Is racism in America really classism in disguise? Do White Americans actually discriminate against Black Americans based upon assumptions about (lesser) intelligence, education, innate moral rectitude, social responsibility, ambition and financial standing rather than race? Yes. And that distinction sounds suspiciously like raaaacism.
Can racism be falsely claimed? Yes. Can racism be falsely denied? Yes. Blacks and Whites in America perceive the country and its grand promises through very different experiential lenses, so let’s examine this egalitarian, and I think false, assertion.
Racism, especially the institutional and state sponsored kind, is the oppression, domination and manipulation of peoples based upon their seemingly immutable and inferior characteristics of phenotype and genotype; an unreasoning prejudice based upon belief in the inherent superiority of one exalted race over another naturally debased race. This quote in 1887 from Henry Grady, a Southern “moderate” and editor of the Atlanta Constitution (from Trouble in Mind, Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, Leon F. Litwack) is very explicit:
“The supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards because the white race is the superior race. This declaration is no new truth. It has abided forever in the marrow of our bones, and shall run forever in the blood that feeds Anglo-Saxon hearts.”
Black liberation from physical slavery and political enfranchisement weren’t worth the paper the they were written on. Any attempt to exercise these “rights” usually resulted in death. Through most of the next 100 years after emancipation, Blacks lived within an ever tightening vise of White restrictions, humiliations and intimidation that they were powerless to change. Under the magnifying lens of Jim Crow Blacks did not dare to own their own emotions, their feelings of anger and resentment, as the mildest expressions of other than childlike deference and submission could result in their deaths. Despite the complaints of bigots that Blacks were childlike, ineducable, and primitive and therefore in need of paternalistic white control, it was educated, and economically successful Blacks were usually the targets of White wrath. Here is the story of the Tulsa Race riot, 1921, the most destructive riot in U.S. history that obliterated Black Tulsa, Ok.
Racist etiquette required that wherever the two races came into contact the negro must be reminded of his limitations because equality elevated the inferior race and degraded the superior. In a racist society, race trumps class and gender prejudice. All members of a race, male and female, well off or not are inferior to all members of the other race. The lowest white man is higher than the highest nigger. Total segregation of Blacks who had been freed from slavery, dehumanization, false arrest, forced labor, economic terrorism, unpunished ritual murder, and political disenfranchisement are the tools of ideology. In my experience, bull necked resentment, unreasoning unfairness and mistreatment are also racism.
In America, classism, prejudice based on mutable forms of perceived inferiority, laziness, drunkenness, etc., even ethnic prejudice based upon cultural inferiority to superior Nordic races, is usually overcome within a generation as all persons perceived as “white” eventually assimilate into the larger group and enjoy the privileges of that group over the oppressed race. Since race is a social construct, the Irish, as the “niggers of Europe” were oppressed as a race, to justify their enforced economic dependency and debasement.
Yes, in America, there can be attitudes of class based prejudice within and among both races based upon relative wealth, social standing and sometimes color. But when the two “races” intersect the bigotry is complex but is usually based on race.
Ida B. Wells, the great African American social reformer and anti-lynching crusader, described news and scholarly media that:
reproduce myths about the sexual nature and sexuality of Black women and girls which leaves them open to assault and unprotected by the law. As editor of a militant Black weekly, the Memphis Free Speech and Highlight, Ida B. Wells published a searing editorial condemning mob violence and the widespread white acquiescence that served to sanction mob rule. Wells’ editorial dismisses white, southerners’ self-righteous defense of vigilantism and suggests that the psychology motivating mob violence is white men’s desire to control white women’s sexuality rather than widespread fear of Black male sexuality. The editorial is scathing, relentlessly incriminating and challenges the white supremacist rhetoric casting Black peoples’ sexuality as loose, wanton and uncontrollable.
The lynch-murder of three highly respected Memphis, Tennessee businessmen in May of 1892, was the event that transformed Ida B. Wells into an ardent anti-lynching crusader of unparalleled historical significance. In 1892 lynchings were nearly a daily occurrence in American society. Tragically, more U.S. citizens fell victim to mob rule in 1892 than any other year in the countries recorded history. Wells-Barnett was outraged when in less than one week across the South, eight Black men were hanged till dead, and their lifeless bodies filled with bullets. In no instance were legal actions taken against any white person or persons involved in the men’s deaths. Although the justification “excusing” five of the mob executions was what Wells called “the new alarm about raping white women,” the three businessmen were killed by the mob for daring to own, operate and protect a prosperous cooperative grocery in competition with a nearby white-owned store. The murders of the Memphis grocers caused Wells to critically reexamine and challenge not only vigilante violence, but the rhetoric used to defend lynch-law as well.
Yeah, it’s racism.