The profound intellectual, social and moral changes that were shaking society challenged people’s faith and they sought to vindicate their traditional beliefs in the old divine order” – Historian Walter Stevens.
I didn’t want to write about racism, again.
But I noticed that some of us have been reeling. We have been overwhelmed in recent weeks with racist news stories flooding our screens, streets and even our homes. At this time of course it seems easy and most natural to be angry and upset at the vociferous showers of hate. Some of us started screaming and shouting at the top of our voices, marching against the ruthless cruelty inflicted on black bodies everywhere from Charleston, Marikana, Chibok, Garissa to the Mediterranean sea.
But even as we mourn our loved ones we must nevertheless, never lose sight of the fact that racism is not real. It is a smoke screen. A decoy, a distraction to keep us preoccupied, busy, crying and praying. It is a psychological weapon meant to demoralize and to instill fear among our ranks, to muffle our silent voices which have punctured the sonic sphere.
When I talk about racism as an illusion or as the much quoted and used academic term of a ” social construct/contract”: I am by no means negating its very real and often fatal physical manifestations. I want to point out that focusing only on race as a war we need to win is misguided, since the war has never been about race per se. Racial classification, discrimination and or prejudice has been a very effective, efficient and powerful tool to control the means of production and distribution of goods and services and the development of wealth. Just as the internet is a tool for creating and disseminating information and to control who uses it where, when and how. Concentrating on racism as the war to win will result in a pyrrich victory, and we have had too many examples of those.
Karen E Fields co-author of Racecraft: The soul of inequality in American life, says in a Jacobin interview that ” in and of itself anti-racism only points out what racists are doing, which gets us in a devilish circle” i.e anti racism not only affirms and keeps the cloud of race firmly in our minds as a matter of fact, it also leads us to think and believe that racial equality is the solution or answer to social injustice and inequality when the opposite is true. Racism is used to entrench, reinforce and to cement structural inequalities already in existence. Most of us know about the pyramid.
In order to understand what I mean, consider for a moment how it all began in your neck of the woods. In my neck of the woods which is South Africa: – the English stumbled on the cape colony and set up camp, along with others as a means to secure an alternative trade route to India where their real economic fortunes lay. For a while it was simply a resting place, a place to have tea and contemplate doing real business elsewhere. The imperialist had only a passing interest in the country and its people. But its Laissez faire attitude soon changed when the cash strapped UK instructed the small little cafe which was ballooning into a township to find ways to fend for itself and make money for the crown while at it. This soon gave birth to the development of a commercial agricultural industry which centered on the production and exportation of wool. This competitive trade at the time needed two things: grazing land and labour in large quantities. Since the crisis of the 1400 British, Dutch and other capital imperialists have been obsessed with the acquisition of those two commodities at minimum to no cost where feasible. In my neck of the woods guns proved to be a highly persuasive method to convince the local population already living in Southern Africa ( the Khoi, the San, the Bantu) to avail themselves to work for free. Though it took almost the entire 16th, 17th and 18th centuries for the local population to “buy” into their scheme, the discovery of lucrative Diamonds and Gold deposits at the turn of the 18th and 19th century increased land and labour appetites to such an extent that the barrel of the gun (death or threats of death) no longer proved effective as the only form of persuasion.
The Reader’s Digest illustrated history of South Africa notes that while the homestead system remained viable there was no reason for Africans to seek work on white farms – attempts to force Africans on the labour market included the imposition of a hut tax, a marriage tax, even a decree that no male was allowed to appear in Pietermaritzburg unless wearing trousers, including a creation of other dependencies (soap, sugar, creams) and increasing their artificial wants (clothes, make-up, accessories). This in addition to wanton raids, theft of cattle, kidnapping of children into forced labour and the destruction of African crop fields.
The idea of racial classification copied from the rise of antisemitism in Europe, coupled with faux science and most importantly religious education provided a wonderful combination of psychological tools with which to convince the now hungry,battered, desolate and homeless masses that the only way to survive was to work for a white man.
Capital or the Capitalist ideology is the driving force behind racial prejudice, it is what has shaped our economies into what they are today for better and for worse. Racism in not an issue concerning an individuals “personal preferences” only. It’s about securing privileged access to skills, resources, capital and maintaining tight control over those resources whether they are human or natural. But if an individual or anything for that matter, can be profitable or show potential to increase profit margins regardless of how that happens they (it) will have a seat at the proverbial table.
Racism is not a question of whether black, brown or oriental (non-white) people are intellectually, spiritually or physically inferior or equal to Caucasians. It’s about who (has) can maintain control (through arms, force, violence,propaganda) over masses of people who volunteer or support their quest for resources in order to remain or be in power. That’s why Barack Obama can be president, and we know of Oprah Winfrey and a whole list of successful black/African/Brown/Asian millionaires and billionaires, around the world.
In order for capital to thrive in the way that is has it requires poverty and or something that can create lots of cash and fast such as a “cash cow”. There has to be a poor compliant army of workers who are so desperate to breathe they will do anything to survive. If you have no idea of what hunger can do, try speaking to a group of hungry men and see how far you get. Alternatively in the world of “free markets” if your idea sells, if your idea can make a lot of people rich quickly or in the short or long-term then you are in.
One of the richest continents ( in natural and human resources) in the world, Africa, is still steeped in an ocean of poverty and inequality regardless of the fact that not a single one of the 54 countries on the continent have a white person as president today. What is then at the root of poverty and inequality in Africa? Is it racism?
The war, if there is one, has never been about the colour of your skin, but if you think it is, then they have already won.