D.11 What causes justifications for racism to appear?

The tendency toward social breakdown which is inherent in the growth of wealth polarisation, as discussed in section D.9, is also producing a growth in racism in the countries affected. As we have seen, social breakdown leads to the increasingly authoritarian government prompted by the need of the ruling class to contain protest and civil unrest among those at the bottom of the wealth pyramid. In the US those in the lowest economic strata belong mostly to racial minorities, while in several European countries there are growing populations of impoverished minorities from the Third World, often from former colonies. The desire of the more affluent strata to justify their superior economic positions is, as one would expect, causing racially based theories of privilege to become more popular.

That racist feelings are gaining strength in America is evidenced by the increasing political influence of the Far Right, whose thinly disguised racism reflects the darkening vision of a growing segment of the conservative community. Further evidence can be seen in the growth of ultraconservative extremist groups preaching avowedly racist philosophies, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, the White Aryan Resistance, and others [see James Ridgeway, Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990]. Thus, American Politicians and organisers such as Pat Buchanan, David Duke, and Ralph Metzger have been able to exploit the budding racism of lower- and middle-class white youths, who must compete for increasingly scarce jobs with desperate minorities who are willing to work at very low wages. The expanding popularity of such racist groups in the US is matched by a similar phenomenon in Europe, where xenophobia and a weak economy have propelled extreme right-wing politicians into the limelight on promises to deport foreigners.

Most conservative US politicians have taken pains to distance themselves officially from the Far Right. Yet during the 1992 presidential campaign, mainstream conservative politicians used code words and innuendo ("welfare queens," "quotas," etc.) to convey a thinly veiled racist message. David Duke's candidacy for the governorship of Louisiana in 1991 and for the presidency in 1992, as well as the Republican Convention speeches of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, reflected the increasing influence of the Far Right in American politics. More recently there has been Proposition 187 in California, targeting illegal immigrants.

What easier way is there to divert people's anger than onto scapegoats? Anger about bad housing, no housing, boring work, no work, bad wages and conditions, job insecurity, no future, and so on. Instead of attacking the real causes of these (and other) problems, people are encouraged to direct their anger against people who face the same problems just because they have a different skin colour or come from a different part of the world! Little wonder politicians and their rich backers like to play the racist card -- it diverts attention away from them and the system they run (i.e. the real causes of our problems).

Racism, in other words, tries to turn class hatred into race hatred. Little wonder that sections of the ruling elite will turn to it, as and when required. Their class interests (and, often, their personal bigotry) requires them to do so -- a divided working class will never challenge their position in society.

Therefore, justifications for racism appear for two reasons. Firstly, to try and justify the existing inequalities within society (for example, the infamous -- and highly inaccurate -- "Bell Curve" and related works). Secondly, to divide the working class and divert anger about living conditions and social problems away from the ruling elite and their system onto scapegoats in our own class.

D.11.1 Does free market ideology play a part in racist tendencies to increase?

The most important factor in the right-wing resurgence in the US has been the institutionalisation of the Reagan-Bush brand of conservatism, whose hallmark was the reinstatement, to some degree, of laissez-faire economic policies (and, to an even larger degree, of laissez-faire rhetoric). A "free market," Reagan's economic "experts" argued, necessarily produced inequality; but by allowing unhindered market forces to select the economically fittest and to weed out the unfit, the economy would become healthy again. The wealth of those who survived and prospered in the harsh new climate would ultimately benefit the less fortunate, through a "trickle-down" effect which was supposed to create millions of new high-paying jobs.

All this would be accomplished by deregulating business, reducing taxes on the wealthy, and dismantling or drastically cutting back federal programmes designed to promote social equality, fairness, and compassion. The aptly named Laffer Curve illustrated how cutting taxes actually raises government revenue. In actuality, and unsurprisingly, the opposite happened, with wealth flooding upwards and the creation of low-paying, dead-end jobs. (the biggest "Laffers" in this scenario were the ruling class, who saw unprecedented gains in wealth at the expense of the rest of us).

The Reaganites' doctrine of inequality gave the official seal of approval to ideas of racial superiority that right-wing extremists had used for years to rationalise the exploitation of minorities. If, on average, blacks and Hispanics earn only about half as much as whites; if more than a third of all blacks and a quarter of all Hispanics lived below the poverty line; if the economic gap between whites and non-whites was growing -- well, that just proved that there was a racial component in the Social-Darwinian selection process, showing that minorities "deserved" their poverty and lower social status because they were "less fit."

In the words of left-liberal economist James K. Galbraith:

"What the economists did, in effect, was to reason backward, from the troublesome effect to a cause that would rationalise and justify it . . . [I]t is the work of the efficient market [they argued], and the fundamental legitimacy of the outcome is not supposed to be questioned.

"The apologia is a dreadful thing. It has distorted our understanding, twisted our perspective, and crabbed our politics. On the right, as one might expect, the winners on the expanded scale of wealth and incomes are given a reason for self-satisfaction and an excuse for gloating. Their gains are due to personal merit, the application of high intelligence, and the smiles of fortune. Those on the loosing side are guilty of sloth, self-indulgence, and whining. Perhaps they have bad culture. Or perhaps they have bad genes. While no serious economist would make that last leap into racist fantasy, the underlying structure of the economists' argument has undoubtedly helped to legitimise, before a larger public, those who promote such ideas." [Created Unequal: The Crisis in American Pay, p. 264]

The logical corollary of this social Darwinism is that whites who are "less fit" (i.e., poor) also deserve their poverty. But philosophies of racial hatred are not necessarily consistent. Thus the ranks of white supremacist organisations have been swollen in recent years by undereducated and underemployed white youths frustrated by a declining industrial labour market and a noticeably eroding social status [Ridgeway, Ibid., p.186]. Rather than drawing the logical Social-Darwinian conclusion -- that they too are "inferior" -- they have instead blamed blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Jews for "unfairly" taking their jobs. Thus the neo-Nazi skinheads, for example, have been mostly recruited from disgruntled working-class whites below the age of 30. This has provided leaders of right-wing extremist groups with a growing base of potential storm troopers.

Therefore, laissez-faire ideology helps create a social environment in which racist tendencies can increase. Firstly, it does so by increasing poverty, job insecurity, inequality and so on which right-wing groups can use to gather support by creating scapegoats in our own class to blame (for example, by blaming poverty on blacks "taking our jobs" rather than capitalists moving their capital to other, more profitable, countries or them cutting wages and conditions for all workers -- and as we point out in section B.1.4, racism, by dividing the working class, makes poverty and inequality worse and so is self-defeating). Secondly, it abets racists by legitimising the notions that inequalities in pay and wealth are due to racial differences rather than a hierarchical system which harms all working class people (and uses racism to divide, and so weaken, the oppressed). By pointing to individuals rather than to institutions, organisations, customs, history and above all power -- the relative power between workers and capitalists, citizens and the state, the market power of big business, etc. -- laissez-faire ideology points analysis into a dead-end as well as apologetics for the wealthy, apologetics which can be, and are, utilised by racists to justify their evil politics.