This is a good time to remember that manufacturing false hierarchies based on race and gender in order to enforce a brutal class system is a very long story. Our modern capitalist economy was born thanks to two very large subsidies: stolen Indigenous land and stolen African people. Both required the creation of intellectual theories that ranked the relative value of human lives and labor, placing white men at the top. These church and state-sanctioned theories of white (and Christian) supremacy are what allowed Indigenous civilizations to be actively “unseen” by European explorers - visually perceived and yet not acknowledged to have preexisting rights to the land - and entire richly populated continents to be legally classified as unoccupied ad therefore fair game on an absurd “finders keepers” basis.
It was these same systems of human ranking that were deployed to justify the mass kidnapping, shackling, and torturing of other human beings in order to force them to work that stolen land - which led the late theorist Cedric Robinson to describe the market economy that gave birth to the United States and not simply as capitalism but as “racial capitalism.” The cotton and sugar picked by enslaved Africans was the fuel that kick-started the Industrial Revolution. The ability to discount darker people and darker nations in order to justify stealing their land and labor was foundational, and none of it would have been possible without those theories of racial supremacy that gave the whole morally bankrupt system a patina of legal respectability. In other words, economics was never separable from “identity politics,” certainly not in colonial nations like the United States - so why would it suddenly be today?
As the civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander wrote in her book The New Jim Crow, the politics of racial hierarchy have been the ever-present accomplices to the market system as it evolved through the centuries. Elites in the United States have used race as a wedge, she writes, “to decimate a multiracial alliance of poor people” - first in the face of the slave rebellions supported by white workers, then with Jim Crow laws, and later during the so-called war on drugs. Every time these multiethnic coalitions have become powerful enough to threaten corporate power, white workers have been convinced that their real enemies are darker-skinned people stealing “their” jobs or threatening their neighborhoods. And there has been no more effective way to convince white voters to support the defunding of schools, bus systems, and welfare than by telling them (however wrongly) that most of the beneficiaries of those services are darker-skinned people, many of them “illegal,” out to scam the system. In Europe, fearmongering about how migrants are stealing jobs, exploiting social services, and eroding the culture has played a similarly enabling role.
Ronald Reagan kicked this into high gear in the United States with the myth that food stamps were being collected by fur-wearing, Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and used to subsidize a culture of crime. And Trump was no small player in this hysteria. In 1989, after five Black and Latino teenagers were accused of raping a white woman in Central Park, he bought full-page ads in several New York daily papers calling for the return of the death penalty. The Central Park Five were later exonerated by DNA evidence, and their sentences were vacated. Trump refused to apologize or retract his claims. No wonder, then, that his Justice Department, under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is arguing that social services and infrastructure in cities such as New York and Chicago are “crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime” - conveniently moving the subject away from years of neoliberal neglect toward the supposed need to crack down on crime, and to bar these cities from declaring themselves “sanctuaries” for immigrants.
Excerpted from No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein