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Synthesis/Regeneration 39   (Winter 2006)

Globalization and Racialization

by Manning Marable

In 1900, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois predicted that the “problem of the twentieth century” would be the “problem of the color line,” the unequal relationship between the lighter vs. darker races of humankind. Although Du Bois was primarily focused on the racial contradiction of the United States, he was fully aware that the processes of what we call “racialization” today—the construction of racially unequal social hierarchies characterized by dominant and subordinate social relations between groups—was an international and global problem. Du Bois’s color line included not just the racially segregated, Jim Crow South and the racial oppression of South Africa but also British, French, Belgian, and Portuguese colonial domination in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean among indigenous populations.

Building on Du Bois’s insights, we can therefore say that the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of global apartheid: the racialized division and stratification of resources, wealth, and power that separates Europe, North America, and Japan from the billions of mostly black, brown, indigenous, undocumented immigrant and poor people across the planet.

…the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of global apartheid…

Inside the United States, the processes of global apartheid are best represented by what I call the New Racial Domain. This New Racial Domain is different from other, earlier forms of racial domination, such as slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and ghettoization, or strict residential segregation, in several critical respects. These earlier racial formations or domains were grounded or based primarily, if not exclusively, in the political economy of US capitalism. Anti-racist or oppositional movements that blacks, other people of color and white anti-racists built were largely predicated upon the confines or realities of domestic markets and the policies of the US nation-state. Meaningful social reforms such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were debated almost entirely within the context of America’s expanding domestic economy and a background of Keynesian, welfare state public policies.

The political economy of the “New Racial Domain,” by contrast, is driven and largely determined by the forces of transnational capitalism and the public policies of state neoliberalism. From the vantage point of the most oppressed US populations, the New Racial Domain rests on an unholy trinity, or deadly triad, of structural barriers to a decent life. These oppressive structures are mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and mass disfranchisement. Each factor directly feeds and accelerates the others, creating an ever-widening circle of social disadvantage, poverty, and civil death, touching the lives of tens of millions of US people.

The process begins at the point of production. For decades, US corporations have been outsourcing millions of better-paying jobs. With whole US urban neighborhoods losing virtually their entire economic, manufacturing and industrial employment, and with neoliberal social policies in place cutting job training programs, welfare, and public housing, millions of Americans now exist in conditions that exceed the devastation of the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 2004, in New York’s Central Harlem community, 50% of all black male adults were unemployed. When one considers that this figure does not count those black males who are in the military, or inside prisons, it’s truly amazing and depressing.

In July 2004, labor researchers at Harvard University found that one-quarter of the nation’s entire population of black male adults were jobless for the entire year during 2002. What these nightmarish statistics mean is that for most low- to middle-income African-Americans, joblessness and underemployment (e.g. working part-time or sporadically) are now the norm; having a real job with benefits is now the exception.

These oppressive structures are mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and mass disfranchisement.

With the onset of global capitalism, the new jobs being generated for the most part lack the health benefits, pensions, and wages that manufacturing and industrial employment once offered. Neoliberal social policies, adopted and implemented by Democrats and Republicans alike, have compounded the problem. After the 1996 welfare act, the social safety net was largely pulled apart. As of January 2004, the number of families on public assistance had fallen to 2 million, down from 5 million families on welfare in 1995. New regulations and restrictions intimidate thousands of poor people from requesting public assistance.

Mass unemployment inevitably feeds mass incarceration. About one-third of all prisoners were unemployed at the time of their arrests, and others averaged less than $20,000 annual income in the year prior to their incarceration. When the Attica prison insurrection occurred in upstate New York in 1971, there were only 12,500 prisoners in New York State’s correctional facilities, and about 300,000 prisoners nationwide. By 2001, New York State held over 71,000 women and men in its prisons; nationally, 2.1 million were imprisoned. Today about 5–6 million Americans are arrested annually, and roughly 1 in 5 Americans possesses a criminal record.

Mandatory-minimum sentencing laws adopted in the 1980s and 1990s in many states stripped judges of their discretionary powers in sentencing, imposing draconian terms on first-time and non-violent offenders. Parole has been made more restrictive as well, and in 1995 Pell grant subsidies supporting educational programs for prisoners were ended. For those fortunate enough to successfully navigate the criminal justice bureaucracy and emerge from incarceration, they discover that both the federal law and state governments explicitly prohibit the employment of convicted ex-felons in hundreds of vocations. The cycle of unemployment frequently starts again.

In Mississippi, one-third of all black men are unable to vote for the remainder of their lives.

The greatest victims of these racialized processes of unequal justice, of course, are African-American and Latino young people. In April 2000, utilizing national and state data compiled by the FBI, the Justice Department and six leading foundations issued a comprehensive study that documented vast racial disparities at every level of the juvenile justice process. African Americans under age 18 constitute 15% of their national age group, yet they currently represent 26% of all those who are arrested. After entering the criminal justice system, white and black juveniles with the same records are treated in radically different ways. According to the Justice Department’s study, among white youth offenders 66% are referred to juvenile courts while only 31% of the African-American youth are taken there. Blacks make up 44% of those detained in juvenile jails, 46% of all those tried in adult criminal courts, as well as 58% of all juveniles who are warehoused in prisons.

Mass incarceration, of course, breeds mass political disfranchisement. Nearly 5 million Americans cannot vote. In seven states, former prisoners convicted of a felony lose their voting rights for life. In the majority of states, individuals on parole and probation cannot vote. About 15% of all African-American males nationally are either permanently or currently disfranchised. In Mississippi, one-third of all black men are unable to vote for the remainder of their lives. In Florida, 818,000 residents cannot vote for life.

Even temporary disfranchisement fosters a disruption of civic engagement and involvement in public affairs. This can lead to “civil death,” the destruction of the capacity for collective agency and resistance. This process of depoliticization undermines even grassroots, non-electoral organizing.

Not too far in the distance lies the social consequence of these policies: an unequal, two-tiered, uncivil society characterized by a governing hierarchy of middle- to upper-class “citizens” who own nearly all private property and financial assets, and a vast subaltern class of quasi- or subcitizens encumbered beneath the cruel weight of permanent unemployment, discriminatory courts and sentencing procedures, dehumanized prisons, voting disfranchisement, residential segregation, and the elimination of most public services for the poor. Institutions that once provided space for upward mobility and resistance for working people, such as unions, have been largely dismantled. Integral to all of this is racism, sometimes openly vicious and unambiguous, but much more frequently presented in race-neutral, color-blind language.

The anti-globalization struggle must confront this New Racial Domain with something more substantial than tired ruminations about “black and white, unite and fight.” The seismic shifts have created new continents of social inequality, transcending nation-states and the traditional boundaries of race and ethnicity. What is necessary is an original and creative approach that breaks with comfortable dogmas of all types, while advancing openly a politics of civic advocacy and democratic empowerment for those most brutally oppressed and exploited. I am not suggesting here that the anti-globalization movement play a “vanguard” role for global social change. In the tradition of C.L.R. James, I am convinced that the oppressed, on their own terms, ultimately will create new approaches and organizations to fight for justice that we now can scarcely imagine. Rather, it is our political and moral obligation to provide the critical support necessary for social struggles and resistance that is already being waged on the ground today. Examples of that resistance are in every city and most communities across the country.

…the oppressed, on their own terms, ultimately will create new approaches and organizations to fight for justice…

The New Racial Domain’s reliance on extreme force and the continued expansion of the prison system reshape how law enforcement is being carried out even in small- to medium-sized towns and cities all over America. The terrible dynamic unleashed against prisoners of social control has expanded into policing itself. There are now, for example, approximately 600,000 police officers and 1.5 million private security guards in the United States.

Increasingly, however, black and poor communities are being “policed” by special paramilitary units, often called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams. The US has more than 30,000 such heavily armed, military-trained police units. SWAT-team mobilizations, or “call outs,” increased 400% between 1980 and 1995.

These trends reveal the makings of what may constitute a “National Security State” — the exercising of state power without democratic controls, checks and balances, a state where policing is employed to carry out the disfranchisement of its own citizens.

How do we build resistance to the New Racial Domain in the age of globalized capitalism? It should surprise no one that the resistance is already occurring, on the ground, in thousands of venues. In local neighborhoods, people fighting against police brutality, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, and for prisoners’ rights; in the fight for a living wage, to expand unionization and workers’ rights; in the struggles of working women for day care for their children, health care, public transportation, and decent housing. These practical struggles of daily life are really the core of what constitutes day-to-day resistance. Building capacities of hope and resistance on the ground develops our ability to challenge the system in more fundamental, direct ways.

…the social composition of the anti-globalization forces must change, especially here in the United States.

The recently successful “Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride,” highlighting the plight of undocumented workers who enter the US, represents an excellent model that links the oppressive situation of new immigrants with the historic struggles of the Civil Rights Movement 45 years ago to overthrow Jim Crow. Many sincere, white anti-globalization activists need to learn more about the historic Black Freedom Movement, and the successful models of resistance—from selective buying campaigns or economic boycotts to rent strikes to civil disobedience—which that movement established. You are not inventing models of social justice activism and resistance; others have come before you. The task is to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of those models, incorporating their anti-racist vision into the heart of what we do to resist global capitalism and the national security state.

The anti-globalization movement must be, first and foremost, a worldwide, pluralistic, anti-racist movement, with its absolutely central goal of destroying global apartheid and the reactionary residue of white supremacy and ethnic chauvinism. But to build such a dynamic movement, the social composition of the anti-globalization forces must change, especially here in the United States. The anti-globalization forces are still overwhelmingly upper middle-class, college-educated elites, who may politically sympathize with the plight of the poor and oppressed but who do not share their lives or experiences. In the Third World, the anti-globalization movement has been more successful in achieving a broader, more balanced social class composition, with millions of workers getting actively involved.

There are, however, two broad ideological tendencies within this largely non-European, anti-globalization movement: a liberal, democratic, and populist tendency, and a radical, egalitarian tendency.

The liberal democratic tendency focuses on a discourse of rights, calling for greater civic participation, political enfranchisement, and capacity building of community-based institutions for the purposes of civic empowerment and multicultural diversity. The liberal democratic impulse seeks the reduction of societal conflict through the sponsoring of public conversations, reconciliation and multicultural civic dialogues. It seeks not a complete rejection of neoliberal economic globalization but its constructive reform and engagement, with the goal of building democratic political cultures of human rights within market-based societies.

The radical egalitarian tendency of global anti-racists speaks about inequality and power. It seeks the abolition of poverty, the realization of universal housing, health care and educational guarantees across the non-Western world. It is less concerned about abstract rights and more concerned about concrete results. It seeks not political assimilation in an old world order, but the construction of a new world from the bottom up. It has spoken a political language more in the tradition of national liberation than of the nation-state.

Scholars and activists alike must contribute to the construction of a broad front bringing together both the liberal democratic and radical egalitarian currents. New innovations in social protest movements will also require the development of new social theory and new ways of thinking about the relationship between structural racism and state power. Global apartheid is the great political and moral challenge of our time. It can be destroyed, but only through a collective, transnational struggle.

Dr. Manning Marable is Professor or Public Affairs, Political Science, History and African-American Studies at Columbia University in New York City. He has written and/or edited nearly 20 books, including The Great Wells of Democracy: The Meaning of Race in American Life, New York: Basic Books, 2003.

[22 feb 06]

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