Systematic racism and class discrimination is deeply embedded in our society, placing those in power with even further control over social, economical, and political aspects. Race is a feature of social dynamics with a history that spans from slavery, the Jim Crow system, and emancipation; racism transcends from the United States to across the globe. The capitalists profit from the maintained structural racism. Racial oppression is used as a tool for extracting cheap labor. It provides the capitalists with a pathway to reduce labor costs and increase the surplus derived from their production. Such aspects create a reality where workers are not uplifted, with capitalism benefitting and serving a very select few.
African Americans are a minority within any of the major political, economic, and social institutions of the society. Systematic racism deprives them in such areas as housing, health care, and education, which in turn directly impact their employment prospects. Their position includes the class structure of the United States, which is based on the same foundations of education, power, and income. The race one is born into is something beyond control, but the position one is able to obtain in the class structure of the economy is in their control. However, due to the systematic racism that is deep-seated in contemporary society, it is extremely arduous for a person classified as black to move his way up in the class structure of the economy due to the obstacles they face brought about from discrimination. Similarly, although American society is deemed to be achievement-based or meritocratic, acquiring a position in the social class is highly based on the educational and career opportunities one is placed with. Sociologists have often disputed the existence of such claimed class mobility. Being born into a particular social class directly impacts the opportunities or disadvantages that life would serve in fields of academia and careers. Statistically, an adult is more likely to remain in the same social class he was born into. Although race and class are two different dividing structures in society, they are deeply interrelated.
Race is a deep-seated social construct. It is not a biological fact. Race has been set in as a historical, social, and political fact. Race, the categorizing of individuals based on shared physical, social qualities and descendants is a factor that has importance in contemporary society. However, every problem has its history and origin. Systematic racism is a social structure in which the race one is born into strongly reflects upon opportunities and their position in the social hierarchy. Systematic racism was not innate. It has been repeated and reshaped from slavery and has persisted across major changes in U.S. society.
Systemic racism stemmed from the racialized slavery in British Colonial North America. The Bacon’s Rebellion against the slave-owning elite by the European descendant and African descendant bond-laborers was defeated. In response to the threat of them uniting, they issued a series of laws crafting a racial caste system. They differentiated between European descendant bond laborers from African descendant bond-laborers. They provided temporary servitude for those classified as white compared to permanent enslavement of those classified as black. New legal rights such as the right to bear arms and to appear as witnesses within court were issued for those classified as white. They even stripped free African descendant individuals of their civil rights. This was implemented as an attempt to “divide and conquer.” According to historians, this has been determined as the foundation of the respective relations of subordination and domination within race, segregating those who were classified as black and those who were classified as white. This root grew further to the prevalent systematic racism that exists in contemporary U.S. society.
Such history is a catalyst to the conspicuous racism prevalent in police brutality. It is the unwarranted, illegal, and excessive use of force against civilians by the police in the forms of assault, battery, and often fatality. African Americans have been the primary target ranging from racial profiling to fatality by police brutality. They are often unarmed and experience unprovoked brutality, giving rise to America’s race riots and peaceful protests. According to statistics, a black man is 2.5 times more likely than a white man to be killed by police. This is illustrated upon the recent rise of unfortunate, barbaric events in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah Mcclain, and several other young African-American individuals.
African Americans also form a larger percentage of union numbers than the general population as they were placed in highly unionized industries. They benefited economically from wage compression brought by unionization, as they were placed largely in lower-wage organizations and industries. They played the largest role in reducing wage inequalities and civil rights inequalities. On the other hand, some unions were acting as gatekeepers for jobs to exclude African American workers. They continued to be placed with undesirable jobs with poor pay. The only time that the African American unemployment rate was less than twice the white unemployment rate was during the Great Recession. The rate dropped after the start and till the white employment rate increased. In 2018, African American workers had the highest unemployment rate nationally, at 6.5 percent.
“In Wages of Whiteness,” Michael Reich writes, “Capitalists benefit from racial divisions whether or not they have individually or collectively practiced racial discrimination.” I strongly agree with this point as, historically, the segregation barrier was set up between those classified as white and those classified as black and their positions of domination and subordination by the exploiters or land-owning elite. However, this structure was carried forward and maintained by capitalists for their profit, regardless of their direct participation in racist acts. This structure maintained by the capitalists is strongly supported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among employed men, only 26 percent of those who worked in management or professional occupations were African-American. About 20 percent of employed Black and Hispanic men were employed in service occupations. According to recent studies, black service providers also receive lower tips than white service providers. The statistics evidently show that those who are black are less likely to procure management positions than those who are white. Statistics also revealed that those who are black are more likely to work in service sectors rather than acquiring managerial positions, along with receiving lower tips. This is suggestive of the roles of subordination and domination prevalent within race in contemporary U.S. society, and structural racism maintained by capitalists, even after the abolishment of slavery.
Economic or social classes can be classified by various criteria: income, occupations such as “white collar” jobs and “blue-collar jobs,” education, power, and status… These are used as tools for dividing lines between the lower class, upper class, and middle class. Classes can be defined by different structural positions in the economy. The capitalist economy can be broadly classified into the capitalist class and the working class. Political economists focus on different criteria such as property ownership, source of income, and power relations. Members of the working class derive income from labor as wages, and are subject to the authority of someone else. They do not exercise power over others, hence the working class excludes those in managerial positions.
The working class forms a vast majority of the economically active population. The capitalists, while a small minority, exercise great power. However, political economists recognize that the class structure includes other groups as well. The capitalist class is at the top of the structure. This consists of those individuals who exercise ownership and control over most of the productive resources, employ workers for pay, and derive their income from what the workers produce. The middle class includes two distinct groups: the new managerial class or the new middle class. They are non-owners, however, they do exercise control over certain people and have control exercised over them as well. They are above some in the work chain and below some, such as supervisors or managers. The old middle class consists of those who are business owners but do not employ others for pay. They do not exercise power over wage workers or have any power exercised over them. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the working class or wage laborers. They are non-owners, work for others for wages and do not exercise any authorities over others. Most wage laborers exercise little to no bargaining power with their employers. This is the foundation for the disparities and roles of subordination and domination between the working class and the capitalist class. However, some of the wage workers have indispensable skills that employers may find difficult to replace. Their main way to exercise this bargaining power would be through collective organizations. These can be in the form of labor unions or political parties. Labor unions engage in workplace action and aim to further the interests of a particular group lower in the class structure by placing demands on capitalist employers. Political parties have formal affiliations with unions and federations and engage in political action. In a capitalist economy like the United States of America, the social construct of class based on various criteria such as income, occupation, and power are very much prevalent in contemporary society. In the economically active population, 90 percent are wage and salary employees.
The struggles and lack of recognition of the working class are highlighted in instances such as the working class building multinational corporations like General Motors from the ground up, who were given no credit for their efforts. “It’s not just the work. Somebody built the pyramids. Somebody’s going to build something. Pyramids, Empire State Building-these things just don’t happen. There’s hard work behind it.” This statement is befitting, as the class structure is so deep-seated in our society that we are ignorant towards the foundation of these great entities that is the working class. We should also focus ourselves towards the owners or the capitalist class, who perceive the workers as redundant and worthless. We need to stop raising the capitalist class on a pedestal, and contribute towards uplifting the working class and providing them with the recognition they deserve.