Stop White Supremacists in DC – August 12, 2018- Join the Ranks of Anti-Racist Protesters

by Karyn Pomerantz, 8-7-18

On August 12, 2018, white nationalists will rally across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park to help build a movement of racist terror.  Trump’s presidency has emboldened them, giving permission for them to rally, spew hateful lies, and kill as they did in Charlottesville last year.  Even without Trump, capitalism needs racist organizations to win people away from multiracial organizing for better conditions and against war and fascism.   This brief article describes the types of responses anti-Klan and anti-Nazi activists have used in the past.  It is by no means a comprehensive account.

Some people and organizations, such as churches, prefer to ignore these marches and rallies. They claim this will force the fascists to retreat while barely being noticed.  Pacifists may protest but keep their distance to avoid violent confrontations.  Yet history shows that allowing racist groups to organize jeopardizes the lives of the working class directly, as in lynchings, or indirectly, as in spreading fear to act for reforms and revolutionary change. You may be in the group who prefers inaction because of the real threat of violence.  It takes a lot of courage to confront these groups, but direct action can deter them from attracting new members or operating in a given location.

blog kkk 1925

The Klan has staged marches several times in DC.  In 1925, 30,000 robed Klansmen marched down Pennsylvania Ave.  In 1990, 44 KKK members needed police protection to reach their destination, as they did in 1982.  At that time, multi-racial groups, infuriated by the police role, took direct action, shutting down streets and skirmishing with the police.

blog nazis hold anti-semitic signs

Many times, anti-racists have driven Klan and Nazi groups away.  In the 1970s members of the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR) attacked the Nazi Party HQ in Arlington after their members distributed anti-Semitic fliers.  Soon after, the Nazis shut down their HQ and stopped leafletting.

blog nazi demo in arlington 2017

Just last year, over 100 Arlington neighbors mobilized in two hours to oppose six Nazis giving salutes in a strip mall.  blog residents protest neonazis in arlington 2017 number 2




Baltimore was also the scene of anti-fascist actions as residents disrupted a skin head march in 1987 in Belair and at City Hall, stopping them from demonstrating.

During the early 1980s InCAR members showed up at many racist rallies in the Eastern US to physically fight the white supremacists, leading the Grand Wizard of the Klan to announce in an interview that these protests stymied their recruitment of new members.  Two years ago, anti-racists beat and chased white supremacists out of Anaheim, Ca.

There are many more experiences in the US and other countries that indicate the success we can have stopping racist terror and building our own movement.  Yet our efforts are not always successful as the police attack on demonstrators in Portland, Oregon in August 2018 revealed.

Racist groups serve capitalists well.  They spread rotten ideas about exploited people to divide the working class and scare many from fighting the system, opposing wars, organizing unions, immigrating for better opportunities or supporting immigrants. These are life and death issues, not merely rhetoric.  We know from the experience of Nazi Germany or the Jim Crow South that extreme racist ideas can take hold in substantial portions of the population if they are repeated loudly and often enough.

The rulers know they are outnumbered and need these organizations to control us. Let’s not fail to destroy them. FIGHT WHITE SUPREMACY. STOP THE RACISTS IN THEIR TRACKS.

COME OUT AUGUST 12, 2018blog protesters hold anti nazi signs





by Al Simpson

In this article we’ll discuss one of the largest, best organized and most well-armed labor insurrections in U.S. history: the Battle of Blair Mountain. As you’ll see, brutality, open cynicism, and treachery on the side of the bosses were not in short supply, while workers displayed courage, daring and unity.

The Period Before the Battle of Blair Mountain.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) called a strike for November 1, 1919 in all the soft (bituminous) coal fields. They had foolishly agreed to a wage agreement to run until the end of World War I, and since the war was over, they sought to capture for themselves some of the industry’s wartime gains. Even though the war was over, the federal government invoked wartime measures that made it a crime to interfere with the production or transportation of necessities. Ignoring a court order not to strike, 400,000 coal workers walked out. The coal operators claimed that Bolshevik leaders had ordered the strike and were financing it, and some of the bosses’ press echoed this lie. After a 5-week strike the miners received a 14% raise, much less than what they wanted.

During and after the 1919 strike, the bituminous coal operators aggressively pursued their aims. They opened non-union mines and employed scabs to run them. They switched production to the scab mines, where wages were lower, and cut the amount of work the union mines would get.

In response to organizing efforts, coal operators used every means to block the union. One of their primary tactics was to fire union sympathizers, blacklist them, and evict them from their homes. Many of the evicted miners’ families went into tent colonies where they got some shelter but hardly any food. These tent colonies would be attacked from time to time by company goons.

The Mine Operators Push Racism

The mine operators tried to foment racism by having segregated quarters for the miners. But the miners worked together and were around each other for many hours almost every day, so racism did not keep them apart. Plus, the living quarters were not that far apart, so there was constant contact of people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The UMWA fought against racism because of the interracial character of the workforce and because of the constant threat that racism would eat away at the workers’ most important weapon: solidarity. This was unusual as the American Federation of Labor was focused on organizing skilled, white workers in craft unions. But by 1902, the UMWA had 20,000 black members, between ten percent and fifteen percent of the total membership[i].

The Battle of Blair Mountain

The goals of the West Virginia coal miners during 1920-21 were simple. They just wanted to organize a unionand have it recognized by the mine owners. But things went steadily downhill for the UMWA in 1920.

In mid-September, the efforts of coal operators to import strikebreakers caused rioting at Williamson, WV. Federal troops were summoned to protect the scabs and their families as they arrived at the train station and to escort the scabs to work. The presence of federal troops allowed coal operators to reopen several mines with the use of scabs. Coal operators also obtained court injunctions that forbade the UMWA from interfering with mine operations.

By January, 1921, eighty percent of mines had reopened as non-union mines. In these non-union mines, the operators forced all employees to sign yellow-dog contracts as a condition of employment. A yellow-dog contract (also called a yellow-dog clause of a contract, or an ironclad oath) is an agreement between an employer and an employee in which the employee agrees, as a condition of employment, not to be a member of a labor union. In the United States, such contracts were, until the 1930s, widely used by employers to prevent the formation of unions, most often by permitting employers to take legal action against union organizers. In 1932, yellow-dog contracts were outlawed in the United States under the Norris-LaGuardia Act.

At first, the union miners would picket or otherwise disrupt the scab mines – this included industrial sabotage such as dynamiting coal tipples. The coal operators countered by employing armed thugs and private detectives to deter the miners and murder individual militant organizers. With eighty percent of the mines being non-union and with sustained attacks by cops, private detectives and hired thugs, the very existence of the union in West Virginia was imperiled. The union had to make a stand.

In mid-May, 1921 union miners launched a full-scale assault on non-union mines. The battle started on May 12 along the banks of the Tug river with striking miners shooting at the state police, deputies and coal company officials. Union men blew up the company’s power plant. Union snipers also fired at nonunion miners. The employers’ side in the battle included nonunion miners, West Virginia State Police and Kentucky National Guardsmen. The conflict quickly consumed the entire Tug River Valley. Thousands of shots were fired from rifles, pistols, and even machine guns. Bullets flew right through homes as families cowered in fear. Bridges and coal tipples were dynamited. Businesses and schools closed. The “Three Days Battle” was finally ended on May 14 with a truce and the imposition of martial law. From the beginning, the miners perceived the enforcement of martial law as completely one-sided. Hundreds of miners were arrested; the smallest of infractions could mean imprisonment, while those on the side of “law and order” were immune from punishment.

The bosses committed some of the most heinous violence. On August 1, 1921 Sidney Hatfield traveled to McDowell County to stand trial on the charge of dynamiting a coal tipple. Along with him traveled a good friend, Ed Chambers, and their wives. As they walked up the courthouse stairs, unarmed and flanked by their wives, a group of Baldwin-Felts agents standing at the top of the stairs opened fire. Hatfield was killed instantly. Chambers was bullet-riddled and rolled to the bottom of the stairs. Despite Sally Chambers’ protests, one of the agents ran down the stairs and shot Chambers once more in the back of the head at point blank range. Word of the murders spread through the mountains. The miners were angry at the way Hatfield and Chambers had been killed, the moreso because it appeared that the murderers would face no punishment. They began to pour out of the mountains and take up arms. Miners along the Little Coal River were among the first to militarize and began actions such as patrolling the area. Sheriff Don Chafin sent Logan County troopers to the Little Coal River area, where armed miners captured the troopers, disarmed them and sent them fleeing. Thousands of miners embarked on the now famous Miners’ March through Logan County.

On August 7, 1921, Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney, who were leaders of District 17 of the UMWA, which encompasses much of southern West Virginia, presented the miner’s demand for union recognition and collective bargaining rights to Governor Ephraim Morgan. Morgan summarily rejected the demands. When rank-and-file miners heard about this, they became more restless and began to talk of a march on Mingo, in southern West Virginia, to free imprisoned miners, end martial law, and organize the county. But directly in the way stood Blair Mountain, Logan County, and anti-union sheriff Don Chafin.

According to historian Clayton Laurie, President Warren Harding now felt compelled to send federal troops, having concluded that Governor Morgan and county officials were themselves part of the problem. As the reader has already seen, the governor and the local officials were inflexible in denying even the smallest union demands. In addition, they forced the union to use violent methods because the authorities and the company agents would respond to union activity with violence.

At a rally on the same day, August 7, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones called on the miners not to march into Logan and Mingo counties. where she feared that the lightly armed union forces were no match for heavily armed Logan County deputies. Nonetheless, armed union men began gathering at Lens Creek Mountain on August 20. Four days later an estimated 13,000 had gathered and began marching towards Logan County. Impatient to get to the staging area for the fight, miners near St. Albans, commandeered a Chesapeake and Ohio freight train, renamed by the miners the Blue Steel Special, to meet up with the advanced column of marchers. Meanwhile, the anti-union sheriff Don Chafin had begun to set up defenses on Blair Mountain. He was supported financially by the Logan County Coal Operators Association as he created the country’s largest private armed force of nearly 2,000. Since the anti-union forces had set up operations near the top of the mountain, they had a strategic advantage. The first skirmishes occurred on the morning of August 25, while the bulk of the miners were still 15 miles away.

Whenever there was a cease fire, a decision by the miners to return home, or a truce, Chafin’s men would launch an attack on the miners or commit atrocities, thus restarting the fighting.

On August 8th, President Warren Harding threatened to send in federal troops and Army Martin MB-1 bombers. After a long meeting, the miners were convinced to return home. But there was a lot more fighting to come. Within hours of the decision, there were reports that Chafin’s men had shot union sympathizers in the town of Sharples, just north of Blair Mountain—and that families had been caught in crossfire during the skirmishes. This infuriated the miners and they turned back toward Blair Mountain, many traveling in commandeered trains. On August 24, the main body of coal miners headed towards Blair Mountain. They weren’t too particular of how they got there, as Lon Savage wrote in Thunder In the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War, 1920-21:

They commandeered every form of transportation: automobiles, trucks, teams of horses and mules and trains….Near Charleston WV, they halted a truck with a piano in the back, set the piano out on the road and loaded it with miners and forced the driver to take them to Blair…Black miners pushed into Jim Crow restaurants and demanded food, and it was served.

Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney, leaders of UMWA district 17, made a last-minute attempt to call off the march after meeting with the War Department’s General Harry Bandholtz, who warned that any violence would prove disastrous for the union. The proposed ceasefire they negotiated collapsed when two miners died in a skirmish with Chafin’s forces. By August 28, some 10,000 union men had massed near the border of Logan County and began trading gunfire with company supporters. To distinguish one another in the dense forests, many of the miners tied red handkerchiefs around their necks. They soon became known as the “Red Neck Army.”

By August 29, the battle was fully engaged. Chafin’s men, though outnumbered, had the advantage of higher positions and better weaponry. Private planes were hired to drop homemade bombs on the miners. Teargas and pipe bombs loaded with nuts and bolts for shrapnel were dropped, but inflicted few casualties. At least one of the bombs did not explode and was recovered by the miners and was used months later during treason and murder trials that were held in the aftermath of the rebellion. On orders from General Billy Mitchell, army bombers from Maryland were also used for aerial surveillance.

Miners display a bosses’ bomb

The heaviest fighting in the Battle of Blair Mountain began on August 31, when a group of around 75 miners ran into some of Chafin’s so-called “Logan Defenders” on a wooded ridge. Each side asked the other for a password and received the wrong answer, prompting a shootout that killed three deputies and one miner. That same day, the main army of miners started a two-pronged assault on Chafin’s trenches and breastworks, earthworks thrown up to breast height to provide protection to defenders firing over them from a standing position. Scores of union men streamed up the mountainside, but despite their superior numbers, they were repeatedly driven back by the defenders, who riddled them with machine gun fire from the high ground. The miners made more progress when the battle was renewed on September 1. That morning, a detachment of union men assaulted a spot called Craddock Fork with a Gatling gun liberated from a coal company store. Logan forces fought back with a machine gun, but after three hours of heavy fire, their machine gun jammed. The miners surged forward and briefly broke the defensive line, only to be repulsed by a fusillade of bullets from a second machine gun nest located further up the ridge.

The Importance of Racial and Ethnic Solidarity

The union understood the importance of diversity in leadership of the struggle. Black miners served in a wide range of union political positions, which cemented strikers’ solidarity. This does not mean that black miners did not still face significant discrimination, but there was a large amount of progress as many racial lines were crossed. One of the earliest committees formed to prepare for the Miners’ March had three officers: one black, one white, and one Italian immigrant. Throughout the campaign black miners served as commanders and logistics officers, and an armed black miner even led a group of white miners during the heavy fighting at Blair Mountain.

The UMWA was also able to assimilate many different immigrant groups to a substantial degree. They were offered positions of authority and respect as union officers. In this way and more, the miners wove the interests and concerns of immigrant families into their struggles.

Women were fundamental in demanding change in coalfields society. They wrote militant songs for the movement, prepared and sustained families during long and brutal strikes, served as prominent union activists, and in some cases fought alongside men. They also helped keep the scabs out. In the tent cities, women kept pots and pans on the floor to deflect bullets.

The Fight Continues

Intermittent gun battles continued for a week, with the miners at one time nearly breaking through to the town of Logan and their target destinations, the non-unionized counties to the south, Logan and Mingo. Up to 30 deaths were reported by Chafin’s side and 50–100 on the union miners’ side, with hundreds more injured or wounded.

By September 2nd, federal troops arrived. Realizing that the miners would lose if the battle continued against the military, Bill Blizzard passed the word for the miners to start heading home the following day. Miners fearing jail and confiscation of their guns found clever ways to hide rifles and handguns in the woods before leaving Logan County. Nearly one million rounds had been fired.

After the battle, 985 miners were indicted for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, accessory to murder and treason against the State of West Virginia. Though some were acquitted by sympathetic juries, others were imprisoned for years. The last was paroled in 1925. At Bill Blizzard’s trial, the unexploded bomb was used as evidence of the government and companies’ brutality, and he was acquitted. The strike-related trials bankrupted the UMWA in southern West Virginia. Membership plummeted from 50,000 to 10,000 over several years. It took until 1935 for the rest of the mines in southern West Virginia to become unionized.

Strikes are Never Completely Lost

Strikes are never completely lost because of the organizational techniques the workers learn and the bonds they form. They learn how to run a strike – what works and what doesn’t and crucially, the workers also learn about who they can trust and whom they can’t. These techniques, bonds and lessons would serve the miners well in the years to come.

The Big Picture:

The UMWA has been attacked and bankrupted several times, so this was nothing new. It was just another phase in their struggle. It reflects what the bosses can get away with in different historical periods. The story of the Battle of Blair Mountain, shows the desperate lengths that the bosses and their government will go to preserve profits and stop workers from organizing. The miners countered this with their most powerful weapon, solidarity across racial and ethnic barriers.

Observe that the miners were subject to arrest for just about anything they did, but the persons on the bosses’ side could do anything they wanted to, including murder, with impunity. Why did all levels of government back the coal operators and never the miners? Why is this? Let’s get further insight into what was going on.

The State

People talk about the state, but it isn’t well defined. We are not talking about the states that comprise the United States. What we mean here is a collection of institutions and agencies that enforce the rule of the ruling class, the capitalists, over the working class. The job of the state is to maintain profits, markets, access to raw materials and to prevent rebellion by workers. Ultimately, the capitalists stay in power using force, via the military, the police and many other agencies. Periodic voting only allows us to choose which representatives of the state we wish to empower.

We should keep in mind that we are supposedly guaranteed certain rights such as freedom of speech and assembly, no arbitrary searches without a warrant, due process of law and so on. But nowhere are American workers guaranteed the right to survival; that is, a job, income, food, shelter or health care. Whatever we have above the minimum that must be given in order to keep the working class in minimal working condition has been won through struggle, strikes or other mass actions. Even then, it will be taken back as soon as possible, by busting unions, raising prices, raising taxes or by other means.

The cops are the first line of defense for the capitalist rulers. Yes, they solve crimes, but their primary function is to protect the bosses. What you see on television are shows that depict the cops as heroes, regular men and women, and hints that they are part of the working class. But if the cops are so wonderful, then why do so many people hate and fear them? Why do the cops kill so many people, especially people of color, and always seem to get away with it? These are good questions. The answer is that the cops are NOT part of the working class. They are part of the state apparatus that oppresses the working class. Cops are professional strike breakers and racist murderers.

Let’s get back to the question of why the cops and other persons who represent the capitalists can get away with anything. Notice that in all the crimes described in the Battle of Blair Mountain, the bosses’ side used of the weapons of war including conventional bombs, chlorine gas bombs, machine guns, and so on, but there was never any thought of punishing any state actors, no matter what their crimes. This is endemic to class society. Their behavior today is no different; only the details have changed.

Today, we must continue to remember the lessons of Blair Mountain. Our strength comes from the unity of all workers, no what their national origin or color of their skin. The agents of the state – the politicians, federal or local police, armed forces and courts – will always oppose the workers when bosses’ profits are threatened. Whether a particular struggle is won or lost, we are ahead when we learn to rely on ourselves and understand how the system works.


List of Refences

  1. Vendées : It is also remembered as the place where the peasants revolted against the Revolutionary government in 1793, A guerrilla war, known as the Revolt in the Vendée, led at the outset by peasants who were chosen in each locale, cost more than 240,000 lives before it ended in 1796 (190,000 Vendeans who were republicans or royalists and 50,000 non-Vendean republican soldiers; according to the Jacques Hussenet and Centre Vendéen de Recherche Historique’s book “Détruisez la Vendéee.
  2. Sociallist Worker:
  3. West Virginia History:
  4. Military History Battle of Blair Mountain:
  5. The West Virginia Encyclopedia, Ephraim Franklin Morgan.
  6. Wikipedia Battle of Blair Mountain:
  7. com Battle of Blair Mountain:
  8. IWW Environment Unionism Caucus:
  9. Ayers, Rothrock and King 2007
  10. Ever heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain? Federal troops were called against 13,000 miners.
  11. Role of Women from the Register Herald newspaper, Beckley, West Virginia

Al Simpson is a mathematician who lives in the United States


de68477b1c0cbe9b83344d94e4639bdf--classroom-resources-graffitiby Alan Spector

Presidential Speech given at the 2013 Annual Convention of the Association for Humanist Sociology

An apple growing on a farm in Western Michigan. Another apple growing wild on a tree outside of Rome, 2,000 years ago. A Yamaha motorcycle. So, which of these have the most in common. The obvious answer, and it is a correct answer, is the two apples. But is there another way to look at the question? ‘‘Sociological Imagination,’’ as conceived by C. Wright Mills and utilized by many social scientists, provokes us to consider not just what things are ‘‘in themselves’’ but also what they ‘‘are’’ in their broader contexts and relationships to people, institutions, and broader social processes. Certainly, the two apples have a great deal in common. What does it take to create an apple? A seed, proper soil, water, and sunlight and time. But the modern, farmed apple also needs something else—it needs the belief of the farmer that growing that apple might help create a profit. Today’s apple and today’s motorcycle have something in common: They both need entrepreneurs who believe that they can make a profit from that enterprise. And, therefore, they both need a particular type of political economic climate that favors the development of both the apple and the motorcycle.

If the modern apple farmer does not believe that he or she can make a profit from the growing of those apples, then those apples will never be ‘‘born.’’ As an entrepreneur, the farmer does not care if the apple is eaten or not, as long as it is sold. Or if the modern apple farmer is offered some money by someone who will cut down the apple trees and put up a Walmart store, then again those apples will never be ‘‘born’’ even if there is sunlight, soil, and water available. In a sense, today’s apple is very similar to the apple of the past, but today’s apple is fundamentally different from the apple of the past because it has embedded in its very existence the political economy of the current era. Similarly, the Yamaha motorcycle will only be created if managers and investors believe that it is economically favorable to do so. Commercially farmed apples are not grown to be eaten; they are grown to be sold. Commercially produced motorcycles are not produced in order to be ridden; they are produced in order to be sold.

Racism as it exists in the world today did not exist in precapitalist society. Certainly, there was hostility between different groups of people and tribes and clans and families, but that is very different from the racism of today. For example, one could imagine a Roman soldier arguing that Nubians as a group are rude because of a bad interaction he had in the market, but that’s very different from the racism that exists today. Back then, so-called whites could own so-called blacks (of course, those concepts did not exist as such), and vice versa. Slavery was not based on the (often flexible) notions of ‘‘race’’ we have in today’s world. Similarly, sexism (discrimination against females), which began millennia before racism and is more deeply rooted, is nevertheless not the same today as it was 2,000 years ago. Of course, there are commonalities and some threads that are continuous but overall, there are profound differences. For example, a man in ancient Rome might have physically beaten his wife and a man today in Dallas might physically beat his wife. Some argue that both are simply reflective of something universally flawed in men. Or one could use the sociological imagination and understand that the conditions in the broader society have a profound effect on the behavior of individuals. For example, the man in ancient Rome might believe that it is his religious duty to beat his wife. The man in modern Dallas might have stress-induced hormones or chemicals (job-related, alcohol-related, early childhood trauma) whirling around in his brain, and channeled through the culture of a society that often dehumanizes women, just explodes and assaults the wife. None of this is excusable, of course, and stress or does not stress, that behavior cannot be tolerated and must be stopped, by force if necessary. What is similar in both instances? Biological size? If that were the case, then large men would routinely be beating smaller men with the frequency that women are abused. Is it a culture and social, political, and economic structures in both societies that justify this behavior? Yes, but the specific social, political, and economic structures are not identical any more than a car that will not start because of an engine problem is ‘‘the same’’ as a car that will not start because of an electrical problem. To the untrained eye, they might appear the same, but the underlying situation is very different. When one seeks to solve the problem of ‘‘the car that will not start,’’ one needs to understand the specific cause. If we truly seek to end race–ethnic oppression (racism), we need to understand the specific factors that create and shape racism in particular contexts.

Many social scientists, myself included, often refer to the concept of ‘‘race’’ and the practices of racist oppression as being ‘‘socially constructed’’ because it is so important to shatter the foolish myth that ‘‘race’’ has any biological meaning (Brace 2005; Lewontin 1982; Race: The Power of an Illusion 2003). But perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to them as ‘‘political economy constructed;’’ the term ‘‘socially constructed’’ leaves out the power relations within the ‘‘social,’’ whereas ‘‘political economy constructed’’ opens the door to a more precise investigation. Capitalism remade the world. It rolled over the world, blew it up, flattened the remains, shattered families, religions, languages, cultures, ethnicities, and remade a new world. Of course, this did not happen at once. It took centuries. And of course there are vestiges of the old, but only if they do not threaten the new set of class relations.

Consider Bronzeville, on the near South Side of Chicago. City officials talk about how they are rebuilding this neighborhood. They are not rebuilding the neighborhood. They have almost completely destroyed neighborhood, drove out the majority of the population, flattened many buildings, and are now putting new buildings up on the same land where the old neighborhood was that will be inhabited by different people. Yes, it is still Bronzeville. But just as when Heraclitus, a highly underrated Greek philosopher said: You cannot step into the same river twice, so too do we need to explore in order to understand how underlying dynamics may not be so apparent when obscured by superficial appearances.

Contingency and Necessity in the Development of Modern Racism

At an American Sociological Association conference, someone once asked me the kind of ‘‘framed question’’ that might force someone into a forced choice between two erroneous alternatives. I was asked: ‘‘Are you saying that it was inevitable that capitalism had to become racist?’’ This type of question is, of course, a ‘‘setup,’’ the kind of question that people who want to deny associations and causal relationships toss out to trap the other into one of the two untenable positions. It is often used against leftist radicals and other humanists. If the speaker answers: ‘‘yes,’’ then the retort is ‘‘So, then, you are not a scientist at all. You are saying that something is inevitable. This is dogma. You are not open-minded. Science has to acknowledge other possible explanations.’’ If the speaker answers: ‘‘no,’’ then the retort is ‘‘So you agree then, that capitalism can exist without racism—that racism is not essential to capitalism.’’ Of course, this kind of reasoning can be applied to any assertion about how one variable might have an effect on another variable. So how do we answer? Well, nothing is ‘‘Inevitable–Inevitable.’’ The sun might explode tomorrow, making tomorrow’s sunset ‘‘not inevitable.’’ An unpredictable earthquake might prevent the Super Bowl from proceeding. The Chicago Cubs might overcome their inevitable collapse and win a World Series . . . well, maybe not that one.

Seriously, everything is probabilistic. Nothing is ‘‘Inevitable–Inevitable’’ with an Absolute upper case ‘‘I.’’ Was it ‘‘inevitable’’ that humankind would learn how to develop the wheel? Well, yes, but no, not inevitable—there might have been an asteroid collision, but probabilistically speaking, for all practical purposes, yes, given trial and error and memory and enough time. Consider it is in the dynamic of capitalism that enterprises must maximize profits. It is not inevitable in so-called human nature that we are doomed to being insatiable for money. But within the limits of capitalism, as in the game ‘‘Monopoly,’’ those firms that are not successful at maximizing income/profits will eventually be overcome.

A discovered invented way to maximize profits is to segment the labor force. In precapitalist society (and today), the division of labor by gender has been most pro- found, but there have been other ways—age, ‘‘ability/disability,’’ being on the losing side of a war, and so on, as ways to increase the wealth of ruling groups. Early capitalism became class society on caffeine. When the capitalist class began to develop more strength, in the 1500s, conquest and technology began to rapidly remake the world. In the 150 or so years since capitalism’s ascendency as the basic political– economic system of the world, we have witnessed changes unimaginable just three centuries ago. Today, capitalism is class society on methamphetamines.

Five centuries ago, as capitalist processes were developing (but not yet universally triumphant), the ‘‘discovery’’ of the Western Hemisphere by wealth-seeking empires created a scramble to acquire more wealth (Galeano 1973). Initially, it was gold, but it soon became apparent that the largest wealth lay in the soil—but it was wealth that could only be realized through the labor of the laboring class. Indentured servants were brought in, and, as has been documented, the very early social and legal status of African servants was the same as that of European servants (Bennett 1993). That soon changed as it became apparent that universal slavery was unworkable and that creating a superexploited sector of the laboring class would provide the benefits of extra profits, of providing the material basis for deflecting the possible antagonism of the rest (European origin) of the laboring class, and, later, actually holding down the compensation for the so-called whites (now wage laborers) by having the superexploited group to use against them. There are conspiracies in history, but it is not conspiracies that mainly shape history. Nor is it accident. More false dichotomy. It is ‘‘trial and error,’’ not necessarily planned way in advance, but if something ‘‘seems to work,’’ then it gets repeated and institutionalized. Was it ‘‘inevitable?’’ Is it ‘‘inevitable’’ that a Monopoly game will eventually have only two players? Yes and no—no, because it is possible that the game could be disrupted, but ‘‘yes’’ in the sense that within the limits of the game, it ‘‘has to’’ evolve this way.

Thus, it is ‘‘probably inevitable.’’ Which is, of course, a little silly, but it makes a point. It was probabilistically ‘‘inevitable’’ that capitalism had to maximize profits, that to do so successfully, it had to segment the labor force, and that one of the key bases of that segmentation would likely have to do with ‘‘place’’—whether place of origin or maintained and sustained through segregation/separation, because this separation facilitates the winning of the less-exploited/oppressed groups away from allying with the more exploited/oppressed group. And with that came the invention of race and racism, at least, as it exists in the world today.

So, was it ‘‘inevitable’’ that capitalism had to become racist? How do we handle that question? How about: ‘‘No, it was not inevitable that capitalism had to become racist—it was only the case here on Earth.’’ If racism and race did not exist, capitalism would have ‘‘had to’’ invent them—and, by the way, racism and race did not exist, and capitalism did invent them. Certainly, the processes and patterns of racist exploitation and oppression as they exist today are directly traceable to those early processes, with a distinct disconnect from whatever might, in appearance, seem to be similar from precapitalist societies. The question of ‘‘which came first’’ can similarly lead to nonproductive discussions, based on false dichotomies. Even if capital- ist processes began to develop before racist policies, the reality is that racist policies so completely saturated and shaped capitalist policies that today, they cannot really be separated, except in isolated cases. There is only ‘‘racist–capitalism’’ or ‘‘capitaist–racism.’’

Another metaphor: Consider a person who must have an artificial heart pump or a pacemaker inserted into the heart in order to live. Is that machine more a part of the person’s body than their hands or their eyes? On one hand no. It is not ‘‘organic.’’ But on the other hand, it is more a part of the person’s body, because without it, the person can no longer live. The person’s body is adjusted to the machine in order to live. Hence, that person is no longer just ‘‘a person,’’ rather that person is a ‘‘pacemakered person’’ or ‘‘heartpumped person’’ (and the pacemaker that now also changes with use actually becomes a ‘‘personized pacemaker’’ or something like that) as there is a dialectal dependency, a unity between the person’s biological body and the machine. So too is there now only ‘‘racist–capitalism’’ or ‘‘capitalist– racism?’’ They are so interconnected that, for all practical purposes in the foresee- able future, on this planet, neither can survive without the other.

The root of modern racism, then, is exploitation, rather than oppression. It is the seeking of profits, rather than psychological gratification, that is at the root (Cox 1948). Of course, these oppressions—political suppression, violence, cultural discrimination—are all devastating to the subjugated group. Fighting against forms of oppression is central to building consciousness and commitment to oppose all of racist oppression and exploitation; such struggles in the past century included opposition to lynching, the right to join unions, the right to vote, opposition to segregation, demands over education, campaigns against police brutality and incarceration, and struggles against racism in the media and culture. But asserting that oppression, rather than exploitation, is at the root begs the question of where it comes from. In the justified effort to avoid narrow ‘‘economic determinism’’ (where oppression is ignored and everything is reduced to the battle for higher wages), it is important to avoid the opposite one-sided extreme of ‘‘psychological determinism’’ (where it is assumed, either directly or by implication/omission that the first cause is something in the brains of people). Brains are very important. Consciousness is very important, central to the struggle. But understanding that the root comes from exploitation helps keep our understanding centered on the core processes and helps keep clear that it will not be possible to overcome racism, in all its forms, as long as capitalist processes continue to reward racist policies and the ideas that reinforce those policies. That does not mean that racist oppression and racist ideas will disappear shortly after the profit incentive is removed. That is nonsense. An uprooted tree can live for a long time. However, without destroying the root, it will be impossible to destroy the tree. It is even more complex than that, however, because while the roots are the core of the tree, it is possible to damage the roots by damaging other parts of the tree. Moving from the metaphor, since capitalism and racist oppression are so intertwined, it is impossible to overcome capitalist oppression without a mighty struggle against racism.

Sometimes social scientists, myself included, use the language of ‘‘the intersection of race and class.’’ There can be a problem with that formulation however if it is implied that these are separated ‘‘oppressions,’’ with different origins, parallel, that ‘‘intersect’’ here and there, rather than understanding that class relations in all their complexity (not just ‘‘low wages or how much money is in one’s bank account’’), but that class relations that materially reward certain arrangements for the ruling class are what give rise to and mutually saturate racist oppression. So of course, some people can be doubly, or triply, or ‘‘quadruple’’ oppressed and it is important to recognize that. But separating them out can lead to the kind of identity politics that actually undermines the ability of the oppressed group to overcome that oppression.

Developing a Useful Concept of Racism

A few words about how I use the term ‘‘racism.’’ Racism is about ideas, but it is also a system of practices. Nobody assumes that fascism, or capitalism, or socialism are only ideas—they are systems of processes. So too is racism, a complex system of processes and ideas that reinforce each other (Omi and Winant 1986). When we create definitions, we have to be careful that we do not let our words utterly redefine the reality. Our words exist to advance our understanding of processes, not to ultimately define something. Different languages use different words. The term ‘‘racism’’ is often too broadly defined, as when I heard a white student say that the local (white) police were ‘‘racist’’ against kids like him because they would not let him use his skateboard. Well, perhaps they were prejudiced against youth, but somehow, the word ‘‘racism’’ does not seem to apply, especially, given that the root of the term ‘‘racism’’ is ‘‘race.’’ At the opposite extreme are those who insist that ‘‘racism’’ should only be used in reference to ‘‘black–white’’ relations in the United States. That seems to be too narrow. It is important to understand the social–political–economic processes if we are to have a definition that is useful. There are other ‘‘oppressions’’ that share much in common with racist oppression—discrimination based on age, or against those with different ability, discrimination based on height, or weight or perceived ‘‘beauty’’ and certainly discrimination based on gender. But while these have much in common, there is something distinctive that runs through discrimination based on perceived ‘‘race’’ as well as ethnicity (often different from perceived ‘‘race’’), language, religion in some but not all instances, and even citizenship. Imperialism also relies on racism to justify the extreme exploitation and often violence that victims of imperialism experience.

What is distinctive is the role of separation. Wealthy powerful people once were young and will someday be old. They might bear a child with a physical or mental ‘‘disability.’’ Men or women generally have someone in their life with whom they love. Such people may still practice discrimination or have prejudiced attitudes based on age, or ‘‘ability’’ or gender, but it is much easier to marginalize, isolate, and create a culture of ‘‘otherness’’ against people who are more physically separated, either by origin or by design. This facilitates discrimination and oppression. None of this is absolute, of course. There are many exceptions, but the dynamic that is facilitated by separation has some distinctive characteristics. Besides so-called race and ethnicity, religious conflict is sometimes characterized by this dynamic. Not absolutely, but often, religion is confounded (sometimes intentionally) by racist pseudoscience; the average person in the United States does not picture a European when asked to picture a Muslim. Consider imperialist Japan’s abuse of Chinese and Korean women; Nazi and other European slaughter of Jews; Zionist discrimination against Arabs; Muslim discrimination against Buddhists in Afghanistan and Buddhist assaults on Muslims in Myanmar; Hindu assaults on Muslims in India; discrimination against Roma (so-called gypsies); non-European immigrants in Europe; Northern Italian scorn of Southern Italians; the mistreatment of indigenous people from Canada to Latin America to Australia to Northeast India; and conflicts among Christians in Yugoslavia or Ireland and of course, against especially black people in the United States, and Latinos and Muslims—wherever there is widespread discrim- ination or conflict that spills over to civilians, we see a commonality centered on so- called race or ethnicity or, often, religion. Because separation is such a core feature to this particular cluster of discriminations that I am categorizing, imprecisely, as ‘‘racism,’’ it therefore means that the struggle against all forms of separation/segregation is absolutely essential to the struggle against these forms of racism, just as the struggle against racist oppression is the cutting edge of the struggle against capitalist oppression.

Again, there are other forms of discrimination and oppression that are deadly and need to be opposed. And the cluster of discriminations that I am including as types of ‘‘racism’’ are not identical, but all definitions are clusters with fuzzy edges, and this helps to clarify what is common in the dynamics of these discriminations. While we do not want to get mystical with numbers, it is interesting that the wage gap between white and black workers in the United States has remained around 60 percent for the past 50 years. That is very close to the wage gap between ‘‘whites’’ and Hispanics in the United States, Protestant and Catholic workers in Northern Ireland, between Jewish and Israeli Arabs (citizens of Israel) workers and between white workers and Caribbean/African/Pakistani/Bangladeshi immigrants in Britain. Some places are more extreme (South Africa) and some are less. It is worth noting that the ‘‘wealth gap’’ (as opposed to wage gap) between white and black families (how much in total assets a family owns minus liabilities) in the United States is nearly 20 to 1, higher than in South Africa. In any case, it would be very wrong to reduce all the multidimensional, life-destroying forms of oppression to a simple ‘‘wage gap’’; the point here is to simply explore some of the core dynamics that drive these processes.

Ideas, Behaviors and ‘‘White Privilege?’’

Ideas are important. The complexity of our ideas is what separates us from other species and what gives rise to social organization. All kinds of ideas can pop into people’s heads in all kinds of combinations of ways; our creative imaginations gen- erate so many different thoughts that it is difficult to conclude whether one or another random idea is more important. While the initial flash that sparks an idea is certainly important to explore, it is more important to understand why certain ideas take hold among large numbers of people while others are discarded. Whether a person might randomly ponder about the importance of supposed ‘‘racial’’ differences, or height, or deepness of voice is less the central issue than how one’s life experiences, and especially the social–political–economic structure rewards, rein- forces, perpetuates, systematizes, and institutionalizes those ideas.

To see the genesis of systems of racist exploitation/oppression as being within the minds of people begs the question of why there is not a similar, massive, world- wide system of stratification, exploitation, and oppression based on more documentable physical differences, such as height or eyesight, rather than the conveniently flexible, unscientific notions of race, often ‘‘flexibly’’ confounded with culture. If racist exploitation and oppression by the powerful exists to serve the material interests of the capitalist class (as a whole, with exceptions of course), why, then do some members of the working class go along with this oppression, or worse, sometimes participate in it?

Since the late 1960s, it has become fashionable to assert that white people, as a group, have interests that are opposed to the interests of racial minorities, especially black people, and are fundamentally allied with the white capitalists who wield economic and political power in capitalist society. Sometimes this takes the form of asserting that there are great psychological benefits associated with feeling superior. While there is, no doubt, some satisfaction that some white people derive from not being in the more oppressed group, it is doubtful that most white people walk around constantly enjoying, in a self-aware way, the fact that black people, in general, have lower economic and social standing in U.S. society. But what of the material advatages afforded to white people in general? Can they be so easily dismissed?

On average, white people earn about 65 percent more in wages per capita than black people (or Hispanic/Latino people). The typical wealth of white households is about 20 times the median wealth of black households—mainly because of home ownership. Equality of public educational facilities is not guaranteed by law, and educational opportunities in the black community are very limited (Kozol 2012). Discrimination in hiring persists (Bertrand and Mullainathan 2004). Black people are incarcerated more often and for longer periods of time than white people for sim- ilar alleged offenses. Black poverty is higher, unemployment is much higher, discrimination in employment has been absolutely documented, infant mortality rates are scandalous and devastating, and black people have higher mortality rates from most diseases and live shorter lives. There is no question that taken as a statistical group, white people, on average, have easier lives. There are, of course, many white people who have more difficult lives than some black people, but again, taken as an average, there is no question that racist exploitation and oppression are devastatingly real. This reality must be exposed, called out again and again, and fought with every ounce of energy that we can muster.

The question becomes: Do white people, as a whole, benefit from the existence of racist exploitation and oppression? Is the term ‘‘white privilege’’ the best way to describe the differentials between the two groups? Clearly, wealthy white people benefit from racist exploitation and the oppression that sustains it. Their wealth is derived from the profits from the working class, enhanced by racist (and imperialist) wage policies. White working-class people live longer lives and generally have better health, better schooling, and nicer homes than do black working-class people. I can personally detail encounters with traffic police where I likely avoided deserved penalties because I am ‘‘white.’’ So clearly, and unambiguously, there are advantages, material, life-enhancing, life-sustaining advantages that even many white working-class people experience But the core question remains: Is it a ‘‘Privilege,’’ with an uppercase ‘‘P,’’ for most nonrich white folks to live under capitalism? Is there a difference between using the language of ‘‘relative advantages’’ even ‘‘huge relative advantages’’ as opposed to language that implies that it is in the fundamental material interests of most white people to support the exploitation and oppression of blacks and other racial–ethnic minorities?

If it is, then the interests of all white people would lie in suppressing others, and there is no hope for white people, except to appeal to some sort of moral self- sacrifice. Such is the language of ‘‘giving up one’s white privilege.’’ What does that mean, exactly? Sometimes these phrases become a way of symbolically assert- ing something without having to actually do anything. Surely, white people, all people, should be willing to risk their position, their status, their material well- being, to protect, and defend the condition of others experiencing oppression. But one is reminded of President Clinton ‘‘apologizing for slavery’’ while slashing welfare support and being complicit in the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of black men. Interestingly, many of the ones who assert that ‘‘all white people are guilty’’ often end up mainly blaming white working-class people and offering milder critiques to those, like themselves, who are enlightened (and generally of somewhat more affluent means). It also often only treads very ‘‘lightly’’ on those black politicians who themselves are often fronting for rich (white) capitalist interests.

None of this is meant to excuse active participation, complicity, or even passive acceptance by white people of the oppression of others. But would we then say that an unemployed black worker in the United States is ‘‘Privileged’’ because she does not live in poverty in Ghana, and is that Ghanaian ‘‘privileged’’ over someone in Ethiopia? All of this moralistic rhetoric (embraced by many capitalist foundations, by the way) obscures the causes and genuine interest groups that fundamentally sustain this oppressive, racist system.

In fact, by diverting the focus away from the capitalist political–economic basis for modern racism, this ‘‘guilt’’ approach actually dilutes the struggle against racism. If we are all guilty, then none are more culpable than others and we wallow in a swamp of original sin rather than organizing to fight against the oppression. The problem is not that it is ‘‘antiwhite;’’ the problem is that by failing to focus the struggle against racist exploitation and oppression on the main causes, it sustains not only class exploitation and oppression in general but more specifically racist exploitation and oppression. The problem is that it is not just ‘‘antiwhite,’’ but that, in effect, it is ‘‘antiblack.’’ This is related to criticisms of Obama that are often dismissed as racist; many, many of those criticisms are racist. But some of those criticisms are based on the belief that Obama is not opposing racism enough, and in fact, that some of his policies sustain racism against black working-class people, Latinos, and ‘‘people of color’’ in other countries.

Do most white working-class people benefit from living in this capitalist system? Certainly within the United States, and many other places, wages for white workers are lower where the gap between black and white is larger, and where wages for black workers are higher, including relative to white worker wages, the wages of the white workers are also higher. Widening the gap doesn’t mean ‘‘there’s more for the white workers;’’ on the contrary, narrowing the gap makes it more difficult for one group to be used against the other to lower the wages for both. As the relative gap between black and white family incomes narrowed, the absolute economic condition of white families improved. In recent decades, as the gap between black and white family incomes has widened, the absolute economic condition of white fam- ilies has declined. One did not rise at the expense of the other.

But there are even more profound reasons for ‘‘majority’’ ‘‘white’’ working class (very loosely defined here to include all sorts of service, white-collar, semiprofessional, and some professional people) to oppose racism. It is because the profits made from racist exploitation and the political disunity fostered by racist culture/ ideology is what sustains this capitalist system of war, of economic instability, of artificially limited scientific, especially medical research, of unhealthy foods and lifestyles, of corrupt, superficial, competitive culture that corrodes and destroys human relationships. And then there’s war. Do most white folks benefit from that? Is it a ‘‘privilege’’ for most working-class (broadly defined) people to live under capitalism? If not, what would it take to change the situation? How important is racist superexploitation to the capitalist system. Consider if the U.S. capitalist class simply raised the wages of all black workers (not even counting Latinos) to be equal to the average wages of the average white worker, the capitalist system would col- lapse. That is how important racist superexploitation is to the capitalist system and that is how important the struggle against racism is for the broad struggle for social justice against capitalist oppression. Sure, there are perks. And the perks are not just illusory. They are real. Real, genuine, palpable, tasty, health giving, life sustaining. But they are real like the real cheese, tasty, healthy, life-sustaining cheese . . . in the mousetrap.

As social scientists, as humanists, as thinkers we have to learn to see beyond superficial appearances. The cheese looks good. It is good. It is not illusory. But what is it attached to?

Oppose Color-blind Racism

The discourse around these issues is so saturated with racism that it is easy, but wrong, to categorize what is being put forward here as typical ‘‘color-blind racism’’ that is substituting bland ‘‘class rhetoric’’ as a way to avoid acknowledging the life- destroying role of racist oppression and as a way of avoiding confronting the ways that many white people, including working-class people, act to help sustain racism. Critiquing the notion that all whites fundamentally benefit from racist arrangements is not necessarily ‘‘protecting’’ white people from having to accept responsibility for behaviors that may be complicit, or worse, in sustaining racism. It is exactly to con- front white folks, and all folks, with the understanding that if they/we are serious about ending racist oppression, we must go after the roots of that—the capitalist class relations that create, reward, and sustain racist oppression, and if we are serious about ending all forms of exploitation, oppression, and subjugation, we must put the struggle against racism at the forefront of all struggles.

Because there are so many examples throughout history of calls for unity, which then kicked black folks, in particular, off the train once it was running, the burden of proof lies with those who do receive the immediate advantages to demonstrate their willingness to risk those advantages. That is not the same as moralistically declaring that one has ‘‘given up their Privilege’’ (sometimes quite profitably by giving work- shops to help people assuage their guilt or worse, a public relations for institutions that maintain racist policies). But the skepticism about ‘‘class’’ rhetoric has a real basis in history. The old slogan of ‘‘Black and White Unite’’ should be ‘‘Black and White Unite against Racism’’ because the struggle against racist exploitation, oppression, and ideology must be the cutting edge of the struggle for social justice, exactly because it is the fracture that weakens the movement for social justice while at the same time, holds the key to being the point of entry to weaken the oppressive structures of capitalism.

Racist exploitation and oppression grow out of the class relations of society, but they are not simply collapsible to ‘‘higher wages.’’ On the contrary, they are the sharpest expression of capitalist oppression, as if the blade of a sword is the weapon of class struggle, but the very edge of the blade is the struggle against all forms of racism, including, as mentioned, imperialism. Asserting that racist exploitation and oppression flow out of the class struggle need not be the same as supporting the notion of ‘‘color-blind racism.’’ In fact, as discussed earlier, the edge of the blade and the rest of the blade are not two separate things; they are fundamentally parts of the same thing, so fundamentally ingrained in each other that neither could exist in any serious sense without the other. The struggle against racism must be at the forefront of all struggles because racist oppression saturates all aspects of capitalist social relations, whether we realize it or not.

Why Do You Care?

Every so often, some asks me: ‘‘Why do you care so much about racism? Is it some sort of ‘thing’ with you?’’ Mostly white folks ask me that, students wonder why it runs throughout my courses, rather than just being a ‘‘one-week unit’’ in Introductory Sociology or Social Problems or Stratification. Occasionally, serious black folks ask me versions of that question. The first time I was asked it was during a campaign to save the job of a black professor who was being unfairly terminated. Someone came up to me and asked me why I cared so much about it. I just looked at him and asked: ‘‘Should I care about you?’’ He looked confused. So I asked him again, looking him straight in the eye: ‘‘Should I care about you?’’ ‘‘Well, er, um, sure, I hope so,’’ he said. ‘‘So,’’ I replied, ‘‘what kind of question is that?’’

The point is that antiracists have to stop being so defensive or apologetic about the importance of this struggle. Many humanists/leftists/progressives, whatever . . . ponder the question of why there is no strong leftist, or prosocialist, or class conscious movement in the United States. The ones in Europe have many, many flaws, but compared to them, we have a situation in the United States where tens of millions of people believe that Obama is a socialist. Conservatives in Europe are more pro- gressive than many in the liberal wing of the U.S. Democratic Party on many issues. There are lots of reasons why there is so little, for now, class consciousness in the United States. Partly it is the culture of individualism, intensified by home owner- ship, the automobile culture, the mythical cowboy culture, the ‘‘United States is Supreme’’ type of nationalism, the temporary bribes (‘‘cheese?’’) of easy credit to temporarily maintain a lifestyle with some physical comfort. But a core reason is the racist division within the population, something that has been ingrained in U.S. culture since two centuries before there was a United States! While European imperialists certainly used different aspects of racism in their imperial conquests, mainly overseas, we now see more of the U.S. type of internal racism developing in Europe as well, and we see a divided movement, split between leftists preoccupied with labor issues and ignoring racism, and ethnic groups immersed in identity politics who remain skeptical of the traditional Left. Who benefits from the existence of a race–ethnic based ‘‘reserve army of lower paid labor?’’ Who benefits from a divided grassroots populace, divided by illusions, and forced institutional arrangements based on politically constructed, perceived ‘‘race and ethnicity?’’

Hence, yes, we all should ‘‘care.’’ Not as charity, but for survival. Our lives and our destinies are one. If, for example, all the black workers in the United States, and nobody else, had gone on strike at the start of the devastatingly destructive Iraq War, it would have been the most powerful strike in the history of the United States, and perhaps a million lives there as well as thousands of lives here, and millions more impacted negatively by that war—they/we would have been spared great misery. It’s not charity. It’s sisterhood/brotherhood. It’s what the word ‘‘solidarity’’ means.

All this should lead to the realization that the struggle against racism, broadly defined, is not just another of the many struggles we need to carry on in order to cre- ate a humanistic world based on social justice. Just as racist exploitation, oppression, and ideas saturate every part of human life, distorting our institutions and relation- ships in complex, subtle, and not-so-subtle ways—just as all of our struggles for social justice are undermined by the existence of racist ideas and racist institutional arrangements in society . . . so then must we ensure that the struggle against racism is part of every struggle for social justice in which we are involved, from the most explicitly political to the most personal in our relationships.

It is not so-called reverse racism (a nonsensical rhetorical tool to deny the inten- sity of actual racism) to emphasize the struggle against racism any more than it is reverse discrimination to toss a buoyant lifesaving device to someone in the water when someone on the boat complains that they want one also! And it is not ‘‘charity’’ to offer solidarity to brothers and sisters. It is important to keep in mind that in the most fundamental sense, black people (and increasingly many Latino people) have not been ‘‘outside’’ the system; black and Latino working-class people have been holding up the system as agricultural workers, steel workers, auto workers, coal miners, health care workers, and more, while being underpaid not just in wages but in social services, education, and housing. It is not a question of ‘‘white’’ allies; it is a question of solidarity and equality. However, it is true that most ‘‘white’’ people do not grasp how profoundly widespread and intense racial discrimination is—from the different types of anxiety that white people feel when followed by a police officer to the humiliation of being followed in retail stores or vilified in the media. And this is on top of the massive economic discrimination. So the burden is on all of us, but there is a special need for those with weaker understanding of these dynamics to take the initiative to become educated and committed to opposing them. Many people have had the experience of someone asking the oft-repeated question of ‘‘Why do the black students sit together in the cafeteria?’’ Perhaps readers of this might ask that question themselves. One could try to consider sociological explanations that evade issues of race, or of networks, but even without looking too deeply into it, shouldn’t the question be: ‘‘Have you ever gone over and introduced yourself?’’ Per- ceived so-called black separatism is less widely practiced than is exaggerated in the media and more important, ‘‘white separatism’’ is often considered ‘‘natural’’ and the question is seldom asked: ‘‘Why do the white students sit together in the cafe- teria?’’ Actually, while the media discourse on race and racism still mainly rein- forces racist divisions, and while economic and social gaps are widening, it seems to be the case on many colleges, especially working-class ones, that there is more social interaction than in the past. This is good, important, and needs to be nurtured. Antiracists should not be apologetic or timid. We are not the weird ones. We have to internalize and project, with confidence and strength—not arrogance or elitism, but confidence and strength, that it is the racists who are the weird ones. We have to practice thinking and saying things like: ‘‘Do people really believe that stuff?’’ rather than asking people to give up their perceived ‘‘normalcy’’ and join us, the abnormal ones, on a great moral crusade. Seriously, racist ideas are nonsense and, again without exhibiting personal arrogance or using personal insults, these ideas should be confronted the same way we would confront the idea that horses can talk.

Racism and Capitalism—Crisis and Resistance

The struggle for social justice is more important now than it has been in the past 75 years, perhaps ever. The world is an increasingly dangerous place. Capitalism as a world system has limits, and while it has not reached its limits everywhere, there are huge pressures building up. Severe cutbacks in the standard of living even in the wealthy countries, fragmentation, intensified nationalism camouflaged by talk of global economic integration. The pressures will try to be contained through cut- backs, then political suppression, but ultimately, they will likely explode in one way or another. If that sounds apocalyptic and silly, just ask why should we believe that after hundreds of generations, this generation will be the one that sees the start of eternal peace here on Earth. The youth of today will face a much more difficult world than my generation faced. We cannot fully prevent certain massive political–economic processes from developing along certain pathways, but we most certainly can have an impact on how devastating they will be and how we can make the world a better place.

The struggle against racist exploitation and oppression can never be won without defeating the profit motive of capitalism that rewards it. It is not just the ‘‘1 percent,’’ but rather the system as a whole, which rewards and therefore creates these practices. The struggle for social justice on all fronts, the struggle against capitalism and its destructive dynamic of profits over people can never be won without a massive struggle against all forms of racism. This is not just a slogan. The two are not ‘‘two’’—they are integrated, fully unified parts of a single system. Let us all commit ourselves, again and again through action, to transform our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, community centers into self-conscious centers working for social justice, with the struggle against racism ever present in those struggles. And let us continue to transform the Association for Humanist Sociology (AHS) into an organization that can set that example to ourselves, our colleagues, our students and staff, and our communities by fully incorporating into AHS the struggle against all forms of racism and imperialism and by transforming the membership of AHS to more fully reflect the ‘‘racial–ethnic’’ and international diversity of the human race.


Bennett, Lerone. 1993. Before the Mayflower. New York: Penguin.
Bertrand, Marianne and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2004. Are Emily and Greg More Employable

than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination. Chicago,

IL: University of Chicago School of Business.
Brace, C. Loring. 2005. ‘‘Race’’ Is a Four Letter Word: The Genesis of a Concept. Oxford,

England: Oxford University Press.
Cox, Oliver Cromwell. 1948. Caste, Class and Race. New York: Monthly Review Press. Galeano, Eduardo. 1973. Open Veins of Latin America. New York: Monthly Review Press. Kozol, Jonathan. 2012. Savage Inequalities. New York: Broadway Books.
Lewontin, Richard. 1982. Human Diversity—Scientific American Library Series. New York:

  1. H. Freeman.
Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. 1986. Racial Formation in the United States: From the

1960s to the 1980s. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Race: The Power of an Illusion. 2003. [DVD] California Newsreel.

Alan Spector is a Professor of Sociology at Purdue North West and long time anti-racist, anti-war activist, 















juneteenthby Ellen Isaacs

Should June 19 be a day to celebrate the end of chattel slavery, sob about the delayed emancipation of 200,000 slaves in Texas, rage over the 150 year continuation of racism, or resolve to continue the fight to end racist wage slavery and war? Despite the urge of black Americans to seize a day to celebrate their own freedom and empowerment, there are many reasons why the events remembered on this day obscure the many anti-racist battles that have been and must be fought by workers.

Two years before June 19, 1865 came Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which excluded slave states that were not in rebellion against the Union – Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri – and Texas, which was not a battleground. In fact, many planters and other slaveholders decamped to Texas with over 150,000 slaves in tow, in order to escape the raging Civil War. In June, 1865, after the surrender of General Robert E Lee and the Union victory in New Orleans, word finally came to Galveston, Texas that the slaves were free. In fact, the 13th Amendment, officially ending slavery throughout the country, was not passed until December, 1865.

Moreover, Abraham Lincoln, lionized as the liberator of slaves, was no believer in the equality of blacks. In 1858, Lincoln said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…” Lincoln favored setting up colonies for blacks in Africa and Central America and requested funds from Congress to deport freed slaves. His main motive for fighting the Civil War was preservation of the unity of the United States, not abolishing slavery.

Other history we do not learn about or celebrate is that of the multitude of rebellions against slavery, many of them interracial, from the 1600s to the 1800s. In their book The ManyHeaded Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Reducer document many of these. Among them are the Barbados rebellions in 1649, which united Irish and African slaves; Bacon’s rebellion in Virginia in 1676, which united slaves and white indentured servants; the New York City Conspiracy of 1741, which united African Americans, white indentured servants, sailors, and Irish immigrants; Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831; and John Brown’s multiracial antislavery campaign culminating at Harper’s Ferry. Of course, the most successful was the Haitian rebellion, which abolished slavery and colonization on that island by 1804.

Racism Never Ended

At the end of the Civil War, freed slaves became wage laborers on former plantations, sharecroppers, or domestics. For a short time, their well-being was protected by federal troops during Reconstruction from 1865-77. Once this protection was withdrawn, white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan flourished, often made up of local law enforcement. This Jim Crow era was characterized by the open murder of thousands of black workers, rampant imprisonment, impoverishment and indebtedness of former slaves and total segregation.

Although many of these abuses were gradually mitigated through mass migrations of black workers to the North through the end of World War II, court decisions, and then the Civil Rights Movement, racism has continued to flourish in the all parts of the U.S. Today wage differentials between white men and black and Latin workers add up to almost $800 billion dollars a year, nearly half of annual corporate profits. Differences in social spending on such services as education, health care and housing add up to hundreds of billions more dollars, making it clear that American capitalism would be hard put to survive without racism. Black workers continue to be incarcerated at five times the rate of whites and be murdered disproportionately by police, accounting for 63% of those killed (223 deaths in 2017) while comprising 13% of the population. No cop has ever been convicted for murder of a black American. Schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods are just as segregated today as they were 50 years ago.

All Workers Are Hurt by Racism

It is popular today to talk about “white privilege”, as if white workers created racism (even though many may harbor racist ideas), benefit from it or should be paralyzed or separate themselves because of guilt. In fact, anti-black racism was purposely and methodically created in the U.S. of the 1600-1700s to justify slavery and separate white indentured servants and poor farmers from Black slaves. (see Before that there had been social mixing and intermarriage between whites and non-whites. Racist propaganda continues unabated today, from pseudo-scientific theories of racial differences to racist stereotypes in the media and tolerance of white supremacist groups and utterances by politicians.

What the ruling class fears is us recognizing is that the lowered standards for wages, health, education, housing bring down the standards for everyone, even as black, Latin and other minority groups continue to be super-exploited. Even more important, the separation into different schools, job categories, unions, and neighborhoods keeps us divided when only multiracial mass action would enable us to fight back effectively. Ultimately, as we have seen, capitalism relies on racism for profits and to minimize rebellion. US rulers also rely on racism to win workers, white, black and immigrant, to fight foreign wars for markets and resources by painting Muslims, Arabs, Asians and others as inhuman enemies.

It is heartening to witness the mass uprising against the separation and incarceration of immigrant children, which has actually forced a minimal change in Trump’s policies. But we must use this power of the unity of millions of workers to outlaw racism once and for all and build an egalitarian society. That will be the proper day for celebration.


imagesA conservative news site used one black woman’s opinion to argue that racism is obsolete. Another student, whose article is reproduced here, refuted the first student critic on College Media Network on 6/21/18.




Viewpoint: Antagonistic Reaction to Angela Davis Speech Shows Why It Was Necessary

Conservative news site uses one black woman’s opinion to argue that racism is obsolete.

By Elena Neale


Activist Angela Davis gave a commencement speech at Bryn Mawr College on May 19. A black woman who was in the audience wrote a critical letter of the speech in her local newspaper. A right-wing college news site used that letter to argue that racism is no longer an issue.

Patricia Jackson penned a letter to the Delaware County Daily Times titled “What Angela Davis did not say at Bryn Mawr” on June 16. Jackson, an African-American social worker, wrote that Davis’s speech did not address the privilege of students in the audience or real problems in American society.

“She did not tell these Millennials that the greatest threat to women is not a white male patriarchal society, but the explosion of single motherhood in our cities, where men abandon the children they father, leaving the women to soldier on against all odds,” Jackson wrote.

Jackson’s analysis is intriguing, yet it ignores the correlation between the white patriarchal society Davis discussed in her speech and the burden placed on many black single mothers. These are not separate conversations.

In her speech, Davis addressed white supremacy, the prison industrial complex and the exploitative nature of capitalism. These concepts lie at the root of the issues Jackson deems important. White supremacy and the history of racial discrimination embedded in American society created discriminatory employment practices and housing laws such as redlining that keep many black Americans in poor inner-city neighborhoods.

How can capitalism be the best system to lift people out of poverty when its very framework relies on the imbalance of power between the rich and the poor?

Police racism is one of the primary reasons so many African American fathers end up in prison, leaving mothers with sole responsibility of their children. Black single mothers are the most likely group to end up in poverty in the United States, other than children.

Jackson, like so many people, did not draw the connection between economic inequality and race in her letter.

“[Davis] did not say as Winston Churchill did, decades ago, that capitalism, as imperfect as it is, remains the best economic system known to mankind, and the best to lift people out of poverty,” Jackson wrote.

How can capitalism be the best system to lift people out of poverty when its very framework relies on the imbalance of power between the rich and the poor? Its individualistic nature allows those born into positions of racial and economic privilege to build upon their privilege while those less fortunate are told that it is their fault for not taking advantage of the opportunities provided them by American society.

Capitalism refuses to acknowledge that, despite what the Constitution says, we are not all born equal.

The College Fix, a conservative news site, published an article on June 18 applauding Jackson for her critique of Davis’s speech. The headline included the words “From one black woman to another, you blew it.” The College Fix used the fact that one black woman criticized another black woman’s passionate call to action to discredit the significance of Davis’s speech.

The article is an attempt to diminish the reality of racism and pretend that we live in a colorblind society where black and white Americans begin their lives on a level playing field. This is simply not the case.

Activists like Angela Davis must continue to give speeches deemed “radical” by conservatives. This is how change happens. Education on the causes of some of the most serious issues in the country leads to an understanding of how they are all related and have a common denominator: capitalism.

Capitalism allows the wealthy to maintain their status through the oppression of the poor and the working class. Combined with structural racism, capitalism perpetuates the segregation of black Americans in inner-city neighborhoods and limits their opportunities for upward mobility.

Instead of blaming black men for the “explosion of single motherhood” in inner-cities, we need to ask tougher questions.

Why are so many black men leaving their families? The answer is not simple, but it can be pieced together by analyzing the structures that have left black men with few employment prospects and about a one-in-three chance of being imprisoned at some point in their lives.

Locating the root of the issue is the only way to discover lasting solutions to poverty, economic and racial inequality in the United States.

Elena Neale is a Politics and Latin American/Latino Studies Major at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was previously a reporter for the student-run newspaper City on a Hill Press. In her free time, Elena enjoys playing on the UCSC women’s club ultimate frisbee team.



by Ellen Isaacs

appearing on Counterpunch 6/6/18

As we reflect on the latest brutality against protestors in Gaza and the struggle to end the outrageous Israeli occupation of Palestine and oppression of Israeli Palestinians, it is important to formulate a goal for what we would hope to attain. This goal does not have to be achievable in the near future or even near distant future, but it provides a framework that defines what immediate struggles are engaged in and whom is declared to be an ally or an enemy. In fact, it is unlikely that this conflict will be settled between Israelis and Palestinians in isolation, as the whole region will probably be engaged in larger conflicts between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US and Russia long before that happens. However, it is to be hoped that there would be, at some time, a unified Palestine/Israel, or perhaps some larger regional entity, that would provide for equality, opportunity and freedom for all who live there. With that vision, I know that organizing in the present must strive to be multiracial, multinational, and to be led by rank and file people, as opposed to economic moguls, politicians or religious leaders.


Since 2012, there has been an official One Democratic State movement, and I have attended two of their conferences, one in Ramallah in 2014 and one the next year in Denton, Texas. The leaders and participants have been mainly Palestinian, with an overlap with those who initiated the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and some Israelis, including Ilan Pappe and Jeff Halper. I have been very happy to see this development, but the movement as I have experienced it seems to me to be weak in two crucial elements. One is the lack of a real on the ground action program and the other is lack of an analysis of what kind of economic system would be needed to actually guarantee equality and an end to racism. I imagine the problem is that these areas are very controversial, but that does not mean they are not essential.


I would like to consider the relationship between racism and economics in several countries that leads me to conclude the necessity of a non-capitalist framework in any one state. One is the situation in the US, a purportedly democratic state with an advanced system of capitalism and a long history of racism, which is economically necessary for its survival. Another is the economy of Israel, another capitalist state with a long history of racism,  a similarly inegalitarian situation in the West Bank, and lastly that of South Africa, which has emerged from apartheid with racial economic disparities largely intact.


We live here in the US, and it takes but a half-open eye to see the racism all around us. Whether driving by the crumbling public housing projects, reading about police shooting young black men with impunity, watching videos of ICE agents rounding up immigrants, it is a tableau of a divided society. There is lot of talk about opposing or ending racism, but most of it operates on the assumption that racism in the present is a result of personal prejudice which is a legacy of a former time when racism justified slavery, and even then anti-black racism was said to be a natural human attribute. Actually this could not be further from the truth, as was well laid out by the recently deceased historian Lerone Bennett. Racism was purposely and carefully developed in the 1600-1700s by the press, the pulpit and the schoolbooks in order to justify and continue slavery (see The Road Not Taken on this blog). Later, Jim Crow laws, housing policy, policing policy, hiring policies, and educational policy maintained racist ideas and practices. Today these disparities continue and the question is, can the US economy do without them?


Based on US Bureau of Labor statistics,  non-white workers earn 75% of the wages of white men. The yearly wage differential adds up to about $783 billion, compared to total annual after tax profits of $1698 billion in 2017. That is, race-based wage disparities add up to almost half of profits, not even including the similarly lower wages of white women. The gap may be explained by lower levels of training and education or prejudice determining who gets what job or different wages for the same work, but it is a gap the society could not afford to do without, whatever the cause. And the gap in social spending on vastly different levels of services like health and education is many more hundreds of billions of dollars. Racial health disparities slash years off of lives, due to differences in insurance coverage, quality and quantity of providers, environmental hazards, or unavailability of a healthy diet. There is a five year shorter life expectancy for blacks than whites, a gap which has actually decreased as white deaths from opioids increase. In New York City, the infant mortality is three times greater for blacks than whites. The wealth differential between white and black families in the US is about 10 to 1. Perhaps most important is the weakening of the ability of workers to fight back when divided by the chasms of race and national origin .

Israel and Palestine

When you visit Palestine and Israel, there are stark realities that force your eyes to widen in horror — the separation wall between Israel and the Occupied Territories (OT), the checkpoints, the separate roads and license plates, the blatant racism of most Israelis, the military shootings of young Arab men with impunity, the harassment of dark-skinned immigrants and the periodic slaughters of thousands of Palestinians, as in 2014 or hundreds in Gaza in May.  Sometimes the divisions, the injustice, and the violence are so great that one can neglect to try and understand the underlying structures of Israel or Palestine.

However, Israel , like the US, has one of the highest inequality or Gini indices (Gini – a coefficient describing the degree of inequality in a country where 1 is the highest and O the lowest) in the developed world, almost the same as the US. The difference between the wages of the top 10% and the bottom 10% of Israelis is currently increasing. Moreover, like in the US, wage inequality is highly race based, with Palestinians who work in Israel and dark skinned immigrants having the lowest wages, and Middle Eastern or African Mizrahi Jews falling in the middle. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in 2016 an Israeli Arab worker earned 58.6% as much as a Jewish worker, down from 67.2% in 2014. For Arab women it was even worse-56% of a Jewish woman’s wage. Mizrahi Jews, who make up about half of the population, earn about 75% as the Ashkenazi Jewish worker. So overall, the race-based differences in Israel are even greater than in the US

In Israel there are also great gaps in education and health, housing and wealth. 13% of Israeli Arabs have college degrees, versus 28% of second generation Mizrahis and 50% of Ashkenazi Jews. The life expectancy gap between Israeli Arabs and Jews is five years, about the same as in the US. Of course it is higher if you compare Israel and West bank (WB), rising to seven years. Infant mortality is about three times higher in the West Bank as in Israel, very similar to the racial difference in the US. The very high numbers of black and Palestinian men who suffer imprisonment is similar in the US and Israel. One third of all black American men can expect to end up in prison, nearly the same as the 40% figure for Palestinian men in Israeli jails. The racism with which Israelis are inculcated from an early age, which is perhaps not so dissimilar in its intensity to that still prevalent in some of the US or as it was among the Nazis, allows these disparities to be tolerated, thought of as natural or even applauded.


Many who look with dismay at the oppression by Israel of the WB are unaware of what an inegalitarian society also exists there. Although the earnings of all strata of society are below those of Israel, there is a similar ten=fold difference between the top and bottom percentiles, leading to a calculated Gini index of .34, almost identical to that of Israel or the US. As described by Tariq Dana, a professor at Hebron University, and the Palestinian activist and author Ali Abunimeh, a very few families and companies, such as the Masris, whose power has skyrocketed since Oslo dominate the West Bank economy. And they do plenty of business with Israel, as well as exploiting other Palestinians. They largely consist of returning émigré capitalists, historical large landowners, and those who accumulated wealth as subcontractors for Israeli companies after the 1967 occupation. They benefit from ties to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and from Palestinian basic law, which specifies that “the economic system in Palestine shall be based on the principles of a free market economy.”

During the 1990s, the PA, which governs the WB, and a small group of capitalists centralized political and economic power and built ties with diaspora conglomerates, leading to monopolies protected by the PA of 25 basic imported commodities such as sugar, oil, cement, and steel. Partnerships with Israeli businessmen and the privileges that that accorded increased after Salam Fayyad became Prime Minister in 2008. Economic cooperation with Israel is manifest in joint industrial zones, Palestinian investments in Israel and its settlements, and joint management of water resources. Five West Bank companies are clients of an Israeli security company owned by an Israeli Major General who commanded troops in the Occupied Territories.


Fayyad’s “reforms” also allowed the government to take out interest-bearing loans equaling 50% 0f the GDP, which puts it at the mercy of large firms who can withhold investments. The cost is borne by ordinary people, as when taxes were raised and services cut in 2012. Private lending has also increased, so that 75% of public employees, the largest sector of workers, are now in debt to government-controlled banks, which decreases oppositional political activity. Labor unions have been greatly weakened by both the PA and large capitalists. The PA spends about one quarter of its payroll on security, largely to prevent protests against Israel, roughly the same amount as on health and education combined.

South Africa

Those who organize against Palestinian oppression in Israel often make an analogy to South Africa and the so-called successful struggle to end apartheid there. There is no doubt that a long and courageous battle was fought and that many civil rights for the black population were won. However, a look at the economic and living situation of the majority of the African population today is truly disheartening and raises important questions.


In 1970, the African National Congress (ANC) stated : “It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.” Joe Slovo, the head of the Communist Party of South Africa said that “If every racist statute were to be repealed tomorrow, leaving the economic status quo undisturbed, ‘white domination’ in its most essential aspects would remain.”

Thabo Mbeki, however, a political leader since 1994, declared the national task to be to “create and strengthen a black capitalist class.” Indeed the agreement ending apartheid removed wealth redistribution of white capital or the nature of economic relations from the agenda and focused only on granting civil rights, while a few members of the new black bourgeoisie became millionaires. But what Winnie Mandela said in 2010 was “those who had struggled and had given blood were left with nothing. They are still in shacks: no electricity, no sanitation and no sign of an education.”


Only 10% of land has been redistributed since 1994, and white South Africans still earn five times as much as black workers. 50% of the population has no wealth at all and the next 40% are almost as poor. In South Africa, based on data from 2012, black men had an 18 year shorter life expectancy than white men, 17 years after the end of apartheid.

And so

The point of assessing these situations is that racist differentials in wages, services, and quality of life in the highly racialized societies of the US, Israel, and South Africa are not simply the results of prejudice that can be overcome with goodwill and re-education. Instead, they justify vast gaps in social earning and social spending that these societies cannot afford to do without. It is true that there are capitalist societies that have less glaring racial divides to obscure their class divides, but in the nations we are discussing they are inextricably bound up.


It is also a mistake, however, to say that the majority white or Jewish workers are benefiting from this racism, with the possible exclusion of South Africa. In the US many white workers have inadequate wages, lack of affordable housing, insufficient health insurance and health care, a falling rate of unionization and the list goes on. The existence of super-exploited non-white groups lowers the standards for all and destroys the unity necessary for successful struggles for reforms or system change. In Israel, even among Jews, there is high unemployment, a huge housing shortage and deficits in education. This explains why 80% of the population participated in or supported the mass protests about these issues in 2011. Unfortunately, even then the issue of the occupation, its costs and its immorality, were not discussed.


So therefore building multiracial unity and at the same time calling for a non-capitalist economic system are necessary to achieve social or economic justice and equality, in all our nations.

Some sources:

U.S. Labor Force Statistics,


Racism and Capitalism: the Barriers to Decent Health Care, by Ellen Isaacs,


The Origins of Income Inequality in Israel – Trends and Policy

Israel Economic Review, Vol. 12, No. 2 (2015), 51–95,


Palestine’s Capitalists by Tariq Dana


The Battle for Justice in Palestine, by Ali Abunimeh


The benefits and misfortunes of capitalism and racism: An integral part of the South African History, by Sehlare Makgetlaneng

Published on Pambazuka News (








by Al Simpson

During the early civil rights era, from 1955 through to the early 1960s, the attempts at desegregation of accommodations were portrayed as nonviolent protests. It was heavily stressed that all such protesters – the persons who acted to desegregate lunch counters, libraries, amusement parks, stores, etc. – were trained in nonviolent protest, and they would not strike back if hit or threatened or react to taunts. Hotheads were weeded out. This was done because nonviolence was politically acceptable to white liberals, on whom various civil rights organizations depended for donations.

A number of such protests were viciously attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. Very few laws changed during this period. Nevertheless, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) persisted and ran freedom rides on busses throughout the South to integrate interstate travel facilities. They had to endure mobs, beatings, firebombs, and jails, but by 1962 they successfully integrated many bus and terminal accommodations.[i]

The absolute nonviolent nature of the various organizations was a myth. Armed guards were posted, especially at night, to protect the demonstrators where they slept. By 1964 some Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists went even further and many carried weapons themselves.[ii] Given the murders, incarceration, beatings and other depredations they were subjected to, many activists felt that nonviolence was more of a tactic than an imperative.

What was the Rationale for Nonviolence?

At a SNCC meeting during Freedom Summer 1964, Pratha Hall, a black staff member of SNCC, said that Martin Luther King argued in the early days of the movement that white violence that met no resistance would eventually shame the federal government into intervening. Hall also said: “We must bring the reality of our situation to the nation. Bring blood onto the white house door. If we die here it’s the whole society that has pulled the trigger by its silence.” Thus, the blood of the persecuted, not the persecutor, was the only blood of salvation.[iii] CORE had similar views regarding nonviolence. But is redemptive suffering a workable strategy? There is no evidence that nonviolence did anything other place the persons practicing it in danger. Time and again, the racists were unimpressed and carried out their violent crimes with no resistance and without consequence. The cops did absolutely nothing, and in fact, led Klan caravans into black communities.

A New Tactic Takes Hold

When a Klan caravan entered the black community in Jonesboro, Louisiana, in July, 1964, it was described this way: “The wave of protests and arrests quickly brought the Ku Klux Klan into the fray. It was on the evening of the protests that the Jonesboro assistant police chief had led the Klan caravan of fifty cars through the black community.”[iv] This time, however, there was a black self-defense group, later called the Deacons for Defense and Justice, that informed the Chief of Police that such a thing must never happen again, for otherwise there was “going to be some killing going on.” The police never escorted the Klan again.[v] The threat of violence from a Black self-defense group made for substantive changes in the behavior of the cops and the racists, not the redemptive suffering of civil rights protestors. More than this, the existence of armed self-defense groups, like the Deacons for Defense and Justice, hereafter referred to as the Deacons, made the demonstrations and integration tests more effective because they were less likely to be attacked. One black person observed that the Klan members don’t want to die, but they sure like killing.

In 1965 there was a black high school protest in Jonesboro, LA, against the firing of a popular physical education teacher. The cops, white segregationists and Klan members, whom they deputized, were threatening the defenseless students. They were about to have firemen spray the students with high-pressure water from their hoses when the Deacons gave the order: “When you see the first water, we gonna open up on them. We gonna open up on all of them.”[vi] The cops and their deputies backed off. For the first time in the 20th century an armed black organization had successfully used weapons to defend a lawful protest against an attack by law enforcement. Previously, the Deacons only claimed the right to self-defense against racist terror. Now they asserted their right to defend themselves against government violence as well.[vii]

Contrast this with the events in Selma Alabama. On March 7, 1965 six hundred marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge en route to Montgomery Alabama. Just short of the bridge, they found their way blocked by Alabama State troopers and local police who ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, the officers shot tear gas and waded into the crowd, beating the nonviolent protesters with clubs and ultimately hospitalizing over fifty people. The second march took place on March 9. Troopers, police, and marchers confronted each other at the county end of the bridge, but when the troopers stepped aside to let them pass, Martin Luther King led the marchers back to the church where they met. Ostensibly, he was obeying a federal injunction while seeking protection from federal court for the march. That night, a white group beat and murdered civil rights activist James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston[viii].

There you have it: the Selma march was unsuccessful, caused both injuries and death, and yet it is celebrated! There was much made of the Selma events, described above, and a featured movie, Selma, made quite a splash in 2014. But no such movie will be made of the successful standoff with law enforcement in Jonesboro, LA. Since this would debunk the myth of nonviolence in the civil rights movement, it is given no mention. It is only described in one history book of the times: The Deacons for Defense

Natchez Mississippi

The Deacons were a locally based black self-defense organization that spread to other cities in the South. In all cases, they were run locally and tended to reflect the needs of the local black working class. Let’s consider the example of Natchez Mississippi, a very racist city: “The city’s well-organized Ku Klux Klan had engaged in systematic guerrilla warfare against Adams County’s black residents since 1964. Robed hooligans bombed churches and flogged and tortured blacks without fear or consequence.”[ix] As usual, the cops would be found missing while these attacks took place. If a black person was beaten up by Klan members or other racists, the cops would come to arrest the person who was beaten, but never the person(s) who did the beating. This was a favorite tactic of the cops.

George Metcalfe was President of the Natchez branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His car was blown up on August 27, 1965, almost killing him. The attempted assassination enraged blacks in Natchez, especially young people. NAACP state field secretary Charles Evers rushed to Natchez to assist as he was very concerned with the tension there. The Watts rebellions in Los Angeles had just taken place on August 11 – 16, 1965 and were fresh in everyone’s mind. Established Black community leaders in Natchez understood the danger in the restive mood and tried frantically to calm things down. As usual, the NAACP representative, Charles Evers, talked about getting out the vote, but it fell on deaf ears. The men behind him on the stage were brandishing guns and the audience was more interested in that, by far. Late that night, hundreds of enraged black youths filled the black business district. They had armed themselves with rocks, bottles, pistols, and rifles. There were snipers firing from the rooftops. Groups of black youths roamed the streets, shouting threats at white motorists and hurling bricks, bottles and tomatoes at police cars. An improvised security detail prevented the crowd from attacking innocent whites who accidentally drove into the fray. But its main purpose was to deter the white cops from assaulting the young blacks.[x]

Two days of rebellion changed things in Natchez! Prior to August, whites could expect blacks to respond peacefully to Klan terror and police brutality. But not anymore. During this time, the NAACP, SNCC, and CORE did practically nothing, except maneuver around each other. The middle-class blacks on the various panels meeting with whites would go through the motions of negotiating but nothing of consequence ever developed, but they always maintained that they were “leaders” of the black community. James Jackson, a local barber summed things up neatly: “…We plan too damn much, man; and never do nothing.”[xi] With the assistance of the Jonesboro Deacons, a new chapter was started on September 10, 1965. The Deacons membership was secret. Families of members were not to be told of their membership and the police were never to be informed of anyone’s membership no matter how much duress they endured. The Deacons pointed out that they did not hate whites and mainly intended to restore black community pride and respect as well as provide defense.[xii]

The Deacons also had a strict policy on how to deal with Uncle Toms, who would break boycotts or who were suspected of being informers — they would beat them severely. The focus on how to handle collaborators, who were mainly middle class, was not unique to the Natchez chapter and in fact characterized the Deacons wherever they emerged. The concern with “Toming” reflected a measure of class conflict within the black community. Opposition to the Deacons would come primarily from black businessmen, who felt economic pressure from the banks, and also had a bad habit of looking down on working class blacks.

The Deacons would not participate in any demonstrations or marches; instead, they would quietly watch. Their ostensible goal was to protect these demonstrations and marches from Klan terror. They spent quite a bit of time discussing how they would discipline Uncle Toms.

There were negotiations with various Natchez politicians. The demands of the black leaders were as follows:[xiii]

  • The hiring of at least 4 additional black policemen in addition to the two already on the police force.
  • Desegregation of all public facilities.
  • Naming a black representative to the school board.
  • A poverty program with funds divided fairly between whites and blacks.
  • A public denunciation of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and another White Supremacist organization.
  • City employees were to address blacks with courtesy titles such as Mister or Missus rather than the degrading titles such as auntie, missy, boy, hoss and uncle.

The mayor rejected the demands of the black leaders during the first week of September, 1965 and persuaded the governor of Mississippi to send 650 National Guard troops to Natchez. The National Guard arrived on September 3rd and sealed off the black community. A strict 10 PM to 5 AM curfew was imposed, and liquor was prohibited. Since the rebellion had subsided before the National Guard arrived, the locals felt that their presence was to discourage legal protest – not violence. The Guard mounted 50 caliber machine guns in the downtown area and let it be known that: “If you march we will open fire.”[xiv] The troops were withdrawn on September 6th. Soon afterwards, there were marches and the beginning of a 4-month boycott campaign. City officials remained intransigent and would not negotiate in good faith; instead, they searched for legal ways to suppress the demonstrations. On September 30th they secured an injunction prohibiting all demonstrations. From October 1-7, there were mass arrests of 544 persons. They were carted off over 200 miles to the infamous prison at Parchman, where the guards subjected them to horrible abuses. The demonstrations were suspended on October 7th, but the boycott continued. By October 12th the mayor of Natchez admitted that business was down by about 50 percent. In mid-October local officials failed to reach a settlement and the demonstrations started up again. The business community’s support for segregation was fading, and the only thing that was holding up the approval of the Black’s demands were the Klan’s threats and intimidation.[xv]

A woman addressed a Church meeting and said that she was opposed to nonviolence: “If a man or woman hits me, I’m going to hit back.” A SNCC leader, Lawrence Guyot, then addressed the crowd. He castigated her and her cohorts, and a large group rose and began to walk out. He then said: “You’re being understood by simply being quiet and sitting back and staying in your places.” More people filed out. “The most cowardly thing I have ever heard.”, Guyot continued with his voice growing tense. “Is for someone to say, ‘I would go with you all but I ain’t nonviolent’”[xvi]. The audience had heard enough. By the end of Guyot’s speech the church was nearly empty. SNCC never recovered from the Church meeting.[xvii] Their whole strategy of nonviolent redemptive suffering to force federal intervention was seen to be a fraud. Their claim that the people who did not follow their lead into oblivion were cowards ensured their abject failure. The Natchez movement instead tried to gain power locally through force and coercion, using the organizing model developed by the Deacons.

Starting in September 1965, the Deacons functioned as the de facto police in the black community of Natchez since the regular cops would not protect them against Klan violence or anything else for that matter. The Deacons were always armed and their willingness to defend themselves bred confidence. For the most part the sight of their weapons would stop the cowardly racists. However, in an isolated incident, a white motorist attempted to disrupt a march by driving his car into the line. Within seconds the Deacons intercepted the car with their guns drawn, detained the driver and handed him over to the police.[xviii] Not only did the Deacons sternly discipline Uncle Toms but they also were not averse to using violence on detractors and collaborators within their ranks.

By December 1965, the boycott had pretty much eroded business class solidarity so that 23 merchants had already hired blacks as clerks and cashiers. On December 3rd, the city government and local businessmen conceded defeat. They agreed to comprehensive racial reforms. Almost all of the original NAACP demands were met. Whereas virtually every other local campaign during the civil rights movement in Mississippi ended in failure, the Natchez project mobilized an entire community and exacted sweeping concessions from the white establishment, without Federal intervention![xix] The Deacons model of armed resistance worked once again. The Natchez campaign was the single greatest victory for the civil rights movement in Mississippi, but predictably, historians have never given it the credit it deserves.

There is also a significant difference in the demands put forward by demonstrations run by the Deacons and those run by the nonviolent groups. While the middle-class blacks who supported nonviolent organizing strove for surface changes such as voting rights and desegregation of public accommodations – things that would benefit them, the demands put forward and won in communities where the Deacons operated tended to reflect the needs of the working class: better schools, paved roads, better public facilities, public sewer and water, and so forth. Integration turned out not to be so important. Voting doesn’t do that much. The people in Harlem had had the vote for about 150 years and you see what it got them.

Has Nonviolence Ever Really Changed the Status of Working People?

Let’s address the question of why nonviolent protest is said to have worked in India but not in the United States. In India the inhabitants far outnumbered the occupiers; the British had a just a tiny army in India. British workers did not believe that their social and economic status depended on the continued exploitation of Indians, and after World War II the British were in terrible economic shape. They were in no position to enforce their rule over India. Gandhi and his supporters fought non-violently for independence from Britain, but they supported a capitalist economy, so there was never a question of British economic interests being threatened. With the division of the newly independent territory into Muslim and Hindu entities (Pakistan and India) and the inflaming of religious tensions, attention was deflected from local and foreign exploiters. The British started the British Commonwealth of Nations trading group, which allowed them to trade freely with their former colonies. So, they got almost everything they wanted anyway.

In the United States, blacks were a tiny minority surrounded by white majority, and many white Southerners thought they benefitted from the oppression of blacks. Before and after slavery, the super-exploitation of blacks made even the poorest whites feel they had a superior status that they wanted to hold onto. In the name of white supremacy,[xx] they would engage in violent acts, including lynching, to suppress any semblance of social advancement by blacks. The cops, many of whom were white supremacists, did nothing to stop these crimes.

Thus, the conditions for the success of the nonviolent model of India in no way matched the conditions in the southern United States. However, white liberals would give money to support nonviolent protest, so it started what became a self-fulfilling prophesy: The nonviolent organizations grew rich and strong with the money they received from white liberals. During the early years of the civil rights movement, nonviolent groups had the most influence. White liberals also feared the idea of blacks coming to their own defense – out of their own racism! This contributed to the intense propaganda in favor of nonviolence.

But reality always prevails. As mentioned above, the Deacons were responsible for some of the greatest successes of the civil rights era. With time, even the nonviolent organizations got with the program. As early as 1965, executive secretary [of SNCC] James Forman said he “did not know how much longer we can stay nonviolent” and in 1969, SNCC changed the “nonviolent” part of its name. Its new official name became the Student National Coordinating Committee to reflect the broadening of its strategy.[xxi]

In the 1980s members of the International Committee Against Racism physically attacked Klan and Nazi demonstrators whenever they outnumbered them, from Connecticut to New Jersey to many other places.  The Grand Wizard of the Klan announced during a radio interview that many of his members now feared to join the racist demonstrations, validating the positive role of mass violence in quashing overt racist mobilizations.  In 1975, InCAR members spent the summer in Boston successfully demonstrating against racist organizations that had boasted they would stop the integration of schools and beaches.  The violence of the 1968 rebellions in such cities as Newark and Los Angeles secured the construction of sorely needed public hospitals.


A few months ago, while driving and listening to the radio, the announcer said that DeAndre Harris was arrested. No information was provided as to whom Mr. Harris was, and it bothered me. Hours later, on the same day, I learned that Mr. Harris was the black man who was severely beaten by white supremacists in a parking garage in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. It was in this same city that white racists were openly marching and killed one white anti-racist protester. Harris was charged with assault. Harold Crews, state chairman of the North Carolina League of the South, a racist organization, sought the charge against Harris, who turned himself in after a warrant was issued. The Daily Progress reports around 100 people came to the Charlottesville General District Court to show their support for Harris.[xxii] Mr. Harris was subsequently found not guilty. Notice how this echoes what happened in the 1960s South. A black man is beaten by white supremacists, and then the cops come and arrest the black man and let the white supremacists go free. This time, the white supremacists who did this crime, were arrested, but it should be kept in mind that a video of the beating incident had widespread circulation.

In Anaheim, California in 2016, the KKK demonstrated, armed with flag poles with knives on their tips. They stabbed seven anti-racist protestors, but only the antiracists were arrested and charged. They go on trial in July. There is a warning here — things haven’t changed all that much. Not only does racism persist, but it is still protected by the government and still serves to divide white and black workers, and we still need to unite militantly to stop racists in their tracks.

[i] Meier and Rudwick, CORE

[ii] The Deacons for Defense, Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement by Lance Hill, The University of North Carolina Press copyright 2004. Page 18.

[iii] Ibid Page 19.

[iv] Ibid Page 37.

[v] Ibid Page 37.

[vi] Ibid Page 69.

[vii] Ibid Page 69.


[ix] The Deacons for Defense. Page 184.

[x] Ibid Page 186.

[xi] Ibid Page 190.

[xii] The Deacons for Defense. Page 193.

[xiii] Ibid Page 187.

[xiv] Ibid Page 195.

[xv] New York Times October 13-14, 1965.

[xvi] Black Natchez, transcript.

[xvii] The Deacons for Defense. Page 197.

[xviii] Ibid Page 198.

[xix] Ibid Page 205.

[xx] Ibid Page 23.