a fundamental rethinking of what radical democratic citizenship might mean. And this will require all of us to, as the late Dennis Carlson urged, sail from our safe harbors and rethink the world in new ways.

References

Ackerman, S. (2015, October 19). Homan Square revealed: How Chicago police ‘disappeared’ 7,000 people. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/19/homan-square-chicago-police-disappeared-thousands

Bobic, I. (2015, November 29). Mike Huckabee calls Planned Parenthood shooting ‘domestic terrorism.’The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mike-huckabee-planned-parenthood-shooting-terrorism_565b1c50e4b08e945feb73cc?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000013&section=politics

Carlson, D. (2002). Leaving safe harbors: Toward a new progressivism in American education and public life. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Carroll, J. (2015, December 1). Leaked documents reveal Dothan Police Department planted drugs on young Black Men for years. The Henry County Report. Retrieved from http://henrycountyreport.com/blog/2015/12/01/leaked-documents-reveal-dothan-police-department-planted-drugs-on-young-black-men-for-years-district-attorney-doug-valeska-complicit/

Delpit, L. (2012). “Multiplication is for white people:” Raising expectations for other people’s children.New York, NY: The New Press.

Democracy Now! (2013, May 28). Chicago to shutter 50 public schools: Is historic mass closure an experiment with privatization? Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2013/5/28/chicago_to_shutter_50_public_schools

Durr, M. (2015). What is the difference between slave patrols and modern day policing? Institutional violence in a community of color. Critical Sociology, 41(6), 873-879.

Fernandez, M., & Hauser, C. (2015, October 5). Texas mother teacher textbook company a lesson on accuracy. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/us/publisher-promises-revisions-after-textbook-refers-to-african-slaves-as-workers.html

Freire, P. (2009). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary Ed.). New York, NY: Continuum.

Giroux, H. (2014). Zombie politics and culture in the age of casino capitalism (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Harcourt, B. (2015, November 30). Cover-up in Chicago. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/30/opinion/cover-up-in-chicago.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

Hofstadter, R., & Wallace, M. (1970). American violence: A documentary history. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Holpuch, A. (2015, November 28). Planned Parenthood shooting: Suspect was recluse who lived in remote trailer. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/28/colorado-springs-shooting-suspect-planned-parenthood-robert-lewis-dear

Jaschik, S. (2013a). The governor’s bad list. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/17/e-mails-reveal-mitch-daniels-governor-tried-ban-howard-zinn-book

Jaschik, S. (2013b). Daniels vs. Zinn: Round II. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/18/mitch-daniels-renews-criticism-howard-zinn

Kimmel, M. (2013). Angry white men: American masculinity at the end of an era. New York, NY: Nation Books.

Morrison, T. (2015, May 12). The new progressive agenda: A return to citizenship. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/toni-morrison/the-new-progressive-agenda-a-return-to-citizenship_b_7265416.html

NPR. (2013, January 14). ‘Segregation forever’: A fiery pledge forgiven, but not forgotten. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2013/01/14/169080969/segregation-forever-a-fiery-pledge-forgiven-but-not-forgotten

Parker, K. (2015, November 24). For thin-skinned students, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/for-thin-skinned-students-we-have-nobody-to-blame-but-ourselves/2015/11/24/613a815c-92e9-11e5-a2d6-f57908580b1f_story.html

Saul. J. (2005). The collapse of globalism and the reinvention of the world. New York, NY: The Overlook Press.

Takaki, R. (2008). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America (Revised Ed.). New York, NY: Back Bay Books.

Tocqueville, A. (2004). Democracy in America (A. Goldhammer, Trans.). New York, NY: The Library of America.