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What's the materialist explanation for racism?

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yoda's walking stick
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Jul 10 2011 02:46
What's the materialist explanation for racism?

Why does it exist?

batswill
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Jul 10 2011 03:31
yoda's walking stick wrote:
Why does it exist?

Racism is no different from other discriminations that obsess consciousnesses, whether it be gender, class, religion, nationality, or even ones preference in diet. I just find your post to be naive and unaware of existential broadness.

Samotnaf
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Jul 10 2011 06:08

I thought of starting a thread with the title, "Why does yoda's walking stick constantly create threads that ask very general questions before stating a point of view about the question asked?" but thought I should ask you first.

LBird
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Jul 10 2011 06:47
yoda's walking stick wrote:
What's the materialist explanation for racism?

Sugar, cotton and Christianity.

The need for some humans to work like slaves, combined with an ideology that 'all men are equal'.

Workers (white) indentured for a period were tried at first, but the conditions were too arduous, and killed many, which dried up the (voluntary) supply. The 'free-market' ideal is to increase wages to get more voluntary workers, but wages would have had to have been set so high for the terrible conditions as to make the production of sugar 'uneconomic' (ie. not profitable).

Humans couldn't be forced to work in sugar production - after all, humans weren't slaves, they were god's creation.

It's only a short step to 'discovering' a supply of 'sub-humans' who could be forced into slavery, with the ideological justification of 'race', which is nonsense according to science.

Racism is historically specific (to capitalism); it is not a manifestation of some eternal human desire to dominate.

bastarx
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Jul 10 2011 07:48

It's been years since I've read them but I remember these two articles by Loren Goldner about the origins of modern racism to be pretty good:

http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/raceI.html
http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/raceII.html

yoda's walking stick
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Jul 10 2011 12:23
Samotnaf wrote:
I thought of starting a thread with the title, "Why does yoda's walking stick constantly create threads that ask very general questions before stating a point of view about the question asked?" but thought I should ask you first.

If you find them irritating, why do you post in them? Masochism? I'm trying to educate myself.

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jonglier
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Jul 10 2011 12:27

When did Samotnaf say that he finds them irritating? He's trying to educate himself as to the workings of your mind (maybe)

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Jul 10 2011 12:56

c'man guys, lets not be too hard on the newbie....

That said, Yoda, you could search the database of threads that have covered this sort of stuff before. You could also attempt to read a little around the subject before starting a post.

I personally am not a fan of the definition provided by LBird. This provides the historically specific ideology of a past historical moment (chattel slavery), but isn't very helpful for dealing with issues of racism in contemporary society*. Similarly I think batswill's definition of the umbrella term 'discrimination' ignores the specificity and differences between racisms, sexisms, nationalisms etc, etc. These are all different phenomena which sometimes take on complex configurations but should not be bracketed into one loose definition of 'discrimination'. Also, the existential definition lacks explanatory prowess when it comes to institutional racism or other forms of structural (non-existential) forms of 'discrimination' (the racism perpetuated through the global division of labour, which is also connected to different forms of sexism).

You might want to check out some of the resources at the Institute of Race Relations, for a more 'materialist' conception of racism.

*Though I will concede this definition may still be helpful when looking at the global division of labour

LBird
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Jul 10 2011 13:11
Arbeiten wrote:
I personally am not a fan of the definition provided by LBird. This provides the historically specific ideology of a past historical moment (chattel slavery), but isn't very helpful for dealing with issues of racism in contemporary society

'ideology of a past historical moment'?

Marx wrote:
...theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/df-jahrbucher/law-abs.htm

Unfortunately, the 'theory' of racism did, and to some extent, still does, 'grip the masses'. And now thus it still is a 'material force'.

And being able, as Communists, to explain its material origins and so undermine it in the eyes of those still unconvinced that 'race' is nonsense, seems to me to be entirely 'very helpful for dealing with issues of racism in contemporary society'.

batswill
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Jul 10 2011 16:05
Arbeiten wrote:
c'man guys, lets not be too hard on the newbie....

Similarly I think batswill's definition of the umbrella term 'discrimination' ignores the specificity and differences between racisms, sexisms, nationalisms etc, etc. These are all different phenomena which sometimes take on complex configurations but should not be bracketed into one loose definition of 'discrimination'. Also, the existential definition lacks explanatory prowess when it comes to institutional racism or other forms of structural (non-existential) forms of 'discrimination' (the racism perpetuated through the global division of labour, which is also connected to different forms of sexism).

/quote]
I bookmarked the link you provided, very nice.
I think existential theories and related post-modern analyses of cultural institutions have explanatory prowess enough, along with the term 'discrimination'.
I'm not aware of any dichotomy that exists between structure and existentialism. Existentialism is after all an all encompassing process of questioning the nature of reality and destroying superstitions, which mostly are the conscious motivating beliefs that reify into institutional structures and cultures.

batswill
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Jul 10 2011 16:29

[quote=Arbeiten,PS comrade, this dichotomy
" ,,,,, other forms of structural (non-existential) forms of 'discrimination' "

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Jul 10 2011 17:24

I don't believe it to be a dichotomy either. Just different phenomena that cannot be subsumed under a wholly existential explanation. They of course have an interplay (Men [sic] make their own history, but they do not make it as they please - Marx in the Brumaire is just one example of this but there are many more). Structural forms may emerge from human behaviour, but they then take a relative autonomy from the existential level and in many cases actually constrain existential behaviour. You can see this friction between structure and agency in most of the work of 'existential' philosophers (most prominently in Sartre's attempt at a synthesis between Existentialism and Marxism, but the same is true for Merleau-Ponty and de Beauvoir).

I think what I have said is largely congruent with what Lbird is getting at with the 'grip on the masses' that has become a 'material force'. Where I depart from you LBird is your seeming suggestion that if the so called 'masses' just knew about chattel slavery and its material root we could easily stamp out racism. I don't think racism is the same as religion, so that the Hegel article, as interesting as it is, won't cut my mustard. I had hoped when you had spoken of the historic specificity of racism(s) you were not going to play the old Marxist card trick of 'look it's already all in Marx'. I hasten to add here that though I don't think we should neglect the material dimension of racism, I don't think it is reducible to it (I'm not willing to subsume all the historically specific forms of racism into a marxist one size fits all approach). There is a rich tradition of black marxist (walter rodney, CLR James, Stuart Hall, Franz Fanon just to name a few) and non-marxist approaches (Cornel West etc, etc) that I think paint a better and more complex picture of 'racism'.

For the record, this is part of the reason why I do not define myself as a 'Communist' writ large, largely because I don't want to be held hostage to Marx's writings!

LBird
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Jul 10 2011 20:37
Arbeiten wrote:
I think what I have said is largely congruent with what Lbird is getting at with the 'grip on the masses' that has become a 'material force'.

Yeah, I don't think there's really much separating us.

Arbeiten wrote:
Where I depart from you LBird is your seeming suggestion that if the so called 'masses' just knew about chattel slavery and its material root we could easily stamp out racism.

Well, I suggested nothing of the sort - I was answering yoda's question about 'the material explanation for racism'.

However, I do think 'materialist explanations' are an essential part of the struggle against racism. Notice, I accept there will be struggle, it won't be just a peaceful education session. But neither do I think 'struggle' alone is any substitute for political philosophy, thought and ideas, which 'the masses' (the proletariat) need for themselves to be their own leaders.

Arbeiten wrote:
I had hoped... you were not going to play the old Marxist card trick of 'look it's already all in Marx'

This is a strange criticism to aim at me.

I constantly criticise the use of quotes from 19th century dead men to explain everything that happens now. I'm always saying Marx and the rest had arseholes, just like you and me, and often made mistakes, again, just like you and me.

The quote was a single line of abstract philosophical value, and had nothing to with racism in itself.

We can come up with materialist explanations which have fuck all to do with Marx, and often oppose him on specifics.

Arbeiten wrote:
I'm not willing to subsume all the historically specific forms of racism into a marxist one size fits all approach

Well, either what I've explained is the root of racism (ie. capitalism), or it isn't. It's nothing to do with a 'marxist one size fits all approach'. If you disagree, surely the onus is on you to provide another explanation of the origins of racism.

Surely identifying the origins of racism helps us to combat it in the 21st century? Once we've identified that, we can go on to explain why it persists (and who ensures it persists). Unless you think it is a manifestation of the 'eternal badness of humans'?

Arbeiten wrote:
For the record, this is part of the reason why I do not define myself as a 'Communist' writ large, largely because I don't want to be held hostage to Marx's writings!

Well, I do define myself as "a 'Communist' writ large", and I'm not "held hostage to Marx's writings", either!

Anyway, mate, we're on the same side.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 10 2011 21:03

As well as the specific historical determinations like the need to justify the slave trade, colonialism etc (there's some interesting 16th century Spanish juridicial debates i heard cited in a lecture discussing whether native americans counted as human for example), it's probably also worth bearing in mind social psychology with regards to identity formation, in/out groups etc, otherwise you're relying on quite direct material interests to explain it, which can't really account for the emotional content of racism. i.e. even if you blame the ruling class' interests for creating it and the mass media for propagating it, it only works because it exploits various psychological tendencies/predispositions (not that these are fixed or independent of society, of course).

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Jul 10 2011 21:06
LBird wrote:
yoda's walking stick wrote:
What's the materialist explanation for racism?

Sugar, cotton and Christianity.

The need for some humans to work like slaves, combined with an ideology that 'all men are equal'.

Workers (white) indentured for a period were tried at first, but the conditions were too arduous, and killed many, which dried up the (voluntary) supply. The 'free-market' ideal is to increase wages to get more voluntary workers, but wages would have had to have been set so high for the terrible conditions as to make the production of sugar 'uneconomic' (ie. not profitable).

Humans couldn't be forced to work in sugar production - after all, humans weren't slaves, they were god's creation.

It's only a short step to 'discovering' a supply of 'sub-humans' who could be forced into slavery, with the ideological justification of 'race', which is nonsense according to science.

Racism is historically specific (to capitalism); it is not a manifestation of some eternal human desire to dominate.

Doubleplusgood answer. This is what kept embryonic capitalism (an early system of property) going when private property (In the newly forming America) couldn't force (white) people into wage slavery. Private property, rent and interest are the things that (white) settlers were running from in England but they wont tell you that in 3'rd grade history books.

In the more populated north property could be enforced in so forcing people into the system and agriculture wast the main form of employment so there was no essential need for chattel slaves.

White mans burden to "civilize" the globe was used to excuse parasitic colonialism (as it is to this day)...even people such as John Maynard Keynes held onto white mans burden. This was the reason he created world bank but just as the old colonialism it was just a front for parasitic colonialism. Fuck Keynes.

RedHughs
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Jul 10 2011 21:36

This is a good question.

Even if it is a "beginning question", we're not math professors dismissing the simple questions as beneath us - just the opposite, we should be "honing our chops" on answer the basics.

So, what I'd say is...

First, capitalism is both a historical creation and "self-reproducing system".

For the particular historical qualities of Anglo-American racism, you naturally have to look at the slave-trade and the process of European migration to the US. Essentially, dividing the work-force by skin color is very convenient approach. And the capitalists found it very divide the workforce in order to control it. A whole vein literature looks at this, including "How The Irish Became White".

Now, the other side would be to look at racism in the abstract, within an abstract capitalism considered as a self-reproducing system. Here, among other things, society in general become a "war of all against all". Workers are hired and apartments are rented "based on the look of the person". Any surface difference serve as an advantage or a disadvantage for a given person (there was a study showing tall men outlive short men for example, etc). And given a world people where people internalize the dominant order, it is natural for people to internalize any given prejudice, to see them as natural. And what more convenient prejudice to internal than the prejudices that are already out-there, the prejudices which have developed historically (skin color, gender, tribe, religion).

Certainly, we could go into the group psychology or Reich's theories of racism coming out of sexual repression or whatever. But despite these things be very interesting, they're also more suggestive than definitive (even mainstream psychology has less scientific-ness than it would like to claim).

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Jul 10 2011 22:26

Actually LBird, I just realized, your right, I was accusing you for saying something when you were actually just answering the question. sorry about that embarrassed , 'the materialist definition of racism' with no qualification just riles me up. But that has nothing to do with your post, which was just answering Yoda.

LBird
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Jul 11 2011 07:01
Arbeiten wrote:
Actually LBird, I just realized, your right, I was accusing you for saying something when you were actually just answering the question. sorry about that

No problem, mate. You're right, of course, to stress that it's not enough just to explain the materialist origins of racism (which is what yoda was asking about), but it is also necessary to discuss a political strategy for now, to combat racism in our world today.

FWIW, I think any good materialist analysis will contain 'ideological' elements as well as narrowly 'materialist' elements. The Marx quote above about 'theory becoming a material force' shows, to me, that that's also what Marx had in mind.

Joseph Kay wrote:
...it's probably also worth bearing in mind social psychology with regards to identity formation, in/out groups etc, otherwise you're relying on quite direct material interests to explain it, which can't really account for the emotional content of racism. i.e. even if you blame the ruling class' interests for creating it and the mass media for propagating it, it only works because it exploits various psychological tendencies/predispositions (not that these are fixed or independent of society, of course).

Reading the bulk of your statement, Joseph, I was building up for a good argument, but the last bit (my bold) rather took the wind out of my sails!

Yes, 'psychology', 'identity', 'emotional content' and 'psychological tendencies/predispositions' are all far more about 'society' than 'individuals'. It's social politics, rather than chemical moods.

'Brainwashing', not 'human nature', should be our Communist research axiom.

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Jul 11 2011 09:10

Brainwashing shouldn't be a communist axiom, as ideology already is! FWIW I sign my name under Althussers influence here, and when speaking specifically of racism, Stuart Hall's Althusser influenced writings....

LBird
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Jul 11 2011 09:51
Arbeiten wrote:
Brainwashing shouldn't be a communist axiom, as ideology already is!

Well, by 'brainwashing', I mean 'socialisation', which all societies have always done, and all societies in the future will continue to do (including Communist society).

I've used 'brainwashing' to emphasise that all the bourgeois nonsense about us all being 'freethinking individuals' is just that: nonsense.

The beauty of Communism is that we all get to share in the brainwashing process: 'what does it consist of?', 'how do we apply it?', etc.

And I hope, by your loose quip about 'ideology', you're not suggesting that you're personally free of ideology, are you? You do know that the key building block of conservative ideology is that it is not an ideology?

And 'Althusser'? Fuck me! I thought that idiot's neo-Stalinist, incomprehensible ideas were dead and buried with him!

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Jul 11 2011 11:10

i find 'brainwashing' has too many conspiracy theorist connotations and there are much better Marxist terms we can use, similarly 'socialization' (for me at least) has the connotations of the family and educational sphere, which are of course important (very very important), but they do not tell the full story.

Your not familiar with the Althusserian notion of ideology right?* For Althusser there is no such thing as 'false consciousness', so no, I do not believe I am outside ideology and just to qualify your point about conservative ideology, I would say this is true of all ideology (not just conservativism), to appear as if it emanates from nature.

* His politics are shit by the way, all his life he was a PCF apologist, 68 was deemed 'infantile leftism', he was critical of de-Stalinization etc, etc. I am in no way trying to say I am out and out Althusserian, I have just recently been reading some Althusser and Althusser influenced work (Stuart Hall, Etienne Balibar).

LBird
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Jul 11 2011 14:40
Arbeiten wrote:
i find 'brainwashing' has too many conspiracy theorist connotations and there are much better Marxist terms we can use, similarly 'socialization' ...

Personally, I like 'brainwashing' precisely because it challenges all the crap about 'free-thinking individualism', and focuses attention on the question of where all of our ideas come from - ie. society.

And the most 'brainwashed' are not, paradoxically, the Commies, who according to the Communist Manifesto "disdain to conceal their views and aims", but the 'individualists' who live in a bourgeois-inspired cloud-cuckoo-land.

Arbeiten wrote:
Your not familiar with the Althusserian notion of ideology right?

No, I'm not. I'm not a fan of any of the French philosophers from the 60s-70s. If you'd like to give a precis in a few lines/short paragraph, in readable format, I'd be glad to read it, though.

Arbeiten wrote:
For Althusser there is no such thing as 'false consciousness'...

So the bastard got something right, then!

Arbeiten wrote:
...just to qualify your point about conservative ideology, I would say this is true of all ideology (not just conservativism), to appear as if it emanates from nature.

Well, as I said above, I don't think this is true of Communism, which is openly ideological, and a product of humanity.

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Sep 19 2011 08:18
yoda's walking stick wrote:
Why does it exist?

The materialist explanation for racism?

Since my short or non serious answers to your questions are considered "uncivilized" I'll point you in this direction which will no doubt be labeled as spamming. .

Quote:
Ernest Becker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, wrote, "The last thing man can admit to himself is that his life-ways are arbitrary: this is one of the reasons that people often show derisive glee and scorn over the 'strange' customs of other lands—it is a defense against the awareness that his own way of life may be just as fundamentally contrived as any other. One culture is always a potential menace to another because it is a living example that life can go on heroically without a value framework totally alien to one's own."

Kierkegaard's torment was the direct result of seeing the world as it really is in relation to his situation as a creature. The prison of one's character is painstakingly built to deny one thing and one thing alone: one's creatureliness. The creatureliness is the terror. Once you admit that you are a defecating creature and you invite the primeval ocean of creature anxiety to flood over you. But it is more than creature anxiety, it is also man's anxiety, the anxiety that re­sults from the human paradox that man is an animal who is con­scious of his animal limitation. Anxiety is the result of the percep­tion of the truth of one's condition. What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous.

What would the average man do with a full consciousness of ab­surdity? He has fashioned his character for the precise purpose of putting it between himself and the facts of life; it is his special tour-de-force that allows him to ignore incongruities, to nourish himself on impossibilities, to thrive on blindness. He accomplishes thereby a peculiarly human victory: the ability to be smug about terror. Sartre has called man a "useless passion" because he is so hopelessly bungled, so deluded about his true condition. He wants to be a god with only the equipment of an animal, and so he thrives on fantasies. As Ortega so well put it in the epigraph we have used for this chapter, man uses his ideas for the defense of his existence, to frighten away reality.

-Ernest Becker

The human will to significance can be problematic. Ideologies of self justification and self aggrandizing beliefs may be a human defense to its demise but it can lead to horrible realities. The transference of life and meaning to objects and symbols is a human trait that makes conflict more probable. It is no longer a piece of land, cloth, stone or building but my very life and existence. Two heroic systems that are born from this escape from oblivion and this will to significance, cannot stand to co-exist with one another because their mere existence points to the fallacy of their absolute superiority. Thus genocide is even justified kill the people to keep the ideology alive. Humans have often sacrificed real life for imaginary life.

The human ability to give meaning to colors, flags, stories, and symbols has often led to two or more movements to battle in a bloody conflict for hegemony.
The neurotic is having trouble with the balance of cultural illusion and natural reality; the possible horrible truth about himself and the world is seeping into his consciousness. The average man is at least secure that the cultural game is the truth, the unshakable, durable truth. "
"Man is a frightened animal who must lie in order to live."
"Societies are standardized systems of death denial."

-Ernest Becker

"The analysis of disgust and shame...shows us that human beings typically have a problematic relationship to their mortality and animality, and that this problematic relationship causes not just inner tension, but also aggression toward others. If ideals of respect and reciprocity are to have a chance of prevailing, they must contend against the forces of narcissism and misanthropy that these emotions so frequently involve."
-Hiding from Humanity by Martha Nussbaum

Myth is useful to man but truth is uncomfortable.

"A continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity-is so much the rule and law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have risen among them. The are deeply immersed in illusions...What does man actually know about himself?...even concerning his own body-in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream, and the intricate quivering of the fibers!"
-Friedrich Nietzsche

"Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together."
- Eugene Ionesco

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Sep 21 2011 16:19

Race is a social construct, not a biological reality. It's used to divide. Racism itself came in with a boom with capitalism, which was able to utilize it perfectly.

"If you know the history of the whole concept of whiteness—if you know the history of the whole concept of the white race, where it came from and for what reason—you know that it was a trick, and it’s worked brilliantly. You see, prior to the mid to late 1600s, in the colonies of what would become the United States, there was no such thing as the white race. Those of us of European descent did not refer to ourselves by that term really ever before then." - Tim Wise, The Pathology of Privilege

"Historically, 19th century Europeans classified peoples in their colonies into a hierarchy of categories which placed northern Europeans at the top of a pseudo-evolutionary scale. They saw the dark, primitive peoples of the colonies as suitable for enlightenment by the civilized nations of Europe which often translated into economic and social exploitation and sometimes genocidal policies." - "Race" as a Social Construct

"The European colonists who founded the United States ... accepted the idea of racial hierarchy that was prevalent in Europe at the time. It was just too convenient: The socially constructed concept of race was a powerful tool that aided them in the conquest of the continent... Because they believed that races were genetically different (although they didn't describe it in those terms), many saw the exploitation of the Indians and Africans as no different from the use of farm animals. For such thinkers, the fact that the Bible had no explicit proscription against slavery justified the importation of millions of slaves from the western shores of Africa to meet the growing needs of agricultural production in the colonies." - The Problem, Simply Stated. The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America, by Joseph L. Graves Jr., Ph.D.

The construct continues on today as an element of this society. It won't be eliminated by "anti-racist action," "diversity," "reverse racism," or any other activist method which actually works to strengthen the concept of racial division, to the detriment of the international working class.

It will only be overcome and eliminated when it's source is, through the activity of the working class. Seeds of this were seen in historic episodes like the Coal Creek War in Tennessee. White miners there were being replaced with mostly black prison laborers. The miners repeatedly freed the prisoners and burnt down the stockades they were being held in. These monumental acts, which had more effect than ten thousand vigils could, were done not because someone had convinced them that racism was morally wrong, but rather because it was in their interests to do so.

tastybrain
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Sep 21 2011 18:52

Barbara Fields, an American historian, is particularly good on this question.

check out her text on "Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America"

I last read that essay a couple of years ago, so I'm not sure if I'd still agree with all of it now. But I remember thinking it was excellent at the time and it definitely provides an excellent materialist explanation for racism.

Incidentally, what about materialist explanations for racism outside the United States?

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Sep 23 2011 09:25
Quote:
Incidentally, what about materialist explanations for racism outside the United States?

I'd suggest reading The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. Although events in North America do play a major role in the book, its focus is on the english-speaking atlantic, so it includes events from britain, europe, africa, the carribbean, south america, etc. It gives a pretty good material explanation for racism in the origins and rise of capitalism but is also a history of resistance to capitalism and racism.

It would be interesting if anyone could suggest anything about the non-english speaking world though.

yourmum
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Sep 23 2011 12:12

http://ruthlesscriticism.com/racism.htm

tastybrain
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Sep 24 2011 13:51
Rosa Noir wrote:
Quote:
Incidentally, what about materialist explanations for racism outside the United States?

I'd suggest reading The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. Although events in North America do play a major role in the book, its focus is on the english-speaking atlantic, so it includes events from britain, europe, africa, the carribbean, south america, etc. It gives a pretty good material explanation for racism in the origins and rise of capitalism but is also a history of resistance to capitalism and racism.

It would be interesting if anyone could suggest anything about the non-english speaking world though.

I read the first half and found it fascinating. I will have to revisit it.