The Divide: An Analysis of the Effects of Classism on Racism Today
Racism. One of these things is the most destructive, horrendous, catastrophic, evil act ever to plague humankind. The other has to do with skin color. However, when people think of discrimination, the first terms that come to mind are ones like ‘racism’ and ‘sexism’. Why is this? Why have such petty, one-sided, highly politicized forms of discrimination distorted the American view of social issues over more pressing problems such as classism? Throughout American history, the highest social classes have been comprised of the oligarchs; those who have taken advantage of the economic system to subjugate other human beings for the sole purpose of profit.
Marx explains in his Communist Manifesto that, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” (Marx and Engels). Marx goes on to explain how wherever and whenever possible, the dominant socioeconomic class has destroyed the lower, working classes at its convenience for the explicit purpose of profit. The observations Marx and Engels make have been shown valid in the past, and continue to hold true even today. The capital of the wealthy Middle Eastern monarchy of Qatar, Doha, will be the site of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
Construction began in 2011 on the Khalifa stadium, which will host parts of the World Cup, and much of the labour is being conducted by migrant workers from Nepal, India, and other South Asian countries. In fact, migrant workers such as these make up nearly 90% of the Qatari population and report that “…they were forced to live in squalid accommodation, appeared to pay huge recruitment fees, and have had wages withheld and passports confiscated” (Gibson).
These workers are widely considered to be modern day slaves, and the United Nations has even given the Qatari government a year to end this sort of indentured servitude in the country. All this suffering is caused by, as Marx explains, the top 10% of dominant, native, wealthy Qatari monarchs and oligarchs cannot be bothered to show some basic human decency towards their employees. That would cost the ruling classes more, and would not provide such a profit to those who are subjugating those who simply desire to make a living. Such atrocities can be seen not only in Qatar; the birth of the United States saw a similar situation. During the early years of the United States, those of the lower classes who had been subjugated happened to be slaves and indentured servants; people who had been forcibly brought from their homes in Africa and the Americas and made into property (Berlin).
These people were made into something lower than low. Classes include the upper, the middle, the upper-middle, and lower classes. These people were lower. They were not even considered people: they were property. They were objects, subjugated to the will of their owners, be it benevolent or malicious, these poor souls had to trudge through their meager existence with nothing of their own.
Their very being was decided by their owners, and their owners simply did not care. Why should they? Slaves were just property, after all. Just as a farmer gives a mule barely enough sustenance to survive, a plantation owner would give his slaves just enough food, water, and shelter to keep the slaves productive. Thusly, the owner would be able to continue to maximize profit from the slaves’ lives without spending too much on keeping the slaves productive. Basic human goodwill and decency were simply out of the question, because showing some kindness to one’s slaves would be throwing money away: In such a profit-centered society, to waste money is not just a mistake, but a cardinal sin. The dilemma of a slave owner was either to show compassion, love, decency, respect, and goodness towards a slave, or to profit more at the expense of the aforementioned qualities.
In a system where each individual’s existence is measured in raw material gain, where a person is only as valuable as that of the money they can produce, nothing else matters. A slave owner would nearly always choose to make more money. This was the sad truth of the American economic system until President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (Lincoln). While rather pointless in its’ actual power (it only applied to slaves in states which seceded from the Union, where Lincoln technically had no authority), the Proclamation served the exact purpose for which it was designed. It created a precedent for the true freeing of slaves. As is taught in all elementary history classes, the decades following Lincoln’s speech saw the outlawing of slavery in the United States, and the birth of a black identity as freed slaves and descendants of slaves banded together.
While this was beneficial insofar as it eliminated what is objectively a great evil, it was also very harmful to the black community. Think of it thusly; take a group of people, a race of hundreds of millions, who were nothing more than objects a couple decades before, and grant them (theoretically, at least) complete and unconditional freedom. Slaves were a class of their own, below the lowest class. Free the slaves, and what do they become? They became a free people who were a class of their own, below the lowest class. Beyond their legal status, the change from slave to freeman, not much changed for blacks.
They were still discriminated against, repressed, resented, and even attacked by their fellow free American citizens. Following the technical freedom of slaves in the late 1800s until the era of Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s, much of the American South instituted what is now known as Jim Crow laws. These were laws which were specifically instituted by a mostly-white government to suppress, oppress, and otherwise put down blacks. Some laws required blacks to refer to whites using courtesy titles such as “sir” or “ma’am”, while whites were not permitted to use such titles in reference to blacks. In addition, blacks were not allowed to offer their hands in a handshake with whites, as that would imply social equality between the two.
Yet another of these laws gave white drivers the right-of-way over black drivers, without exception, in all intersections and roadways (Pilgrim). These are obviously laws with no legitimate or practical purpose. However, when one considers the amount of respect a slave master required of their slaves, it makes sense that laws would be put into place which demand that blacks act the same towards whites as they had before. When slavery was legal, life was a certain way for these people; after the abolition of slavery, the white upper classes of the South would not want their way of life to change as radically as it threatened to. They did not like change of such magnitude, so they did the best they could to slow, halt, or even reverse the progress made by blacks and supporters of equal rights. The effects of Jim Crow laws extends beyond mere gestures and signs of courtesy; “[Jim Crow laws were] a way of life.
Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism” (Pilgrim). While slavery was instituted, racism was not particularly special, because it was nearly mandated. Racism was practically the norm. Times changed, and racism became something to be frowned upon in casual context, so (in the perspective of whites in power) action needed to be taken to make racism acceptable again. In this instance, that was achieved by making racism not only written into law, but mandated by law.
As all Americans know today, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led his civil rights movement to combat racism against blacks across the country, and he largely succeeded until his death in 1968 (Claiborne and Pricher). This resentment toward blacks continues today. The riots in Ferguson, Missouri throughout recent years demonstrate this clearly (The New York Times).
Those in power, who are now, and always have been, white males continue to exercise their malevolent will on those below them on the socioeconomic ladder. When a white police officer shoots and kills a relatively impoverished black man, and the establishment shows clear bias in favour of the white man, society can see the light. Only through the death of their fellow men have Americans been able to see how the dominant class has, and always will, suppress those below them; regardless of race, creed, religion, or anything else. The established system has always put whites, and in particular white males, in positions of power. The system has not changed since the founding of this country, and since the system began with slaves and their descendants on the bottom of the food chain, there they must remain today. In considering issues of sex, gender, race, et cetera, one must look beyond the superficial details of ‘what was their skin color’ or ‘was it a woman or a man?’ because these are the pointless and obvious explanations which truly explain nothing.
In matters of discrimination, one must look to the history of the discrimination to see its’ true shape. When considering events such as those of Ferguson, MO, one ought not ask oneself ‘why do whites and blacks harbour such resentment towards one another?’ Instead, one ought to ask, ‘how did the class divide and the racial divide become so closely intertwined so as to seem the same?’ Over a century ago, Marx claimed that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. Society in today’s status quo has very little insight on the deeper meaning of ‘class’, and prefers to focus on surface details such as sex and race to determine everything. One should look deeper into a situation, and understand the deeper causes of social issues in order to truly begin to combat them. Works Cited Berlin, Ira. “The Origins of Slavery.
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“Martin Luther King Jr.’s Message Lives On.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 17 Jan. 2010. Web.
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