Racism and the New Cold War
The error of focusing on revived residual racism
NewColdWar.org held on March 12 an online event, “Racism, Witch-hunts and the New Cold War.” The event was co-sponsored by the Qiao Collective, No Cold War Britain, and the Chinese Community Council of Australia. The panelists were Dr. Gerald Horne, Chair of History and African American Studies, University of Houston, USA; Amanda Yee, Podcaster on politics, culture and media criticism (USA); Kevin Li, Qiao Collective (USA); Anna Chen, Writer, poet and broadcaster (UK); Nick Estes, Red Nation (USA); Dr. Anthony Pun, Chair of the Chinese Community Council of Australia (Australia); and Dolores Chew, Fellow of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute (Canada). Dr. Ping Hua, Co-founder of the Chinese Association of Southampton and No Cold War Britain (UK), and Sheila Xiao, Co-founder of Pivot to Peace (USA), served as moderators. Dr. Ding Hua’s introduction highlighted that the escalation of the Cold War against China has led to an escalation of racism against people of Chinese heritage.
NewColdWar.org was founded in 2014 and is managed by the Geopolitical Economy Research Group. Its mission is to provide insightful analysis on a foundation of accurate news and information, as a correction to the misreporting, omission, and distortions of the established media. NewColdWar hopes to provide a platform for a new, alternative journalism that is emerging.
Dr. Gerald Horne was the keynote speaker. He discussed the role of racism in the facilitation of the U.S. Cold War foreign policy goals. The terrain had been prepared by the Red Scare, which liquidated many radical black organizations, thus providing a basis for the civil rights consensus that was designed to facilitate Cold War foreign policy goals. In the late 1960s, black radical organizations like the Black Panther Party were suppressed, enabling the cooptation of black organizations into the support of U.S. foreign policy.
Today, Horne observes, the Cold War is accompanied by racism, not only anti-black racism, but also anti-Asian racism, which also had historic antecedents in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese internment during World War II. As a result of the Cold War against China, there is occurring today an acceleration of anti-Asian racism and an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. Anti-Asian racism in the context of the Cold War against China was also discussed by Anthony Pun, Amanda Yee, and Anna Chen.
In a previous commentary, I have criticized Horne’s work, and in particular, his tendency to leapfrog from the 1960’s to today, thus disdaining any effort to analyze the impact of the civil rights reforms of 1964 and 1965 on the racial customs, practices, and attitudes of the nation from the 1960s to the 1990s. In fact, the changes in racial customs were stunning. Blacks were visibly present in all kinds of places from which they had previously been excluded by law or custom: public accommodations, universities, the voting booth, public office, news reporting, and entertainment. And whites were adapting to the new racial reality; studies show that racial attitudes were slowly but surely changing. Beginning in 1984, I taught white students of all social classes in the South for twenty-five years, and I can testify that the sons and daughters of the white South nearly universally accepted the post-1965 racial norms; it was a different social world from the white South of 1954, when Rosa Parks protested segregated buses.
There were historic economic and social reasons for this stunning change in social norms. From the 1870s to the 1930s, racism was integral to the political, economic, and cultural system of the United States. However, with the decline of cotton production in the South and the increasing urbanization of the South, racist brutality as a mechanism of social control of the black population was increasingly out of sync with the economic order. At the same time, beginning in the 1940s, because of the global transition from colonial to neocolonialism, the United States had an interest in suppressing blatant racism, so that the nation could assume its apparent destiny as the hegemonic power in a neocolonial world-system with a democratic façade.
So a new era in racial customs came into being, with characteristics that cannot reasonably be described as “systemic racism.” In the period from the civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964 to 1965 to, let us say, the financial crisis of 2008, political, religious, and business leaders spoke with nearly one voice against racism and racial discrimination. Laws and regulations, including those governing the distribution of funds, prohibited discrimination on the basis of race or gender. Black public officials emerged to become a normal part of the political reality. Universities and other institutions practiced some form of preferential treatment for persons of color and women. Far from systemic racism, many structures and values were anti-racist or non-racist, and as a result, racial attitudes were continuously changing.
But you cannot abolish racism by decree, inasmuch as it had been four centuries in the making, through the socialization of values integral to the justification of slavery and conquest. So racism continued to exist in a residual form. But it was continually declining during the period, due to the fact that, since it was no longer needed by the system and was indeed dysfunctional, it no longer had the necessary structural support.
Continually declining residual racism took three forms. First, there is blatant racism, in the form of racial hatred, prejudice, discrimination, and violence, surviving from the previous era. Blatant racism was out of sync in the period, expressing itself in a new social context in which it no longer belonged. Racial violence, for example, prior to 1965, especially in the South, was tolerated and accepted as a method of social control; after 1965, it came to be defined as “hate crime,” punished more severely than violence for other motives. In the post-1965 period, blatant racism, in any of its forms, was exhibited by socially and economically marginalized persons, and it was no longer central to the dynamics of social inequality.
Secondly, there is indirect racism, involving the cynical use of race-coded language with respect to particular social issues like welfare and crime, thus expressing racial animosity indirectly. It was used by George Wallace in his presidential campaign of 1968, who garnered some 13.5% of the vote nationwide. Wallace’s success alerted politicians concerning an effective way to use racism indirectly in a political context in which racism was no longer socially acceptable. Indirect racism was picked up by Nixon and Reagan, and it played an important role in the significant growth of the Republican Party in the South during the period.
Thirdly, there is subtle racism, which involves an indifference to the wellbeing of persons of other racial and ethnic groups. Such indifference to other peoples is a widespread human tendency, which we call ethnocentrism, and it normally is not considered a form a racism. However, it becomes racism in a context in which inequalities exist as a consequence of historic systemic racism, so that it constitutes an indifference to finding ways to rectify the survival of the historic inequality in the contemporary reality.
However, the U.S. political-economic system entered a crisis in the 1970s, provoking an ideological turn by the U.S. political establishment and corporate elite toward a reduction in the role of the state in managing the economy and state expenses in a form that attended, at least in part, to the socioeconomic needs of the people. I will discuss the reasons for this shift below, in the context of global dynamics. For the moment, let us note the impact of the turn on the racial dynamics of the United States.
The political, financial, and ideological weakening of the state in the United States had negative consequences for the nation and for the great majority of the people, including an increase in economic insecurity. The weakening of the state adversely impacted blacks disproportionately, but only by a certain percentage; and there is considerable overlap in the disproportions among white and black individuals. And this growing insecurity was accompanied by continuation of limited but visible and controversial programs of preferential treatment for persons of color and women. There were, in effect, minimal protections for white men, who often were the primary breadwinners of the families of white working people. Abandoned by the government and bitter toward new sectors now privileged by the government, white resentment grew, and there occurred a renewal of residual racism, in the form of blatant racism.
In addition to stimulating economic insecurity among the working people and inadvertently stoking a renewal of blatant white racism, the weakening of the state led to a turn to corporate investment in financial speculation, thus creating further problems in the economy. This dynamic culminated in the financial crisis of 2008, which stimulated a great rebellion among the working people. Popular rebellions are often characterized by limited understandings and half-baked proposals, but in this case, the rebellion put forth the concept of the 99% versus the 1%, thus suggesting the necessity of the unity of the great majority of people against the corporate elite and the political establishment. This was a dangerous notion indeed from the vantage point of the 1%, especially if it were to attain political and ideological maturity and organizational unity.
Perhaps it is a coincidence, but for the subsequent decade and a half there emerged a different kind of theory among the people that had nothing to do with the unity of the 99%, and indeed was in tension with it; a theory that has been supported by the corporate elite and the political establishment. Often called Critical Race Theory, the new theory put forth a narrative on the history of the nation that could never be embraced by the majority of working people; it proclaims that all existing inequity is a consequence of a “systemic racism,” rather a consequence of historic discrimination, insufficient state investment in education in local communities, and pervasive and persistent dysfunctional cultural tendencies. Accusing whites of a pervasive racism oversimplifies, and it stokes the historic racial division among our people. Meanwhile, the notion of the 99% has been pushed aside, if not forgotten.
So we arrive to a social and cultural war between revitalized residual racists and elite-supported anti-racists. A social conflict within the breast of the people, fabricated by the corporate elite, the political establishment, and the media, first by its ideological attack on the state, and then by its support of ahistorical and unscientific anti-racism. The people are profoundly and bitterly divided, unable to forge a consensus necessary to defend the interests of the people against the unpatriotic and morally irresponsible behavior of the corporate elite and political establishment.
For my previous critique of the work of Gerald Horne, see my December 28, 2021 commentary, “The pending apocalypse for humanity.”
Racism in world-systemic context
The transition from systemic to residual racism in the United States occurred in the context of a global transition from colonialism to neocolonialism. The global transition occurred because of the global political force of the anti-colonial movements of Africa and Asia, which were demanding independence and the establishment of sovereign nations. Facing this political reality, the United States and the European colonial powers, during the period of the 1940s to the 1970s, recognized the independence of the colonized peoples. But as they recognized the independent nations, they at the same time maneuvered to ensure that the economic structures imposed by the colonial powers would in essence be preserved. In these structures, the function of the colonies is to produce and export raw materials on the basis of physically or economically coerced cheap labor. Furthermore, with their traditional manufacturing destroyed by violence or by colonial economic policies, the neocolonized peoples would function as a market for the surplus manufactured goods of the colonial powers, beyond the capacities of their markets to buy.
The historic connection between the global transition to neocolonialism and the national turn from systemic racism to residual racism has been documented. In the Supreme Court cases leading up to the 1954 Brown decision, the executive branch of the federal government supported the NAACP petition. Secretary of State Dean Acheson stated to the court that “the continuation of racial discrimination in the United States . . . jeopardizes the effective maintenance of our moral leadership of the free and democratic nations of the world.” The attorney general of the United States stated that “racial discrimination furnishes grist for the Communist propaganda mills, and it raises doubts even among friendly nations as to the intensity of our devotion to the democratic faith.” Discriminatory racial customs had to be brought to an end, and they were.
The transition to neocolonialism changes the character and the role of racism. In order for the neocolonial world order to have legitimacy, blatant racism has to be eliminated, or at least reduced to marginal expression. Inasmuch as the colonial order was brought to an end by the political force of the colonized, the defenders of the established order need to nullify or coopt the force of the colonized, which requires creating a credible façade of democracy. The United Nations and its various related organizations demonstrate the serious efforts of the global powers to construct a façade of democracy. This is logical: in a supposedly democratic world order, the democratic façade has to be maintained, and in this context, any tolerance of blatant racism would function to delegitimize. Blatant racism has no place in the neocolonial world order, a truism enforced through all the structural and ideological weapons that the neocolonial power has at its disposal.
In the neocolonial world-system, imperialism comes to the fore, replacing conquest and force as the method of European domination of the world. Imperialist policies were first developed by the United States in the 1890s, and they have been consistently followed by all presidential administrations since that time. In essence, imperialist policies involve influencing states to adopt economic policies that promote U.S. control of their nations’ natural resources, cheap labor, and markets. The attainment of influence over supposedly independent states involves strategies of interference in their affairs in some form or another, whether it be economic control, economic blackmail, political subterfuge, bribery, manipulation, or brute force.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States had completed its stage of economic development on the basis of force and conquest, having abolished slavery and have finished with its conquest of the indigenous nations of North America and the conquest of Mexico. Moreover, it had few colonies. In addition, by the 1930s, it had sufficient economic strength to pursue its imperialist policies without recourse to military force. It thus was in the vanguard in the development of a neocolonial world order with a façade of democracy, in which the core powers enforce their economic policies through economic, diplomatic, cultural, and ideological means. This neocolonial world-system reached its zenith in the 1950s, with the USA as the unchallenged hegemonic core power. It was a system with a democratic façade; it was neither developed nor sustained with a racist ideology, even though some particular persons were racist, a legacy of the previous period of colonialism and slavery. It was a system in which the central dynamic was not racism, but imperialism disguising itself as democracy.
The neocolonial world-system of U.S. hegemony, democratic pretense, and continuous imperialist policies has suffered erosion in various stages from the 1970s to the present. The source of the problem has been stagnating corporate profits, a problem that is rooted in the fundamental historical fact that the capitalist world-economy reached and overextended the geographical and ecological limits of the earth. In essence, having expanded on the basis of the conquest of new territories for four centuries, the European-centered world-system ran out of lands and peoples to conquer.
The necessary response to this situation was the adoption of policies designed to increase the strength and independence of the states in the neocolonized zones, so that the states could formulate and follow sovereign paths to socioeconomic development, with the economic and financial support of the core powers. Such an approach would increase the purchasing power of the nations and peoples of the world, which would expand the markets for the manufacturing and agricultural goods of the core economies, thus facilitating their growth as well. This implies that the world-system would undergo another transition, from neocolonial superexploitation to relations of cooperation and mutually beneficial trade. Actually, more than a transition, it would constitute a transformation. It should not need to be said that, taking into account the fact that the world-system had overreached the ecological limits of the earth, the transformation must include the development of ecologically sustainable forms of production and consumption.
But the U.S. corporate elite and political establishment did not have the moral and intellectual capacity to discern the necessary road. They were taken in by the ideological justifications of their power and wealth. They did not discern the real sources of the nation’s spectacular economic ascent, and thus they were not able to see the necessary new direction.
They went in a direction exactly opposite to what was necessary. Rather than strengthening states, their policies were designed to weaken states and even further limit their sovereignty. Moreover, they applied these neoliberal policies to the core states in the system, although less strictly than was done in the vast semi-peripheral and peripheral zones of the world-economy.
They were not attacking peoples of color; they were attacking states. They were attacking the notion that the state has a moral responsibility and technical capacity to provide for the needs of the people and plan the long-range sustainable economic development of the nation. They did not formulate neo-racist theories; they formulated a neoliberal democratic theory of a limited state role in the economy. Confronting the crisis, their strategy was to liberate themselves from regulatory constraints, so that they could engage in unconstrained financial speculation, moving profits away from investment in sustainable forms of production, and channeling it toward short-term profit, which was converted to personal benefit. In this turn, they invited all, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity to participate in the betrayal of the nation; and many persons of color and women have done so.
In the NewColdWar.org event of March 12, there were a couple of righteous brothers, who discerned that the driving force of inequality today is not racism, but imperialism. Kevin Li, of the Xiao Collective, charged that the essence of the conflict between China and the USA is U.S. imperialist aggression against China. He maintained that the USA seeks to control China, while the People’s Republic of China seeks to preserve and defend its sovereignty. The Qiao Collective was formed in January 2020 by intellectuals and activists of the Chinese diaspora, with the intention of defending Chinese socialism against imperialist aggression.
Similarly, Nick Estes addressed the theme of the New Cold War and racism from the vantage point of the indigenous nations of North America. He maintains that settler colonialism in North America targets his Lakota people and other indigenous peoples not because of their ethnicity or religion, but because of the natural resources of the land that they occupy. Central to the conflict has been oil pipelines on indigenous land, but of increasing importance will be minerals, like lithium and cobalt, that are necessary for renewable forms of energy. He declared that anti-indigenous racism reflects strategic interests, and U.S. interests in the natural resources of half the planet, including the indigenous peoples of North America and the Pacific. We must see not only racism, but also the material and natural resource needs of the United States. In this situation, we must embrace the principle that humanity cannot move forward at the further expense of the indigenous peoples.
We must not mistake the accidental for the essential
Anti-indigenous racism emerged to justify European conquest, settlement, and political control of the American continents. Anti-African and anti-Asian racism emerged to justify African slavery and European colonial domination and political-economic transformation of vast regions of Africa and Asia. But the essence was European colonial domination of the world, which provided the material foundation for the economic development of Western Europe and the European settler societies of North America.
African slavery in America was a dimension of the process of European colonial domination. It was a method of forced labor for the supply of raw materials to the core nations, developed in particular areas of a particular region. Other methods of forced labor, often as brutal and inhumane, were developed in all the vast colonized zones.
Racism become dysfunctional with the transition to neocolonialism. But it survived in a residual form, and it experienced renewal among the confused people in the context of the fall of the neocolonial world-system into decadence. Racism always was useful for the division of the people, and today the U.S. ruling class supports ahistorical and unscientific theories, in order to stoke racial division among the people. In addition, today anti-Eastern European and anti-Asian racism have become functional again as justifications of the New Cold War against Russia and China.
Racism, however powerful its emotional impact on racists and its victims, has always been accidental and consequential, not the essential dimension of the modern Western European domination of the world. The essence of European domination is colonialism; that is, the conquest and political control of territories and the transformation of their economies, so that the colonizers would have access to the natural and human resources of the planet. Today, central to European colonialism is imperialism, that is, cynical policies conceived and implemented in order to make possible the direction by the neocolonial powers of the economic policies of supposedly independent states. The enemy of all who seek social justice is not primarily racism but imperialism. We must form a united anti-imperialist movement.
The global anti-imperialist movement must have expression in each national context, taking particular form in each nation. In the case of the United States, it is politically necessary to embrace the Constitution of the United States, which was an advanced formulation for its time; which includes procedures for amendments that historically have been used by the movements of the people; and which is based in federal principles, or some level of authority in each state. Embracing the federal Constitution of the republic, we who seek social justice must creatively forge new structures for the education of our people, as the foundation for politically stable and socially just constitutional federal government.
Shiite Islamic theology teaches that human beings are endowed by their Creator with the capacity for reasoning and for discerning the true and the right. And that the human destiny is to learn, through obedience to the teachings of the prophets sent by God, to develop the collective capacity to enjoy, on a basis of equal distribution, the blessings of the earth.
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