[This essay is part of the ZNet Classics series. Three times a week we will re-post an article that we think is of timeless importance. This one was first published August 13, 2004.]
In 1900, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, predicted that the “problem of the twentieth century” would be the “problem of the color line,” the unequal relationship between the lighter vs. darker races of humankind. Although Du Bois was primarily focused on the racial contradiction of the United States, he was fully aware that the processes of what we call “racialization” today – the construction of racially unequal social hierarchies characterized by dominant and subordinate social relations between groups – was an international and global problem. Du Bois’s color line included not just the racially segregated, Jim Crow South and the racial oppression of South Africa; but also included British, French, Belgian, and Portuguese colonial domination in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean among indigenous populations.
Building on Du Bois’s insights, we can therefore say that the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of global apartheid: the racialized division and stratification of resources, wealth, and power that separates Europe, North America, and Japan from the billions of mostly black, brown, indigenous, undocumented immigrant and poor people across the planet. The term apartheid, as most of you know, comes from the former white minority regime of South Africa. It is an Afrikaans word meaning “apartness” or “separation.” Apartheid was based on the concept of “herrenvolk,” a “master race,” who was destined to rule non-Europeans. Under global apartheid today, the racist logic of herrenvolk, the master race, still exists, embedded in the patterns of unequal economic exchange that penalizes African, south Asian, Caribbean, and poor nations by predatory policies of structural adjustment and loan payments to multinational banks.
Inside the United States, the processes of global apartheid are best represented by what I call the New Racial Domain or the NRD. This New Racial Domain is different from other earlier forms of racial domination, such as slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and ghettoization, or strict residential segregation, in several critical respects. These earlier racial formations or domains were grounded or based primarily, if not exclusively, in the political economy of U.S. capitalism. Anti-racist or oppositional movements that blacks, other people of color and white anti-racists built were largely predicated upon the confines or realities of domestic markets and the policies of the U.S. nation-state. Meaningful social reforms such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were debated almost entirely within the context of America‘s expanding, domestic economy, and a background of Keynesian, welfare state public policies.
The political economy of the “New Racial Domain,” by contrast, is driven and largely determined by the forces of transnational capitalism, and the public policies of state neoliberalism. From the vantagepoint of the most oppressed U.S. populations, the New Racial Domain rests on an unholy trinity, or deadly triad, of structural barriers to a decent life. These oppressive structures are mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and mass disfranchisement. Each factor directly feeds and accelerates the others, creating an ever-widening circle of social disadvantage, poverty, and civil death, touching the lives of tens of millions of U.S. people.
The process begins at the point of production. For decades, U.S. corporations have been outsourcing millions of better-paying jobs outside the country. The class warfare against unions has led to a steep decline in the percentage of U.S. workers.
Within whole U.S. urban neighborhoods losing virtually their entire economic manufacturing and industrial employment, and with neoliberal social policies in place cutting job training programs, welfare, and public housing, millions of Americans now exist in conditions that exceed the devastation of the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 2004, in New York‘s Central Harlem community, 50 percent of all black male adults were currently unemployed. When one considers that this figure does not count those black males who are in the military, or inside prisons, its truly amazing and depressing.
This July, labor researchers at Harvard University found that one-quarter (25 percent) of the nation’s entire population of black male adults were jobless for the entire year during 2002. What these nightmarish statistics mean, is that for most low- to middle-income African Americans, joblessness and underemployment (e.g., working part-time, or sporadically) is now the norm; having a real job with benefits is now the exception. Who belongs to unions, dropping from 30 percent in the 1960s down to barely 13 percent today. With the onset of global capitalism, the new jobs being generated for the most part lack the health benefits, pensions, and wages that manufacturing and industrial employment once offered.
Neoliberal social policies, adopted and implemented by Democrats and Republicans alike, have compounded the problem. After the 1996 welfare act, the social safety net was largely pulled apart. As the Bush administration took power in 2001, chronic joblessness spread to African-American workers, especially in the manufacturing sector. By early 2004, in cities such as New York, fully one-half of all black male adults were outside of the paid labor force. As of January 2004, the number of families on public assistance had fallen to 2 million, down from five million families on welfare in 1995. New regulations and restrictions intimidate thousands of poor people from requesting public assistance.
Mass unemployment inevitably feeds mass incarceration. About one-third of all prisoners were unemployed at the time of their arrests, and others averaged less than $20,000 annual incomes in the year prior to their incarceration. When the Attica prison insurrection occurred in upstate New York in 1971, there were only 12,500 prisoners in New York State‘s correctional facilities, and about 300,000 prisoners nationwide. By 2001, New YorkState held over 71,000 women and men in its prisons; nationally, 2.1 million were imprisoned. Today about five to six million Americans are arrested annually, and roughly one in five Americans possess a criminal record.
Mandatory-minimum sentencing laws adopted in the 1980s and 1990s in many states stripped judges of their discretionary powers in sentencing, imposing draconian terms on first-time and non-violent offenders. Parole has been made more restrictive as well, and in 1995 Pell grant subsidies supporting educational programs for prisoners were ended. For those fortunate enough to successfully navigate the criminal justice bureaucracy and emerge from incarceration, they discover that both the federal law and state governments explicitly prohibit the employment of convicted ex-felons in hundreds of vocations. The cycle of unemployment frequently starts again.
The greatest victims of these racialized processes of unequal justice, of course, are African-American and Latino young people. In April 2000, utilizing national and state data compiled by the FBI, the Justice Department and six leading foundations issued a comprehensive study that documented vast racial disparities at every level of the juvenile justice process. African Americans under age eighteen constitute 15 percent of their national age group, yet they currently represent 26 percent of all those who are arrested. After entering the criminal-justice system, white and black juveniles with the same records are treated in radically different ways. According to the Justice Department’s study, among white youth offenders, 66 percent are referred to juvenile courts, while only 31 percent of the African-American youth are taken there. Blacks make up 44 percent of those detained in juvenile jails, 46 percent of all those tried in adult criminal courts, as well as 58 percent of all juveniles who are warehoused in prisons.
Mass incarceration, of course, breeds mass political disfranchisement. Nearly 5 million Americans cannot vote. In seven states, former prisoners convicted of a felony lose their voting rights for life. In the majority of states, individuals on parole and probation cannot vote. About 15 percent of all African-American males nationally are either permanently or currently disfranchised. In Mississippi, one-third of all black men are unable to vote for the remainder of their lives. In Florida, 818,000 residents cannot vote for life.
Even temporary disfranchisement fosters a disruption of civic engagement and involvement in public affairs. This can lead to “civil death,” the destruction of the capacity for collective agency and resistance. This process of depolitization undermines even grassroots, non-electoral-oriented organizing. The deadly triangle of the New Racial Domain constantly and continuously grows unchecked.
Not too far in the distance lies the social consequence of these policies: an unequal, two-tiered, uncivil society, characterized by a governing hierarchy of middle- to upper-class “citizens” who own nearly all private property and financial assets, and a vast subaltern of quasi- or subcitizens encumbered beneath the cruel weight of permanent unemployment, discriminatory courts and sentencing procedures, dehumanized prisons, voting disfranchisement, residential segregation, and the elimination of most public services for the poor. The later group is virtually excluded from any influence in a national public policy. Institutions that once provided space for upward mobility and resistance for working people such as unions have been largely dismantled. Integral to all of this is racism, sometimes openly vicious and unambiguous, but much more frequently presented in race neutral, color-blind language. This is the NRD of globalization.
The anti-globalization struggle must confront this New Racial Domain with something more substantial than tired ruminations about “black and white, unite and fight.” The seismic shifts have created new continents of social inequality, transcending nation-states and the traditional boundaries of race and ethnicity. What is necessary is an original and creative approach that breaks with comfortable dogmas of all types, while advancing openly a politics of civic advocacy and democratic empowerment for those most brutally oppressed and exploited. I am not suggesting here that the anti-globalization movement play a “vanguard” role for global social change. In the tradition of C.L.R. James, I am convinced that the oppressed, on their own terms, ultimately will create new approaches and organizations to fight for justice that we now can scarcely imagine. Rather, it is our political and moral obligation to provide the critical support necessary for social struggles and resistance that is already being waged on the ground today. Examples of that resistance are in every city and most communities across the country.
The New Racial Domain’s reliance on extreme force and the continued expansion of the prison system reshapes how law enforcement is being carried out even in small- to medium-sized towns and cities all over America. The terrible dynamic unleashed against prisoners of social control has expanded into the normal apparatuses and uses of policing itself. There are now, for example, approximately 600,000 police officers and 1.5 million private security guards in the United States. Increasingly, however, black and poor communities are being “policed” by special paramilitary units, often called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams. The U.S. has more than 30,000 such heavily armed, military trained police units. SWAT-team mobilizations, or “call outs,” increased 400 percent between 1980 and 1995. These trends reveal the makings of what may constitute a “National Security State” – the exercising of state power without democratic controls, checks and balances, a state where policing is employed to carry out the disfranchisement of its own citizens.
The trend toward a NationalSecurityState has been pushed actively by the Bush regime, which is aggressively pressuring universities to suppress dissent and to curtail traditional academic freedoms. In early March 2004, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control stopped 70 American scientists and physicians from traveling to Cuba to attend an international symposium on “coma and death.” Some of the scholars received warning letters from the Treasury Department, promising severe criminal or civil penalties if they violated the embargo against Cuba. In late 2003, the Treasury Department issued a warning to U.S. publishers that they would have to obtain “special licenses to edit papers” written by scholars and scientific researchers currently living in Cuba, Libya, Iran, or Sudan. All violators, even including the editors and officers of professional associations sponsoring scholarly journals, potentially may be subjected to fines up to $500,000 and prison sentences up to ten years. After widespread criticism, the Treasury Department was forced to moderate its policy.
In February 2004, U.S. army officials visited the University of Texas at Austin, demanding the names of “Middle Eastern-looking” individuals attending an academic conference on the treatment of women under traditional Islamic law. Subsequently it was learned that two U.S. army attorneys working with the army’s Intelligence and Security Commission had actually attended the conference without identifying themselves.
How do we build resistance to the New Racial Domain, in the age of globalized capitialism? It should surprise no one that the resistance is already occurring, on the ground, in thousands of venues. In local neighborhoods, people fighting against police brutality, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, and for prisoners’ rights; in the fight for a living wage, to expand unionization and workers’ rights; in the struggles of working women for day care for their children, health care, public transportation, and decent housing. These practical struggles of daily life are really the care of what constitutes day-to-day resistance. Building capacities of hope and resistance on the ground develops our ability to challenge the system in more fundamental, direct ways.
The recently successful “Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride,” highlighting the plight of undocumented workers who enter the U.S., represents an excellent model that links the oppressive situation of new immigrants with the historic struggles of the Civil Rights Movement forty-five years ago to overthrow Jim Crow. Many sincere, white anti-globalization activists need to learn more about the historic Black Freedom Movement, and the successful models of resistance – from selective buying campaigns or economic boycotts, to rent strikes, to civil disobedience – which that movement established. You are not inventing models of social justice activism and resistance: others have come before you. The task is to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of those models, incorporating their anti-racist vision into the heart of what we do to resist global capitalism and the nation-security state.
The anti-globalization movement must be, first and foremost, a worldwide, pluralistic anti-racist movement, with its absolutely central goal of destroying global apartheid and the reactionary residue of white supremacy and ethnic chauvinism. But to build such a dynamic movement, the social composition of the anti-globalization forces must change, especially here in the United States. The anti-globalization forces are still overwhelmingly upper, middle-class, college-educated elites, who may politically sympathize with the plight of the poor and oppressed, but who do not share their lives or experiences. In the Third World, the anti-globalization movement has been more successful in achieving a broader, more balanced social class composition, with millions of workers getting actively involved.
There are, however, two broad ideological tendencies within this largely non-European, anti-globalization movement: a liberal, democratic, and populist tendency, and a radical, egalitarian tendency. Both tendencies were present throughout the 2001 Durban Conference Against Racism, and made their presence felt in the deliberations of the non-governmental organization panels and in the final conference report. They reflect two very different political strategies and tactical approaches in the global struggle against the institutional processes of racialization.
The liberal democratic tendency focuses on a discourse of rights, calling for greater civic participation, political enfranchisement, capacity building of community-based institutions, for the purposes of civic empowerment and multicultural diversity. The liberal democratic impulse seeks the reduction of societal conflict through the sponsoring of public conversations, reconciliation and multicultural civic dialogues. It seeks not a complete rejection of neoliberal economic globalization, but its constructive reform and engagement, with the goal of building democratic political cultures of human rights within market-based societies.
The radical egalitarian tendency of global anti-racists speaks a discourse about inequality and power. It seeks the abolition of poverty, the realization of universal housing, health care and educational guarantees across the non-Western world. It is less concerned about abstract rights, and more concerned about concrete results. It seeks not political assimilation in an old world order, but the construction of a new world from the bottom up. It has spoken a political language moreso in the tradition of national liberation than of the nation-state.
Both of these tendencies exist in the United States, as well as throughout the world, in varying degrees, now define the ideological spectrum within the global anti-apartheid struggle. Scholars and activists alike must contribute to the construction of a broad front bringing together both the multicultural liberal democratic and radical egalitarian currents representing globalization from below. New innovations in social protest movements will also require the development of new social theory and new ways of thinking about the relationship between structural racism and state power. Global apartheid is the great political and moral challenge of our time. It can be destroyed, but only through a collective, transnational struggle.
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