Race

Philip Ferguson plf13 at SPAMit.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Jun 3 23:32:11 MDT 2001


Andrew says:
> Race is much more than a category of thought. It is a social reality just as
> class is. It is objective and largely operates independent of consciousness.
> The racial system is a real social structure.


This would suggest that the social structure called race has a history
of its own, separate from, although persumably Andrew would think it
intersected with, capitalism.  This is rather reminiscewnt of
Althusser's view of ideology as a structure of its own.

Yet we know that race actually does not exist.  It is a category of
thought invented in the nineteenth century, the great era of
categorisation, in order to explain difference - in particular where
difference was connected with inequality.

If race really were "objective" and "operated independently of
consciousness", it would be necessary to explain what the nature and
basis of this 'race' were.  Is race intrinsic?  On what basis?  If not,
then it must be socially constructed, at an ideological level.

There are a number of attempts to explain the link between 'race',
racism and capitalism.  The most convincing, in my opinion, is advanced
by Wallerstein in a short paper on racism and sexism.  He argues that
these ideologies arose out of the need to explain inequality - a need
which only arose with the advent of capitalism, as in pre-capitalist
class societies there were no notions of equality.  Inequality therefore
never had to be explained or justified.  Capitalism promised liberty,
equality and fraternity - but was unable to deliver them.  The
disjuncture between promise and reality had to be explained.

Robert Miles, the author of an excellent book on unfree labour, has
written a great deal on race and reification.  It is his primary area of
expertise.  In "Racism after 'race' relations", in the opening chapter,
he provides a devastating critique of the way in which race is treated
as a real, objective category.

Like Barbara Fields, Miles also makes the point that the struggle
against racism is not helped by the deployment of the same categories as
used by the racists, who also insist that race is real.

Philip Ferguson





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