Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Problem with 'Racial Capitalism' and the Confederate Flag

The Confederate Flag is “The Treason Flag”. The Confederate flag is also the American Swastika, the banner of a society based upon the charnel houses and slave labor camps described in Edward Baptiste’s brilliant and devastating book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

In the aftermath of The Charleston Massacre, there have been demands by many Americans that the Confederate flag be removed from public spaces. Corporations such as Amazon and Walmart have decided to no longer sell the flag. This desire to discard such a problematic and onerous symbol has even extended to the digital and virtual worlds: Apple has removed video games and apps that contain images of the Confederate Flag.

These moves are an example of what Professor Nancy Leong describes as “racial capitalism”, a practice that is based on the management of racial stagecraft and optics, neoliberal multiculturalism, and maximizing the superficial in the interest of profits. Racial capitalism has little to no substantive social justice component, and in many ways can work against meaningful social, economic, and political progress for people of color.

It would seem that for companies such as Apple, it is far easier to “ban” the Confederate Flag than it is to diversify one’s senior management and corporate leadership.

The following claims are not exclusive of one another.

First, private companies are free to decide what goods and services that they will provide within the boundaries of the law.

Second, the Confederate Flag should be removed from public spaces. It is a symbol of hatred, violence, rape, murder, exploitation, and evokes a type of Herrenvolk whites only democracy that formerly enslaved black Americans for centuries, before transitioning into the American Apartheid of Jim and Jane Crow for decades and leaving many tens of thousands of black folks murdered by white racial terrorism.

The Confederate flag also represents a type of economic plunder where land, income, wealth, labor and property were systematically stolen from Black America and used to subsidize white society.

Moreover, one of the most important aspects of the recent discussions about the appropriateness of the Confederate flag’s presence over the South Carolina capital (and elsewhere), is that the unstated and unqualified assumptions about who constitutes “the public” and the “we” have been exposed as racially marked, exclusive and not inclusive. When not critically interrogated, words and phrases such as “we”, “I”, “the public”, and “most people” reproduce white privilege and the unearned advantages that come with being “white” in the United States. In a society where the color line demarcated what groups, individuals, and types of bodies were deemed to be fit for citizenship, the vote, or could be full members of the polity, those types of interventions are crucial.

Therefore, when defenders of the Confederate Flag say that it honors “our culture” and “our heritage”, they are most certainly not including the millions of black Americans that were terrorized, raped, pillaged, and denied their basic humanity by America’s slave regime and Apartheid systems.

[Of course, there are sycophantic, self-hating black conservatives who can be purchased by the pound or bushel that would suggest otherwise. They are professional contrarians who find material and psychological lucre by undermining the Black Freedom Struggle and engaging in political blackface, for their guiding principle is to serve as human chaff, a defense shield, and professional “best black friends” for Right-wing and GOP racists. Their opinion holds no weight except for those who would seek to do Black America harm.]

If the Confederate flag is allowed to fly over public spaces then it is mocking and inflicting psychic pain and insult on a good portion of The People because it is a symbol of white racial terrorism, and a reminder that despite the ostensible rule of law and civil rights, the United States is still the “white man’s country”, and black Americans are forever deemed to be second class citizens.

The symbolism of the Confederate Flag is important. But, black Americans—and other people of conscience who find the American Swastika a toxic and noxious thing—are not fragile. They are not childlike and hysterical, nor do they melt like the witch in The Wizard of Oz when exposed to water. Life on the other side of the color line has created a determined people: America’s crucible of race burns off the weak and only leaves the strong alive.

Black America’s concerns about the Confederate flag are not about a piece of fabric, a particular arrangement of colors, and how together they symbolize white supremacy (for those who deny that fact one can look to Germany where the Swastika is banned and in its stead white racial fascists now make use of the Confederate flag). No, the complaint and objection is primarily against the social, political, and cultural institutions of white supremacy, inequality, and white privilege that brought the flag into being, and which continue to negatively over-determine the life chances of Black Americans and other people of color in the present.

An obsession with removing the Confederate Flag from public spaces, not selling it in stores, or erasing it from digital spaces, is a distraction from a truly transformative politics of racial justice.

For example, just as with racial capitalism in its worst moments, the retreat from the Confederate flag by Republicans obscures more than it reveals.

Republican presidential candidates and other Right-wing elites are willing to sacrifice the Confederate flag because they do not want to talk about guns and Right-wing domestic terrorism in the aftermath of The Charleston Massacre.

Removing the Confederate Flag does not restore the voting and civil rights protections—won in blood by the Civil Rights Movement—that were recently destroyed by the Republican Party, the Right-wing media, and the Supreme Court.

The Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy and a racist, sexist, landed aristocracy that presided over the slave era south. As economist Raj Jetty has shown, the destitution and poverty of many areas of the American South in the present are directly connected to the systems of chattel slavery from more than a century ago. A debate over the Confederate Flag does nothing to deal with the racial and class inequity upon which it is based.

The Confederate Flag is also a symbol of a racist criminal justice that practiced debt peonage and virtual slavery in the decades after Reconstruction and into American Apartheid, where poor black men were put on chain gangs, forced into veritable gulags and debtor’s prisons, and their labor stolen by corporations and a local capitalist elite class. The moral hazard wherein police, local municipalities, as well as other public and private interests are enriched by arresting, ticketing, issuing summonses to, and otherwise harassing black people (as was seen in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other parts of the United States), is embodied by the Confederate flag. A campaign for its removal that does not address such a reality is incomplete.

Succumbing to a Right-wing ploy that focuses on removing the Confederate flag from public and private spaces, but does not address systemic institutional white supremacy and violence against black Americans and other people of color, is creating a distorted view of reality and a twisted politics where history is unmoored from the present—what is an alternate reality where outcomes are disconnected from their causes. This is Orwellian and dangerous as it makes for an ill-informed public, and also prevents a substantive understanding of power and power in post civil rights era America.

The Confederate Flag or the American Swastika or the Treason Flag did not kill 9 defenseless black people in The Charleston Massacre. The beliefs and social order embodied by the Confederate flag committed wanton and cruel violence against black bodies—as it has for centuries. To fall for the Right-wing con job and political parlor trick that is obsessing over the presence of the Confederate flag in public spaces, video games, the marketplace, or elsewhere is a distraction from the systematic and institutional white supremacy that the American news media, the country’s political leaders, and the public should really be focusing on. 


Rich Goldstein said...

Over at TomDispatch.com, Greg Grandin has a piece about US troops carrying the Confederate flag into the various countries where America has committed genocide.

One of the most telling passages about the modern history of the flag relates to America’s post-WW2 assumption of colonialist military control of East Asia, specifically Korea: "With the Korean War, the NAACP’s journal,The Crisis, reported a staggering jump in sales of Confederate flags from 40,000 in 1949 to 1,600,000 in 1950. Much of the demand, it reported, was coming from soldiers overseas in Germany and Korea. The Crisis hoped for the best, writing that the banner’s growing popularity had nothing to do with rising ‘reactionary Dixiecratism.’ It was a ‘fad,’ the magazine claimed, ‘like carrying foxtails on cars.’” [http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176020/tomgram%3A_greg_grandin%2C_how_endless_war_helps_old_dixie_stay_new/]

chauncey devega said...

Thanks for the good sharing. Symbolic politics give permission to and cannot easily be separated from other types of political behavior.

James Scaminaci III, PhD said...

Another great article, Chauncey.

I am happy to report that in Escambia County, Florida, that the board of commissioners voted 5-0 to permanently remove the Confederate flag from all county buildings.

But, removing that flag, the symbol of white supremacy and slavery, does nothing to eliminate institutional racism and the disparate racial impacts of "color-blind" laws that always seem to disadvantage the Black community.

We had a large turnout from the progressive and Black community, including ministers, to voice support for our lone Black commissioner who spearheaded the effort to remove the flag. Sadly, no one--white or Black--shows up for school board meetings and workshops where policies are made that negatively effect the education and life chances of their sons and daughters. We have a 66 percent high school graduation rate overall, with 44 percent for Black children. That is completely unacceptable, but the community does not turn out to challenge and change that.

The concept of "racial capitalism" is interesting. I would extend that to "LGBT capitalism." The fact that conservative and libertarian billionaires support same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws against the LGBTQ is all about their profits and their workforce. It says and does nothing about raising taxes on the top one-tenth of one percent; restoring Glass-Steagall; breaking up the Wall Street banks; putting the bankers who robbed the American people in jail; preserving clean air and water protections, etc. It allows the billionaires to appear to be progressive, when they are not.

The fact that the gay community can lead the way, in some cases, in displacing Black, brown, elderly and the poor in urban areas goes almost unmentioned. And, look at how many closeted gay men in policy positions support the oligarchy on ideological grounds from within the Republican Party hierarchy.

Although same-sex marriage rights and anti-discrimination laws appears to be a progressive issue, given how vehemently the Christian Right is opposed, it is not really a neat left-right, progressive-conservative issue. I could be wrong in terms of public opinion, but I suspect I am not. A conservative Republican could support same-sex marriage rights and want tax cuts for the billionaires.

But, the oligarchy can use same-sex marriage rights and anti-gay discrimination laws to appear progressive and enlightened.

TenarDarell said...

The other day I had the cynical thought that this focus on that Confederate flag, by both the well meaning and the politically calculating, was transitioning into one more way to rile up the ignorant over a symbol.

Thus, it becomes possible to avoid a substantive discussion of guns, racism, and toxic masculinity, and it also creates a new front in the right's culture war. The corporate and right wing media are once again creating space for the white victim dismount into both siderism and opinionville. Which is how we end up with a Thiessen editorial in the Washington Post spinning strawmen into resentment. (Link attempt here).

It is clear that you are a powerful influencer. I don't believe I would have noticed this a few months ago.

joe manning said...

Racial capitalism seems to be endemic to small business ideology in the interests of dividing the labor force, making it easier to hire and fire with impunity and immunity and keeping wages low. Of course its been around at least since the Pleistocene but its gotten further differentiated and codified into custom and law almost as exact legal pseudo-science.

joe manning said...

Retiring the flag and marriage equality are no-brainer "lightning rod" non-issues that are "safe" for righties to endorse in the interests of giving cover to a more muscular color blind racism as embodied in voter suppression, austerity, and eliminating social programs. In addition, it all goes to energizing their neo-Nazi base. Whatever the GOP gives up in overt racist insignia they compensate for with twice as many regressive policies.

Will Germany follow suit and ban the American swastika? Its the least they could do given their genocidal past.

joe manning said...

The US army is something of a training field for righties.

ssohara said...

The issue I have with this article is the painting of all conservative blacks with a broad brush. The thing is, you can acknowledge that racism exists in America yet have different ideas or thoughts on how to deal with it. If the minute you disagree with someone you just stereotype them or call them names vs. having a respectful dialog than that doesn't seem to me a good response. Now, maybe after talking to someone you realize that yes, that person IS a racist or naïve or whatever. But I don't like to pigeonhole entire groups of people.

And the thing with a black conservative like Thomas Sowell, for example - he's just incredibly brilliant. Most of what he writes is not about politics or race, it's about economics and logic. Some black conservatives really are just mouthpieces, but some are actually brilliant in their fields of expertise, they just happen to also be conservative, so you can disagree with their politics while still acknowledging that they have made excellent contributions to other fields.
None of this denies that black people have been systematically oppressed in America. I'm not white, I'm a brown skinned person, I've encountered racism too, but I know blacks have it worse than I do. I've seen it. When I lived in the rural deep South for a few years I encountered prejudice that was bad but I also had people who accepted me that would NOT accept or welcome a black person. It amazed me that just a few shades would make such a big difference. Particularly since I grew up in an environment where racism was not much of an issue - in grade school and high school I had friends of all races and we worked on projects together, studied together, had sleepovers, etc. No biggie. The racism I encountered in the South hit me like a punch in the gut, it shocked me so much.
Yet even in the South, I met blacks who had different strategies for dealing with it, and I don't think it's OK to say that some strategies are valid and others are not. Because different black people have different personalities, goals, etc. To imply that all blacks must walk in lock step when it comes to politics, ideology, etc., denies the dignity of individuality to black people. I refuse to lump all black people into one group and say they must all think alike. That to me is also racist. Each black person is also an individual.

joe manning said...

Like Arundhati Roy says, by allowing her a voice the oligarchy appears flexible, confident, and benign. And she has no other choice than to be manipulated as the token radical. The power elite is thus able to have good PR and court different constituencies in order to hold the balance of power. wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundhati_Roy

joe manning said...

To your point: "they" play both ends against the middle and hedge their bets on both sides. On the one hand "they" nurture the homophobic right i.e. the TP, and on the other side "they" come out in favor of gay rights. Classic divide, agitate, and rule.

joe manning said...

Thanks for sharing. Most teachers agree that racism could be mitigated by public education but rightist state legislatures are aggressively preventing this denouement by privatizing public ed., closing schools, firing teachers, busting teachers unions, revising history, censoring science, theocratizing curriculums, and banning Black and ethnic studies.

The Civil Rights movement is not asking folks to march in lock step. It demands equality, actually not even that so much as equal opportunity. That's something that most folks can agree on.

As a brilliant Black person, Thomas Sowell has to be aware that a third of humanity is being subjected to slow or fast genocide at home and abroad. His aloofness is unconscionable as is that of Obama, Will Smith, Bill Cosby, Bobby McFerrin, Clarence Thomas...

joe manning said...

The GOP is adept at playing both ends against the middle.

ssohara said...

I'm actually fine with school choice, private schools, homeschooling, etc., but NOT with racism. The problem is how do you allow one but not the other?
Just as two examples, though. I have several black friends who home-school their children. In one case, their daughter had dyslexia, and she was NOT getting the help she needed in school. The Mom, who is a lawyer, took a two year hiatus from work (which obviously negatively influenced their income) to take care of her daughter's need for an education - she home-schooled her child until the child was able to go back to school. Another friend of mine with a young mixed-race daughter home-schools. Her daughter is really bright and the school was not challenging her - the daughter kept getting written up for acting out, turns out she was bored. Now she is doing advanced math, music, learning 2 languages (French and German) and also doing gymnastics and soccer.
Also, in poor urban neighborhoods when school choice is allowed black parents often overwhelm the system - so that lotteries, etc., must be used.

However, none of this negates what you are saying - that sometimes racists will home-school or try to private school to avoid having their children mix with children of a different color.
I don't understand that myself. But people are idiots sometimes.

When I lived in South Carolina I was going to a church where we were planning to invite the kids from a local orphanage (or is it foster home?) to come to the church for Christmas to receive gifts and have a nice meal. In other words, something good, what churches are supposed to do. And one lady objected because there were a lot of black kids in the orphanage! I was so angry! Of course not everyone was like this and several people took her to task and we did host the kids from the orphanage, but the thing is there ARE people like this in the world and they just don't even recognize their own hypocrisy.

chauncey devega said...

I think you could benefit from developing a much better framework for understanding racism and power. Thomas Sowell is a smart guy whose earlier work on economics was interesting. Now he writes for a white supremacist website and is their human black face run down black people puppet. So I would work harder on your defense of Sowell.

You wrote:

"Yet even in the South, I met blacks who had different strategies for dealing with it, and I don't think it's OK to say that some strategies are valid and others are not."

Yes, we can and should critically evaluate those approaches. It is not just a matter of "opinion". Example, Clarence Thomas has made it his life's work at present to dismantle the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. He is one of the most dangerous and noxious black people to ever live. How can he not be evaluated relative to the harm he is doing to black Americans and others?

There are black and brown people on the right who have so internalized white supremacy that they have no dignity.

Sure, black folks are "individuals". They also live in a society where their life chances are racialized. Nice rhetoric that denies empirical reality.

chauncey devega said...

The charter school movement is a failure and one more example of using neoliberal spin and jargon to steal money from the people and the public commons. Separate conversation.

Do some research. These are not unknown unknowns. The home schooling and private school movement is a direct result of the white supremacist reaction to school desegregation. Look up "Christian Freedom Academies" as a start.

Buddy H said...

Look who just died after a long, long life: Bonard Fowler:


Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old laborer and church deacon, was shot to death in Mack’s Cafe in Marion, Ala., on the night of Feb. 18, 1965, and the killing proved historic: It provoked the fateful voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, turning the tide for the civil rights movement.

For more than four decades, though, the crime itself was largely ignored. Justice for Mr. Jackson was deferred, largely because of what distinguished his case from those of other black Americans killed at the hands of Southern whites back then. In his case, the suspect was not only white but also a law-enforcement officer.

In an interview Fowler complained that blacks “won’t hesitate to wear their colors — green, black and red — but they will get mad if you put the Confederate flag on the front of your car.”

According to The Star’s account, in 1966 Mr. Fowler shot and killed another unarmed black man, who he said had attacked him with a billy club in a local jail after being arrested during a traffic stop in Alabaster, Ala. In 1968 Mr. Fowler was fired for assaulting a supervisor.

John Smith said...

The Confederate Flag is “The Treason Flag”. The Confederate flag is also the American Swastika, the banner of a society based upon the charnel houses and slave labor camps... It is a symbol of hatred, violence, rape, murder, exploitation, and evokes a type of Herrenvolk whites only democracy that formerly enslaved black Americans for centuries, before transitioning into the American Apartheid of Jim and Jane Crow for decades and leaving many tens of thousands of black folks murdered by white racial terrorism... represents a type of economic plunder where land, income, wealth, labor and property were systematically stolen from Black America and used to subsidize white society... is mocking and inflicting psychic pain and insult on a good portion of The People because it is a symbol of white racial terrorism, and a reminder that despite the ostensible rule of law and civil rights, the United States is still the “white man’s country”, and black Americans are forever deemed to be second class citizens... a symbol of white supremacy and a racist, sexist, landed aristocracy that presided over the slave era south.

We get it. You don't don't like the Confederate battle flag. Are you talking about 1861 above or today's times? Granted, some racists do have a confederate battle flag, but some racists also fly an american flag. Some racists fly British flags or Russian flags too. Whatever the battle flag once represented, in today's times it means different things to different people. To many in the south, it is a symbol of defiance and freedom. I see an overabundance of sensationalism in your article and the stroke of a very wide brush that all encompasses a diverse group made up of a wide variety of many different people who you have lumped together as one singular collective.

chauncey devega said...

White racism is one hell of a drug. I will leave this comment up so that folks can learn from its examples and perhaps others can help you along in your twisted thinking and rationalizations of evil.

John Smith said...

Great. Please do - thoughtful debate can't proceed when comments that people don't like are removed from discussion.

Your implicit accusation that my comment was somehow "racist" wasn't justified. Please elaborate how a person who perceives a thing to represent defiance and freedom instead of representing racism racist? Can you not explain it yourself? Why do you need "others" to help me along? Different things have different meanings to different people (not just about flags but all things). Should we all submit to the opinions of others simply because they disagree with us?

chauncey devega said...

I am humoring you. Do mind your tone going forward. Also review the comment policy.

John Smith said...

Duly noted. I apologize if I came off too strongly or aggressive. Everyone has opinions and much of the time they are different. The discussion of those opinions set in motion thoughts that when rational, and when individuals have similar moral systems, a convergence of those opinions.

Going forward i'll look to keep this as polite as possible.

chauncey devega said...

No problem. You are chiming in here for the first time. Every place has its own rules and style. We like spirited conversation but not name calling and like. As the comment policy says I reserve the right to refuse service :) I am sure that won't be a problem going forward as you seem to be a reasonable person.

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chauncey devega said...

freedom for white people to own black people as human property and then to enact a society around the formal white supremacy of Jim and Jane Crow.

Lori said...

Exactly. Which is the thing the heritage not hate people never want to talk about. I continue to hope that at some point one of them will own it, so I always ask. So far I'm batting zero for about a thousand.