the Racial Caste System
The racial caste system works
through economic, geographic, political, kinship, and cultural
institutions. The following
treat some of the institutional changes that are needed for the removal
of this system.
participatory economy is an economy in which
Remuneration is according to effort and sacrifice
Jobs are balanced so everyone does some skilled and some
unskilled, some rote and some empowering work such that everyone's
job is equally empowering
Decisions are made, to the extent possible, with each
participant having a say proportionate to the degree they are
affected, in workplace and community councils
Exchange occurs by a participatory planning procedure with
goods exchanging in light of their full and true social costs and
details are spelled out in many books and at www.parecon.org
racist social system is one in which members of some racial groups are
oppressed by others. In
such a system oppressed groups are typically:
the cultural and physical space to express their group identity and
communicate with one another and forced to adopt their oppressor's
cultural modes in order to express themselves
to low-paid, low-status, difficult, rote, disempowering work,
unemployment, underemployment, and poverty
by taboos, stereotypes, physical and cultural borders, from relating
on an equal basis with their oppressors
disempowered, disproportionately repressed by the justice system,
lacking the power to influence the administrative, legislative, and
judicial systems in their interests, lacking autonomous
participatory economy removes (2), and takes some significant steps
towards (1) and (3). This
discussion will explain which elements of racism will be done away with
in a participatory economy, and which parts of racism are
'extra-economic' and cannot be addressed through the economic system.
a participatory economy the racially oppressed are not shunted into
poverty, unemployment, or the worst jobs, because these things do not
exist. Everyone works jobs
balanced for quality of life and empowerment and everyone is paid
according to effort. In a
racist and class divided society the racially oppressed will be found in
the most oppressed economic classes.
In a participatory economy there are no economic classes so there
is no bottom rung of the class ladder for people to be shunted into.
Making in Workplaces and Communities
a participatory economy production and consumption decisions are made in
workplace and community councils. Workers
of colour do not depend on whites for jobs nor do they work in
workplaces managed or owned by whites-- a participatory economy has no
owners or managers, but councils where decisions are made by diverse
decision-making tactics (majority vote, super-majority vote, consensus,
or other tactics depending on the type of decision and the impact) in
accordance with proportionate influence or self-management.
Each actor has a say in decisions in proportion to the degree
they are affected.
Inequalities and Environmental Racism
participatory economy also ameliorates regional inequalities and
environmental racism to a large extent.
Incomes in a parecon are in accord with effort and sacrifice.
The basis for incomes, however, is the overall average income.
This means that if there is an improvement in one area or
industry, the benefits go to everyone in an improved average and not
only to workers in that industry. The
reverse is also true. If a
plant or waste site diminishes the quality of life in an area, this will
be borne by everyone in the form of a lower average income, and those
most affected would be compensated so they suffer no more than average.
Because the effects of local environmental destruction or lack of
development are felt throughout the economy, there is no incentive for
the majority to concentrate such unpleasant things in communities of
colour. There would be an
opposite incentive-- to develop technologies and innovations to mitigate
the hardest hit workplaces or communities first, since such improvements
would cause the biggest improvements in the overall average.
parecon has everyone doing some skilled, empowering work.
It has everyone participating in decision-making in their
communities and workplaces. It
will therefore allocate considerable resources to education.
It would not put up barriers to education that would hurt
people's eventual ability to manage the economy and participate in it
equally. This means there
are disincentives in a parecon for the unequal funding, tracking, unfair
testing and grading and discipline that students suffer now, whose
purpose is essentially to keep blacks and latinos from getting an
education. Education in a
parecon would be to import skills, knowledge, and empowerment for people
to participate and make decisions (as compared to education today which
is to teach obedience, the endurance of boredom, and low expectations).
In a parecon people are free to forego some income in order to
partake of educational opportunities or simply recreation.
a parecon, cultural workplaces, like media outlets, artistic, musical,
and television studios, schools, and publishing houses, operate on the
same norms as other workplaces. They
have balanced job complexes and workplace and industry-wide councils for
decision-making. If a group
of workers seek resources to create or expand a cultural outlet, like a
new journal or a hip-hop recording studio, they make a proposal to the
appropriate industry council who evaluate it.
Making a proposal to one's peers in an industry rather than
trying to prove to capitalists that a venture will make a profit removes
some of the market logic that represses free cultural expression of
minority cultures. Moreover,
once certain cultural industries are established cultural expression
will have a real chance to flower, since artists will answer to one
another and to consumers, without worrying about profit potentials,
trying to fit cultural expressions to please dominant elites, or even
the dominant culture.
a parecon does not say anything about how these cultural spaces are
opened or these industries established in the first place.
A parecon could not prevent a proposal from being squashed by a
majority on a culturally ignorant council.
Imagine a black worker pitching a new hip-hop studio that would
produce music for the black population of a city to a white-dominated
industry council who didn't hear or understand the music well.
There is nothing to prevent this in a parecon.
In order to open and establish the spaces at the outset or on an
ongoing basis, political intervention might be necessary.
One way of doing this as part of a transition to a participatory
economy is by using reparations funds to establish cultural industries
for the black community, for example.
a participatory economy no one owns any productive property.
Incomes are equalized to the overall average with deviations for
effort, but property ownership does not exist.
The concentrations of property in white hands and the attendant
inequality and dependence of people of colour on those resources
parecon does allow personal property, however, including personal homes.
The current housing situation has far fewer blacks owning homes
than whites, blacks living in less desirable places, and a wealth gap
caused principally by the difference in home equity between black and
white. A participatory
economy does not automatically change this.
Nor can it prevent 'white flight' from an area when black people
begin to move in.
does a participatory economy have any norms for the disposition of
communal property. It does
not say anything about how a given piece of land is to be used.
Is a forest on traditional native lands to be used for hunting by
native people or made into an open-pit mine?
If the mining option occurs, a parecon ensures the local people
would be compensated. It
does not, however, automatically recognize the rights or jurisdiction of
any groups to any parcels of land.
This, too, is a political problem that will have to be settled by
of Race and a Just Economy
participatory economy would remove a number of the components of the
racist social system by eliminating:
Regional economic inequalities
Differential decision-making power in the economy
Profit motives for cultural production
Incentives for educational inequality
Productive property ownership differentials
parecon is not sufficient to eliminate racism, however, because of the
following extra-economic issues:
Taboos, stereotypes, physical/geographical and cultural
borders could still prevent the oppressed from relating on an equal
basis with their oppressors
People of colour could still be politically disempowered,
disproportionately repressed by the justice system, lacking the
power to influence the administrative, legislative, and judicial
systems in their interests, lacking autonomous decision-making
The initial configuration of communal assets and land,
personal property, and cultural resources could be set (or left) in
a racist way
The proposals of minority groups could be trampled without
issues must be dealt with outside of the economy.
idea of cultural space was introduced above.
In the analysis of racism,, it was shown how segregation and
control of physical space by elites is an integral part of racism.
If the root of cultural oppression is, as I've argued above, in
the lack of cultural space for people to express their multiple
affiliations and communicate with one another at different levels, the
solution is an expansion of cultural spaces and the development of
shared cultural spaces at all levels.
solution to the geographical component of racism is similar.
The solution is the development of ways for people to share
physical space so they can express their affiliations and coexist with
one another. There has to
be physical space for Native Americans to do their economic, political,
and cultural activities. It's
important to note that even the most radical interpretations of this
idea do not involve the ethnic cleansing of whites, but some kind of
Native nationhood in which whites are free to participate on Native
American terms or live as residents (see Ward Churchill's 'I am
Indigenist' at www.zmag.org/chiapas1/wardindig.htm,
Winona Laduke's 'All Our Relations', and Taiaiake Alfred's 'Peace,
Power, Righteousness: an Indigenous Manifesto', for some proposals).
There has to be physical space for African Americans and Latino
Americans to do the same. The
same note about the non-necessity of ethnic cleansing applies there.
There also has to be physical space for all Americans to share,
and everyone's right to this 'common space' must be protected.
program of multiculturalism, or of sharing cultural space, was discussed
above. The idea is to
liberate the common culture, and expand and protect the other cultures.
People have the freedom to choose and express their cultural
affiliations at different levels. Having
an affiliation at one level (for example being European American) does
not preclude having another affiliation (being American).
concept of biculturalism was mentioned in the preview of
bicultural means being able to express yourself in different cultural
spaces. Anyone who is
bilingual is bicultural. Anyone
who finds themselves using different speech patterns, different body
movements, and different vocabularies in different groups understands
is a reality today, for most people in the world.
It is people's capacity to be bicultural that will make a
multicultural society possible.
in the cultural sphere of society is therefore the presence of
sufficient cultural spaces such that everyone can express and
communicate their cultural affiliations to members of groups they belong
to. This means people need
cultural 'rooms of their own', and also a protected right to talk to and
hear from everyone in the big, common room.
In practice, it means groups are guaranteed resources and
political protections for cultural exchange and expression, commensurate
with size and with need. There
is no formula for allocating cultural resources, but there are criteria.
Two such criteria are:
groups whose cultural survival is not at risk will have to moderate
their requests when they are in conflict with groups whose cultural
survival is less guaranteed.
presence and representation of cultural 'minorities' in common
forums has to be guaranteed by some kind of affirmative action.
Again in practice this is not simple since the will of the
majority must be protected even as it is prevented from trampling on
the rights of minorities.
This section will be even more
speculative than the others. But it is important, because, while
cultural oppression has to do with group identity and communication, the
mechanisms for oppression, and the institutional protections for
liberation, are often located in the polity. This means that the
cultural and physical spaces needed for a multicultural society are
established and protected through political institutions.
Political institutions are those that deal with collective
decision-making, the resolution of disputes, and making and enforcing of
laws. This section will have few definitive answers, but it will provide
some ideas regarding the issues that an anti-racist polity will have to
Political jurisdiction deals
with the following questions: To whom do laws apply? On what
territories? Who is a citizen of a polity? How are territorial
boundaries of political authority set?
Some of the thorniest issues of a multicultural society are those
of jurisdiction. Consider:
borders of the countries in north America were set by war. War brought
much of the US territory into the current political formation.
California, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado were
all part of Mexico until the 19th century. Their populations, and their
descendants, are now considered the descendents of 'immigrants' as a
result of the conquest. On
the other hand, descendants of Anglo-Americans who emigrated to Texas or
California after 1840 are not considered immigrants.
This is a general feature of immigrant societies.
An 'immigrant' in such societies 'someone who arrived after me'.
Americans were brought into the US political formation as slaves and
were only granted full legal status throughout the US decades ago.
Immigration policy has historically been racist, with an essentially
racist quota system operating. Immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin
America have been accepted during labour shortages but frequently denied
the full rights of citizenship.
US and Canadian governments use 'blood quanta' to decide who is and is
There are some general
principles, as well as specific principles, for the resolution of each
of these problems of jurisdiction.
An indigenist political vision
includes self-determination and nationhood on native lands. Most of
these proposals (for example, those of Ward Churchill, Taiaiake Alfred,
and Winona Laduke) include shared jurisdiction and political
institutions for matters of shared responsibility between indigenous and
non-indigenous society. None of the proposals include ethnic cleansing
of non-indigenous people from indigenous lands. There is no formula for
exactly where those lands would be, exactly what laws would apply to
people on them and off them. These issues must be settled by negotiation
between the native nations and the wider society. Some criteria that can
be set out:
Group members decide who is in or out of the group. Neither blood quanta
nor 'self-identification' are adequate. Instead, the recognition of the
group, as well as self identification, are important.
If you self-identify and indigenous people recognize you as
indigenous, you are indigenous. The same goes for other cultural or
citizenship groups. It is also why, in a multicultural society, a person
can choose to belong to whatever group or groups accept him/her.
The principle of autonomy can help. Matters that affect only the
community are decided upon only by the community. Other matters are
decided in negotiation with the wider society.
African American autonomy could
be built on the resource base of reparations. The extent of autonomy
that the African American community will desire or exercise is not
something that can be predicted. Distinct nationhood,
self-determination, and a kind of 'dual citizenship' like that of native
people is a possibility and so are lesser degrees of autonomy combined
with an opening up of American political institutions to ensure the
adequate representation of African Americans in them.
For immigrants of colour, from
Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa, inclusion and
representation is more important than autonomy and self-determination,
since their participation in the current polity is on a more voluntary
basis than that of indigenous or black Americans. I say 'more voluntary'
rather than 'voluntary' because many emigrate from poor countries
seeking economic opportunities. Any vision for the inclusion of
immigrants in a polity must also address the root causes of immigration,
one of which is the huge disparity in quality of life between the third
and the first world. Some details of inclusion and representation are
For American citizenship to be
inclusive and representative, it should extend its rights and duties to
everyone who lives in America, include every opportunity to learn and
participate in the common cultural life, and not penalize learning and
participation in any other cultures of the country.
What about the question of who
should be allowed to live in America, or what a fair immigration policy
would be? Howard Zinn has
proposed the elimination of all immigration restrictions (ZNet
Commentary, 'Notes for a Gathering', January 2, 2000).
In a world without such a vast disparity of quality of life
between the first and the third world, the number of people who are
eager to immigrate will be far lower.
Freedom of people to move, travel, and choose where they live is
important. But so are the
needs and considerations of the people already living in a place and
that a society could need time and resources to adjust for changing
populations and demographics. If
there were to be limits on the number of people allowed per year, these
could be set in a fairer way than they are set now.
One possibility is quotas based on the population of the country
immigrated from, with modifications for humanitarian crises.
Since an anti-racist polity
respects communal autonomy, the norms for legislation apply to the
'commons', the wider community, for things that affect all, since things
that affect only a certain community are decided exclusively by that
community according to its own norms. But standard democratic norms for
legislation are: freedom to participate in decision-making on an equal
basis with all others; say in decision-making proportionate to the
degree an actor is affected; this probably implies some mix of direct
and representative democracy.
In order to ensure inclusion and
representation, an anti-racist society might employ affirmative action
in legislative institutions, to ensure a minimum presence of blacks,
indigenous people, ethnic communities, women. It might deploy voting and
constitutional mechanisms to protect minority and majority interests,
and legal protections for communal autonomy .
The implementation of decisions,
the executive and administrative functions of government, in a good
polity, are done fairly and consistently. An anti-racist society might
additionally use affirmative action in this sphere to ensure the
inclusion and representation of cultural groups.
In addition to possibly ensuring
the representativeness of judicial personnel, an anti-racist or
intercommunal judicial system would be different from the current system
in at least the following ways.
Drug Policy- A good society does
not fight a war on a drug that kills thousands while tolerating if not
promoting a drug that kills hundreds of thousands (tobacco).
A humane drug policy would feature: treatment of addiction and
abuse as health problems; drug education, control, and legalization;
research into ever-less addictive and ever-safer drug options. A drug
policy for a good society and for our current society is discussed by
Steve Shalom (www.zmag.org/racewatch/shalomdrugpolicy.htm).
In a polity without a war on drugs, there would be no way for that war
on drugs to be a war on blacks and Latinos.
Prison Policy- In addition to
being one of the only advanced industrialcountries in the world with the death penalty, the US locks
up between 5-14 people for every 1 person who would be locked up in
Europe (see Michael Albert's August 1999 ZNet Commentary, 'Prison
Policy'). A good society would imprison only violent offenders whose
presence in society was a danger to people, and would concentrate on
rehabilitation. Because the economic inequality, poverty,
discrimination, and disempowerment that are the root causes of many
crimes are ameliorated in a good economy, a good society would have far
less crime and far fewer people incarcerated, and particularly far fewer
people of colour.
There are deeper questions about
a justice system in a good society that have not been answered to date.
Would it still have a judge, juries, defense counsel and prosecutors, or
some other setup? Would the defense have their own police to investigate
the crime and its details? Would all legal advice and council be
publicly funded to remove the element of money from outcomes? Would
communities have their own police, courts, judges and lawyers for
disputes within the communities, and an option to try intercommunal
disputes involving their members, the other option being the case be
taken to an intercommunal court where the communities are represented in
juries and judgement panels? I think these are some questions and
possible steps which could help justify calling it a justice system.
Even more minimally than these, Jerome Miller ('Search and Destroy:
African American Males in the Criminal Justice System') suggests some
other reforms to the justice system:
inner-city 'sting' operations that entice vulnerable individuals into
recruiting snitches and informants, as this is probably the single
factor most responsible for increased inner city violence and is
devastating to social bonds
'just desserts' models of justice
young offenders from criminal justice, stressing individualized
programming and alternative supervision (as is done for rich youths)
all state-run reform schools and use the money for alternative care and
fiscal priorities from prison to prevention, treatment, supervision,
care and civilian conservation-corps type programs
sentences to the strengths and weaknesses of the offender as well as the
the cost of the sentence at the time of the sentencing
Return probation officers to their role as advocates of defendants. They
should sit with defense and pursue the least restrictive alternative to
accountability of publicly funded human service professionals-they
should keep police type hours and be ready to respond to drug, alcohol,
domestic violence, and public order emergencies which are now handled by
police and exacerbated by the justice system.
it more difficult for teachers and social workers to involve police.
the triage philosophy of crime control that writes off populations as
These points might serve as a
jumping off point to designing a justice system worthy of the name, and
at least they can highlight what a less racist justice system would look
Representative Courts and
Juries? In Race, Crime, and the Law Randall Kennedy argues against
having racial representativeness criteria for jury selection. Such
criteria would be a disaster, in Kennedy's opinion, because it would be
a statement that justice is not, and can never be, colour-blind. This is
also an argument against the black community (for example) having its
own courts for resolution of disputes between black people. Such courts
would also be a statement that blacks cannot get justice in an
I believe Kennedy's point needs
to be acknowledged. A truly fair system is colour-blind. But I am
willing to entertain the possibility of autonomous courts for internal
disputes and representative courts for disputes across communities as a
possibility. A sane and consistent justice system is one that is not
unnecessarily punitive against people of colour because it is not
punitive at all, but restorative. It is one that does not discriminate.
The question is what is required to make such a system a reality. Is it
simply consistency in the application of colour-blind justice, or is it
institutional changes to a system that includes representativeness and
Information is a political
issue. Access to information in a good society is free and equal. Spaces
to exchange, deliberate, debate, and formulate ideas and policies (such
as media outlets, discussion forums, and so on) must be guaranteed by
the polity at all the needed levels (local, communal, national). A
multicultural society will provide and protect forums for cultural
groups, including media outlets, art studios, servers and terminals for
discussion forums for example, as well as open forums where all
participate. In these open forums and media outlets, representativeness
criteria will again be applied in order to ensure every cultural group
has the chance to speak to the others.
In summary, then, an anti-racist
society depends on (1) communal autonomy in internal matters, (2)
representativeness in intercommunal matters, and (3) the presence of
adequate cultural and physical space for cultural groups to express
their affiliations and communicate with one another. These must be
guaranteed by the political institutions of the society.
the boundaries set by sexual stereotypes, taboos, racist ideas of purity
and beauty, and violence, who knows what would happen?
What if whites could not project their fears and taboos on people
sexism and homophobia have a lot in common with racism.
They also have cultural, political, and economic components.
They also involve dividing society into groups and placing some
groups in power over others. To
the extent that sexism and heterosexism curtail the cultural space for
women or LGBT to express themselves, a free multicultural society is
incompatible with them and an anti-racist or multicultural society would
have to be anti-sexist as well.
issue at the interface of culture and gender or kinship relations is the
issue of cultural choice. Since
an important part of culture is communication with a group, the freedom
to choose groups, as opposed to being bound only to the one you are born
into, is a feature of multiculturalism.
But an individual cannot simply choose to join a cultural group.
Because all the members of a group are affected by such a change,
they have a say in the decision. That
is, I can't simply choose to be African American tomorrow, European
American the next day. Could
this lead to people being shunned and left without any cultural group at
all? This seems unlikely,
since people would be brought up in several cultures (at least the
common culture, and likely another) to begin with.
raises an interesting question. Because
children develop agency as they grow, they won't be able to choose their
cultural affiliations at birth, but will be 'stuck' speaking the
languages of those who teach them, at first.
There is no way to change this, but if cultural information about
all the diversity of the world is available in the common culture, and
children have as much freedom to choose as is commensurate with
nurturing them and letting them make their wills felt in liberated
kinship relations, its effects need not be too oppressive.
there be liberation in some of the component parts of institutional
racism without liberation in the others?
Is an anti-racist program compatible with liberation in other
spheres of society? Is it
compatible with oppression in other spheres?
there be an anti-racist society that is class divided?
An anti-racist society without economic justice?
Such a society would have people of colour equally represented in
all classes. There would be
rich and poor, but there would be rich blacks and poor blacks, rich
whites and poor whites. Being
black or white would have no effect on one's economic prospects, even
though one's economic prospects could be miserable.
multicultural society could also protect capitalist enclaves, who used
autonomy as a justification for practicing wage-slavery.
Multicultural norms do not preclude this.
source of incompatibility is that the presence of cultural spaces,
protected and guaranteed, for whatever groups felt the need for them,
would mean that working people and poor people would have guaranteed
resources and spaces to communicate and develop cultural expressions.
They would also have space guaranteed in the 'common culture' to
communicate with the managers or owners or wealthy classes.
This guaranteed, free-flowing cultural exchange would either lead
to the rich shutting down the multicultural system however they could,
or the poor using the cultural tools they had to organize for changes in
about an anti-racist society with strong immigration controls,
geographical segregation, and racial elite control of shared spaces?
No, since these things are a part of the definition of racism.
there be an anti-racist society where cultural spaces are not protected?
No. Like 'antiracism
with borders', the lack of spaces is the definition of racism.
The closest thing to either scenario (antiracism without borders
or antiracism without multiculturalism) are the two 'non-solutions' to
racism discussed above: assimilation into a homogeneous society or
separation into homogeneous societies.
about an anti-racist dictatorship, or an anti-racist police state?
Or a multicultural society that protected the autonomy of a group
that was run as a dictatorship? These
again seem possible, but the protection and guarantee of cultural
expression seems to never occur alongside authoritarian political
relations. It would lead to
an instability that would either see the political elites repress the
cultural expression or the oppressed to use cultural expression as a
basis for fighting for political changes.
about an anti-racist society that is sexist and homophobic?
A society in which blacks and whites are equal, and black and
white men oppress black and white women equally?
Or a society where autonomous enclaves are protected according to
multicultural norms, but where sexist practices are rampant in these
enclaves? This is also
possible, and nothing in anti-racism precludes it.
But guaranteed cultural expression of women with each other and
with men in the wider society seems incompatible with it.
Men, like the political elites or economic elites in the above
examples, would either destroy women's opportunities for expression or
they would have to give in to women's demands for equality.