Systemic Racism – a Reminder

Fascists in the US government are trying to legislate against teaching truths such as: The US is systemically racist.

The reason that they don’t want such things taught is because once that truth has settled in, there is a mandatory follow-up question: “what are we going to do about it?” But that conceals another question, which is assumed, “is that a good thing, or a bad thing?” I.e.:

  1. The US is systemically racist
  2. Racism is a bad thing because ${reasons}
  3. Therefore, we need to do something about it such as ${things}

That’s the problem, for them – to teach certain things means inevitable calls for change. I.e.:

  1. Race-based gerrymandering in Georgia is a thing
  2. Race-based gerrymandering is a bad thing because it reduces a segment of the population’s ability to participate fairly in democratic processes. Corollary: white people wouldn’t like it if their votes were discounted because they’re white, and they shouldn’t expect black people to like it if their votes were discounted because they’re black
  3. Therefore, we need to restore democratic fairness to Georgia by blocking racist voter suppression and race-base gerrymandering

When a person comes to realize how severely every aspect of US society is tilted toward white supremacy, they have confronted systemic racism, and they either have to shrug and accept the status quo or reject every aspect of US society. So, trying to control what is or is not taught is directly related to the kind of stupid bullshit we encounter for example, when Florida politicians ban discussion of the idea of climate change causing flooding. In my opinion, it’s a terrible strategy to try to suppress specific ideas because really the supression attempt amounts to raising a flag over a particular idea saying “hey, look, we’re trying to hide something!”

So, in honor of the fascist US politicians who want to short-cut discussion of ideas like “the US is systemically racist” I’m going to do something unusual – I’m going to re-promote one of my earlier postings from 2016 around the time I started this blog. [stderr] If you or someone you know encounters republicans trying to say “there is no systemic racism” you should be able to respond, “Are you kidding me? It’s all systemic racism! The whole country was founded because of racism!”

I’m going to recap the argument, but I’d like to also encourage people to read the original piece. In my opinion, it is the highest point of anti-American speech I have been able to muster. The argument goes like this – when the founding secessionists began pushing for the colonies to rebel against British rule, they had multiple reasons. Those were, not in any particular order: taxation, the military occupation that inevitably resulted from British wars against France, being fought in North America, and regulation of the colonial economy. That regulation took the form of taxation, but taxation needs to be interpreted in two ways: one it’s a way for a dominant power to extract money and two it’s a way for a dominant power to control and subordinate the people that live under their economic umbrella. For example, today, alcohol’s value is severely distorted by regulatory taxes, arguably to raise its cost to the point where people can’t be hammered all the time. In other words, the colonies decided to seceede because they didn’t like the British bossing them around and taking their money. The “bossing around” came to be enshrined in the declaration of independence as “freedoms” and the complaints about taxation were (dishonestly, it turns out) tied to “taxation without representation.” I say that was dishonest because apparently the British were willing to discuss allowing the colonies to be represented in parliament but that wasn’t good enough; the Americans were accustomed to ruling themselves and really didn’t want to be ruled by anyone else anymore.

The claim that the British were interfering with American “freedoms” is the complicated one to pick apart. The founding secessionists did not quite enumerate the “freedoms” that the British were infringing. Rather obviously, the British weren’t controlling their freedom of speech – they were quite freely running their mouths, nor were the British controlling their freedom to do business – the US was a thriving and successful set of economies. Basically, the “freedoms” the British were infringing were the American’s wealthiest citizens’ “freedoms” to be a bunch of tax-cheat smugglers and slavers. There, I said it. Slavery. See, the problem that the Americans faced was that building an economy on slavery is like running nitromethane fuel in your car: it sure does boost the hell out of it, until the engine disintegrates from the stresses created by all that extra power. Put another way: making people work for free is one hell of a great way to build a capitalist economy; it’s the ultimate “buy low, sell high.”

Big Cotton: notice who is working, versus who is standing around looking pleased with themselves. Those bales are heavy.

By the time the US colonies’ wealthy started pushing for secession, slavery had metastasized and was fundamental to every aspect of the colonial economies. It’s a popular, and wrong, thing to say that the southern states’ more agrarian economies were tied to slavery but the industrialized north was not – the fact is that the industrialized north was, too: they were getting huge bales of cotton from the south and making it into fabric to sell at a crazy profit because the raw cotton’s price was artificially depressed by the fact that southern labor, which was slave-based, was cheaper than it would have been in a non-slave economy. See what I mean about the nitromethane? Also, the fact that there was slave labor as an option served as a lever against non-slave laborers: if wages threatened to go up, a business could threaten to move to a southern state and just outright buy unpaid labor, so the laborers had better accept the pittance wages they were being offered, or else. In other words, the same trick that US capitalists play today, where they threaten to export jobs to China where labor is cheaper, was an inter-state commerce issue instead of an international issue.

The “freedoms” that the British were taking away from the American colonists’ wealthiest citizens was the “freedom” to run their economies the way they wanted to – which inevitably meant regulating slavery. And regulating slavery only meant one thing: abolishing it.

What most American fascists cannot look at is the fact that slavery became illegal in England in 1772. The Americans rebelled for their freedoms in 1776. Four years later – four years during which there was increasing foment and furor. About “freedoms” that remained largely unspecified and un-enumerated. Why did those freedoms remain unspecified? Because they were fucking repulsive. It’s hard to write a declaration of independence based on highfalutin’ enlightenment-sounding ideals about freedom when what you really mean is “they want to make us stop smugglin’ and slave-tradin’ damn it.” It was, as I pointed out before, a rich man’s rebellion. George Washington, the figurehead, was America’s greatest land speculator and personally owned a significant chunk of the country. He was interested in not paying property taxes and was willing to kill to maintain that status quo. Jefferson was a slave-owning farmer who was also incompetent at it – he would have lost his pot to pee in and his dick along with it if he hadn’t had a source of inexhaustible 100% profitable labor. Richard Henry Lee, Robert E.’s great-grandfather was a massive plantation-owner and of course his plantation ran on slavery. The entire plantation system had to because the profits of the enterprise depended on not having to pay labor costs.

Source: Financial Times [ft]

In 1772, American oligarchs were staring down the barrel of a cannon. They were going to have to completely re-structure their economy, or … do something else. And they chose to do something else. Ultimately, that “do something else” choice amounted to kicking the can down the road for another few generations, i.e.: Robert E Lee had to go lead a bunch of dumb southern kids to die in battle to uphold great-grandpappy’s decision to not farm, himself. That decision has been re-played again and again in a deadly and immoral rear-guard action in which the controllers of the US economy have fought tooth and nail (and with guns and bayonets) to keep from having to re-structure their economy in order to pay fair labor costs. Meanwhile, it bears mentioning that the tax-rate in the new United States was higher than in Britain within 2 years of the country’s founding. Why was that? Because they couldn’t tax land or slaves so they had to figure out ways to extract tax revenues from the little people. Within a few years of leading his successful rebellion, George Washington had to raise an army to suppress an internal tax revolt (that, literally, took place in my neighborhood) because of Alexander Hamilton’s genius idea to tax only small-time alcohol distillers – i.e.: local economies – while preserving the low-tax status of larger distillers. The world and the citizens of the US should have figured out that the country was a scam the second the drums started beating to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion, but they didn’t.

After 1772, the British had to, unfortunately, repeatedly ban slavery. I.e.: “That thing that’s illegal? It’s now illegal-er.” Part of the problem for them was that the new United States was still running a slave-based economy, which meant that it was distorting global prices and acting as a premier customer for criminal goods, i.e.: stolen people. In an irony matching that of Washington (“no taxation without representation”) crushing the Whiskey Rebellion and Shays’ Rebellion (a straight-up tax revolt) the US formed its first navy “millions for defense but not one cent for tribute” to stop French ships from impressing American sailors (“impressment” is basically nautical slavery) and the US first flexed its military muscles against the Barbary Pirates who are called “Pirates” in the US but were, in fact muslim slavers who were in the habit of raiding and enslaving white people and that was unacceptable.

What I’m saying is that the US is not only systemically racist, it’s systemically hypocritical.

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If you care to review my old posting (again, that’s [stderr]) and desire to comment on it, please comment here, on this posting rather than on the 5 year-old comment thread.

The Financial Times article I linked above: [ft] is really interesting. Yes, Britain’s GDP was also being dragged in a very positive direction by American slavery.

Hilary Beckles recalls when he was a child that “it was normal to see a 15-year-old white boy on a horse driving 100 black people to work on the plantation”. Such social and economic legacies of slavery are inescapable in Barbados, a former British colony. In the UK, however, they have been “brushed under the carpet”, says Sir Hilary, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies.

That is why the British had to keep passing laws against slavery, even though it was officially stopped in 1772, there was just too much money to be made.

I do feel obligated to disclaim that this would be considered:

  1. revisionist history
  2. wrong, by some professional historians

My view is that the historians I think matter, would probably agree with my take, though when I have discussed it with some of them (most notably my dad) “it’s more complicated than that.” Well, of course it is, my reply. The point of history is to boil down the complexity of a time and events and extract and shape an analysis of what mattered and what happened and what’s important. A Marxist economist would doubtless have a very different view of what happened during the US revolution, and would couch it in terms of labor costs (as I did) but would probably not have a decent explanation of the impact of slave labor on the economy because Marx wasn’t concerned with slavery because there wasn’t any, where he lived, when he did his thinking. So if you wish, accept this all as my opinion.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    All of this has led me to wonder — what was the REAL reason for the North going to war in 1862? Was it really just moral outrage against that thing that had been happening all along, or were there other more fundamentally economic reasons?
    It’s rather lucky that slavery seems to incompatible with an industrialized economy. That also seems to apply to things like Russian serfdom, which is just slavery under another name. To have industrial workers it seems as if you need a certain minimal level of education, and education of any sort makes slaves unmanageable.
    Also, for building things like railroads you need a lot of workers quickly, and I wonder if slavery just couldn’t keep up. For that you need immigration, but immigration doesn’t work so well when it’s competing with free labor.
    Taking morality out of the picture, it also seems as if slavery came with other costs to society as a whole, which the North was increasingly unwilling to pay. Contemporaries often talked about the brutalization that slavery brought to the Southern mentality, Scarlett O’hara notwithstanding. There must have come a point when the negatives of being a part of a slave-owning nation overwhelmed the positives for northerners.

  2. says

    what was the REAL reason for the North going to war in 1862?

    One easy answer would be that a successful secession would have created a hostile power on the southern border, and it was easier/better to deal with it right away. Slavery was going to get in the way of lebensraumexpansion.

    But I doubt anyone asked – the north was ready to fight and the rebels were raising an army with the obvious intent of playing for the whole table-stakes. If the south had stood off and, fortified, and adopted a defensive posture and negotiated they probably could have pulled in foreign aid. Basically I think “come at me y’all bro” was the order of the day.

  3. consciousness razor says

    What most American fascists cannot look at is the fact that slavery became illegal in England in 1772. The Americans rebelled for their freedoms in 1776. Four years later – four years during which there was increasing foment and furor.

    You’re pointing at a coincidence, not a cause. It’s not just you, and I don’t know where it comes from — maybe the 1619 project? — but people seem to believe the somewhat narrow ruling in one case (Somseret, 1772) was the motivating event which finally scared US capitalists into rebellion.

    That just seems like a really superficial reading of history, if you ask me. But more to the point, it was not really abolished until much later. Abolitionism in the United Kingdom:

    The slave trade had been banned in England in 1102.[3] In a 1569 court case involving Cartwright, who had bought a slave from Russia, the court ruled that English law could not recognise slavery, as it was never established officially. This ruling was overshadowed by later developments. It was upheld in 1700 by Lord Chief Justice Sir John Holt when he ruled that “As soon as a man sets foot on English ground he is free”.[4]

    You notice how it had supposedly been “banned” and was “never established officially” and how every man was “free”? Well, there were still tons of slave-owning capitalists in England (the same kind of people who should be upset/worried in the US), so don’t read too much into any of that. Just like you shouldn’t read too much into our Constitution, etc., because you know better when we’re talking about US history.

    Although the legal implications of the judgement are unclear when analysed by lawyers, the judgement was generally taken at the time to have determined that slavery did not exist under English common law and was thus prohibited in England.[10] As a result, by 1774, between 10,000 and 15,000 slaves gained freedom in England.[11] The decision did not apply to British overseas territories; e.g. the American colonies had established slavery by positive laws.[12] Somersett’s case became a significant part of the common law of slavery in the English-speaking world and it helped launch the movement to abolish slavery.[13]

    After reading about Somersett’s Case, Joseph Knight, an enslaved African who had been purchased by his master John Wedderburn in Jamaica and brought to Scotland, left him. Married and with a child, he filed a freedom suit, on the grounds that he could not be held as a slave in Great Britain. In the case of Knight v. Wedderburn (1778), Wedderburn said that Knight owed him “perpetual servitude”. The Court of Session of Scotland ruled against him, saying that chattel slavery was not recognised under the law of Scotland, and slaves could seek court protection to leave a master or avoid being forcibly removed from Scotland to be returned to slavery in the colonies.[8]

    At this point the plantocracy became concerned, and got organised, setting up the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants to represent their views. From its inception in 1780, the organisation played a major role in resisting the abolition of the slave trade and that of slavery itself. The Society brought together three different groups: British sugar merchants, absentee planters and colonial agents.[14]

    History of slavery wiki article (section on the British slave trade):

    Somersett’s case in 1772 was generally taken at the time to have decided that the condition of slavery did not exist under English law in England. In 1785, English poet William Cowper wrote: “We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That’s noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein.”[366] However, slavery continued to thrive in England itself, much like it did in the British Empire, until full emancipation in the 1830s.[367] In 1807, following many years of lobbying by the abolitionist movement, led primarily by William Wilberforce, the British Parliament voted to make the slave trade illegal anywhere in the Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. Thereafter Britain took a prominent role in combating the trade, and slavery itself was abolished in the British Empire (except for India) with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

    So, 1833, not 1772 or even 1807 … “except for India.” Quite a large exception!

    During the rule of Shah Jahan, many peasants were compelled to sell their women and children into slavery to meet the land revenue demand.[251] Slavery was officially abolished in British India by the Indian Slavery Act, 1843. However, in modern India, Pakistan and Nepal, there are millions of bonded laborers, who work as slaves to pay off debts.[252][253][254]

    By that point, we’re nearly at the Civil War. And it’s well after many internal events in the US (like the Missouri Compromise in 1820, e.g.) which led up to it and make it clear there was already tons of conflict on the issue of slavery, within the white male population that had all of the political power to do any of those things.

  4. jrkrideau says

    stop French ships from impressing American sailors (“impressment” is basically nautical slavery)

    “British” perhaps?

    (“impressment” is basically nautical slavery)
    Or from the British point of view military conscription (US ‘draft’). I am under the impression that the Royal Navy was supposed to impress only British subjects though mistakes were likely made. The RN would consider a British-born sailor with US citizenship to be still British. I doubt that many would have renounced their citizenship. A ‘pressed sailor had the same rights, pay, and working conditions as any other RN sailor.

    It kind of reminds me of young Italian-Canadian men in the 1970, or 1980’s going to visit the grandparents in Italy and discovering themselves to be Italian citizens and in the army.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    What most American fascists cannot look at is the fact that slavery became illegal in England in 1772

    Why would they care? It never became illegal in the USA, so what’s the possible relevance?

  6. brucegee1962 says

    @2 Marcus,
    My question in @1 is, why did the North allow the situation to get to the point where the South felt like it had to secede? Like you, Marcus, I tend to be rather cynical, and I assume that nations will do what they need to do to thrive (with thriving usually defined as “winning battles and taking stuff from other nations”), and then will come up with “moral” justifications for doing whatever it is they need to do, after the fact. But the Civil War bugs me as far as that thesis is concerned, because it isn’t immediately clear what the North stood to gain economically by getting up in the South’s face over slavery. It’s not like the North wasn’t extremely racist in its own way, after all — and as you say, those northern cotton mills were profiting plenty, if indirectly. Is this the one case where the morality tail really was wagging the policy dog?

    Of course, most of the Northern soldiers weren’t actually fighting to end slavery — they were fighting to “preserve the Union,” which was a much poorer reason.

  7. says

    Why would they care? It never became illegal in the USA, so what’s the possible relevance?

    As long as the colonies were British they would come under British common law, and eventually they would have to stop slaving. I see a symmetry to how the south broke away for their freedoms in how the colonies broke away for theirs. The US was trying to legislate it away and that caused the break.

  8. springa73 says

    Just a quibble – the cotton boom in the southern states and the textile industry boom in Britain and the northern states that was connected with it didn’t start until after the USA became an independent country. At the time of the American War. of Independence, the biggest cash crops produced by enslaved labor were tobacco, rice, and indigo, with cotton being only a minor crop. Also, the northern states were still almost as agrarian as the southern states at the time of the war of independence.

    Regarding the Somerset case, it’s important to remember that, as consciousness razor said, it didn’t affect slavery in the colonies. What it basically said was that slavery didn’t exist under English common law, and that in order to establish slavery there needed to be a positive statute law that established it. Such a statute didn’t exist in Britain, so slavery had no force there. The colonies, however, did have statutes establishing slavery, so even after the Somerset ruling it was still in force there. The main effect it had was that slaveowners from the colonies couldn’t take their slaves to Britain without releasing them from slavery, since slavery couldn’t be enforced in Britain. Colonial slaveholders were undoubtedly upset by the ruling, but I doubt it was quite the decisive factor. After all, the British colonies in the West Indies, which were even more dependent on slavery than those in North America, remained loyal and didn’t revolt.

    The Somerset ruling was, I believe, used in antislavery arguments later in the USA, when northern states abolished slavery and there were debates over whether slaveholders could hold their slaves in non-slave states. Abolitionists and antislavery folks used the precedent of Somerset to argue that slavery ended where it was not supported by state laws.

  9. says

    Your original article is fascinating; I’d never thought about the reason for the american revolution like that. But it sure does makes sense.

    It’s a shame the founders of the US didn’t live up to the words they put in the declaration of independence.

    If I remember correctly, when England outlawed slavery they actually compensated the slaveholders (but not the slaves).
    Makes you wonder why the founders of the US didn’t aim for that?

  10. DrVanNostrand says

    @rsmith #9

    “If I remember correctly, when England outlawed slavery they actually compensated the slaveholders (but not the slaves).
    Makes you wonder why the founders of the US didn’t aim for that?”

    The Southern states had absolutely no interest in that arrangement. However, that was major policy goal of the Republican party at the time Lincoln was elected. No one really believed the “Deep South” would go for it, but it was thought that several border states could be convinced. Lincoln’s administration even tried to get the the slave holding states in the Union to accept compensated emancipation. The closest it got was Delaware, where it got close, but did not pass. And Delaware hardly even had any slaves! Compensated Emancipation was no more acceptable to the slave states than any other method of emancipation.

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