I watched a discussion between Angela Davis and Toni Morrison on Libraries and Liberation. It took me while to get through the entire 1 hour talk because in the first 20 minutes Toni Morrison made the most profound statement that stuck to my mind like plaster to a wall.
Toni was discussing some of the motivations and thoughts that she had that helped to shape the plot of her book Paradise. She talked about slavery and how in that book she wanted to separate slavery from race. I know, I know I thought the same thing but the depth of analysis from her brilliant mind as she elaborated on what she meant brought a whole other dimension to the way I view slavery as well as modern day race relations.
The Path to Power
Toni talked about the fact that during slavery there were ends tired servants who were not Black. Some of them were White and some of them were Native American. She cited the rules that were established by the group that deposed the governor of Virginia for a period of time during Bacon’s Rebellion. The rules stated that No Black person was allowed to carry a weapon; however, any White person could carry a weapon and could maim or kill any Black person for any reason without persecution. So although there were White indentured servants who worked alongside Black slaves and functioned just like chattel slaves, they had privileges.
Now they’re better, freer, more powerful — So they have this little margin of status. Nothing else, nothing else but that little margin and that little margin has worked its way through this country since then.
Toni’s point is that we often think of slavery and racial discrimination as being about race but it’s mostly about power and money. And it always has been.
All these things in which you flag race as a cause or even a goal. You know racism isn’t a goal, it’s just a route to power and money.
I found this statement to be profound in that often in discussion about slavery we center everything around race. It is true that race is the overt factor that fueled slavery through the creation of the other and it is true that the hatred and prejudice that rose from slavery and saturated itself so deeply in American culture created the foundation for the discrimination that we face today. But in the beginning it was about power and money.
At one time one crop of slave-grown cotton accounted for half of all U.S. export earnings. In 1840 the southern U.S. produced 60% of all the world’s cotton and 70% of cotton needed for the British textile industry. It was this money and dominance in cotton export that began to give the colonies their place in the world. The need for the U.S. to prove itself to Britain and to make a place for itself in world drove America to hold tightly to their economic model of slave labor even when the rest of the world had begun to lose its taste for the institution of slavery. It was at that time that America had to begint o justify its allegiance to slavery. This was accomplished through a number of institutions and ideologies but they all rested on the creating of enslaved people as the other for whom slavery was necessary and/or permissible.
The route to power and money in America means the domination of others. America culture has taken on the notion that in order to be dominance is measured by having someone lesser. In America the dominant culture validates its dominance by that which controls the country: power and money. in this regard racism and discrimination in America comes down to economic power play. Which is quite telling in that the evolution of discrimination becoming a systemic problem relies heavily on the economic disparities that are perpetuated through coding the language used to objectify discrimination. The emphasis that used to be on race was replaced by terms referencing social class. However, race has always been the most obvious factor used to separate the haves from the have-nots. It has not been until recently – with the politically correct acceptance of racial equality – that it has become evident that race is the path and economic dominance is the goal.
The point that Toni makes is an important one to keep in mind as we go forward in discussion and resistance to racism. To remember that the core of this struggle isn’t morality or equality or ideology; At the core of this struggle is a quest for power and money that is engrained in the American aesthetic that everything we do and everything that we are about is about money and power. Racism is no different.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man