Slavery and Democracy

Interestingly, some of the issues raised in Olson’s article has come up in my race theory class- citizenship, racial states et al. Creating  of those racial states, somehow was to thwart rebellions from the slaves. Denying them the ability to use the justice system and other social avenues which could help them advance their cause. That way, they were able to deny citizenship and proceed to “democratize.” It also shows how the white elites loved to hold on to power and authority in the State. It was a means to maintain the cleavages between the various social classes . Olson stated,  for whites to be ‘independent citizen-earners,’ black people had to be put at the bottom of the social class (p.47). Democratization also meant, in part, economic development. Therefore, giving the lower class equal rights meant decrease in the labor population. So denial also meant they could use them to solve the “labor problem.” One thing that surprises me is the definition of the anti-black attack as democratic. I don’t see how that could be justified then. But this process of democratization is a bit problematic.

“Mahershalah Ali became the First Muslim African-American Oscar winner in Best Supporting Actor.” Why does that matter? (Blog post # 6_02.27.17)

“Afrcian-American” “Muslim” “Women” – seemingly they are only identities, but they take the spotlights when these identities are intertwined with a profound identity of a nation, the identity of democracy. Being a leading democracy, the U.S.A. has relentlessly been trying to establish democracy all over the world. But when it comes to the present condition of the U.S.A., becoming the first Muslim African American Oscar winner in Best Supporting Actor category in 2017 or not becoming the first female President in 2016 turns out to be very important questions to be asked. Why? Not because it is somewhat related to the history making “first time,” rather related to the real picture of century long oppression-suppression-and-repression of race-class-gender and it’s relation to the democracy.

Historically, the U.S.A. has managed to exploit anyone who does not fall under the category of “white.” Interestingly, this whiteness was not naturally perceived rather socially constructed. It was necessary for the white settlers to subjugate the “other” class who was essentially non-white (mostly black and very rarely brown) for establishing power over them. Establishing power was necessary as this was the only suitable and cost-effective way to make a positive upward trending in the economic production. The other class, Black and Indians, entered into the power negotiation from a disadvantageous position and thus became the subject of direct exploitation. Not only race in terms of Blacks and Indians were subject to exploitation, as Olsen showed, but also women (as in both black and white) experienced the same fate. However, having the white skin or being in the white category created a less problematic situation for white women who gained the status of “dependent citizenships” in contrast to the “no-citizenship” at all for Blacks.

This concept of citizenship was actually the main result of the race and power struggle through out the antebellum period, Civil War period and the following time periods. Citizenship was earned and for that the racial identity (class and gender as well) played a vital role. Only by dint of the power of citizenship, the whites were able to maintain to be on the top of the hierarchy of power ladder and to keep the “other” on the below steps. Going back to the previous point, this was done for economic reason obviously, but also to maintain a political-social structure. This political-social structure ensured as less as power the “other” race can possess. Whenever it was necessary, this powerful political-social structure also initiated riots against the “other” race to make them even more vulnerable.

Now, question is who has influenced the democratization in the U.S.A.? Answer to it is has laid the foundation of power struggle among different groups where one group was systematically excluded from the platform of negotiation. This uneven platform later created other institutions where again those institutions gave leverage to the white race. Remaining in this position was very important for them for the sake of present and the future, which is why we see the write up of Behrens and et el explaining how racial state has influenced law of felony disenfranchisement even in the 21st century.

Behrens and et el argued that there is an obvious relationship between the presence of white supremacy in the political structure of the state and the law of felony disenfranchisement. However, that should not be seen only in terms of the present rather from a historical perspective. Thus, as I have mentioned already, the race and the racial state has always been very important for the white for both present and the future.

And this is why, when we see becoming a first Muslim African-American Oscar winner in the supporting actor category makes a headline, we need to go back to the past to understand the present of exploitative realities of race, class, gender and religion. Because, perhaps, this is the platform of American Democracy related to these identities.

2/27 Blog

In the readings for today, Olson provides a fascinating account of the ways in which race was used to expand citizenship for some while denying it outright to others. This process occurred in two main steps. First, it was determined that owning slaves was the most cost-effective form of plantation labor. Olson points to early Virginia legislatures tinging slavery with racism, as the discriminatory laws passed solved the “problem of how to efficiently and peacefully get the workers– slave and free– to work” (Olson 37). Once this new social arrangement was put in place, poor Englishmen began to participate by setting themselves against the black slaves. By identifying as primarily “white,” the economically disadvantaged were able to align themselves with the power-holding upper echelons of early American society (Olson 38). By setting themselves against the noncitizen slave class, they were able to distinctly identify themselves as citizens. So, while racial equality was simply out of the question during this period, an expansion of white citizenship did take place.

Behrens et al. continue Olson’s work by identifying racial inequalities in the felon population. Although the language used in felon disenfranchisement laws is race-neutral, the authors note that race is still tied to criminal punishment in the United States (Behrens et al. 560). Their findings conclude that states with a higher nonwhite prison population are more likely to adopt more restrictive felon disenfranchisement laws than those without (Behrens et al. 596). Thus, we see a continued denial of one of the basic tenets of citizenship based on race.

The conclusions the authors draw yield useful insights for the process of democratization; namely, that the disenfranchisement of one group within a society can lead to the rapid granting of rights to a separate group. While I am in no way saying that slavery in the United States was a positive thing, it is still interesting to trace the processes that reduced the rights of African-Americans while simultaneously expanding the base of citizenship.

The Racial Context of American Democracy

We’ve discussed in class about how there are certain conditions and conflicts that need to be present in order for a successful democracy to be effectively catalyzed and established. The context of the distinct racial dichotomy in the early American “democracy” came about not as a means of believing that one race was superior to another, because it was clear that wasn’t the case. Instead it came about as a means of white settlers creating a political and social construct in the interest of self gain that marginalized the humanity of non-whites, and created a racial dichotomy with a distinct hierarchy between whites and non-whites. This politicized and institutionalized racial dichotomy granted citizenship exclusively to whites, which is when the system of white political supremacy became clear.

The question then becomes: how did this political, social, and racial situation shape the way the United States subsequently democratized? The previous context that I mentioned was illustrated by Joel Olson, and this context is followed by the implications that this racial state has upon the democracy in which it exists. Olson’s discussion of Alexis de Tocqueville’s philosophy about American democracy focuses on the “inevitability of equality”. While Tocqueville’s argument was fundamentally flawed as a result of Tocqueville’s own racist biases, the foundations of his argument underlie the historical development of American democracy, in that the deeply rooted white contempt and prejudice against non-whites has sustained and perpetuated the system of democracy that operates in the United States. The desperation and fabricated necessity for whites to maintain social, political, and economic power over other races has somewhat driven democracy, and racial constructs have been exploited by white political elites to maintain power. While this institutionalized racial dichotomy has driven the democratization process in the American context, Olson also concedes that the white privilege is ultimately a major problem when it is being looked at in a democratic context.

In taking the racial dichotomy underlying the American democratization process and applying it to other contexts, similarities are definitely seen in other democratizing countries under racially-compromised circumstances. As Olson describes in Alexis de Tocqueville’s French context, a similar situation was seen in French colonies that had systems of black slavery on their plantations. In all contexts with these racial dichotomies, as Olson describes, “racial conflict will long outlast slavery”, which is an important reality to consider in other democratizing nations when dealing with problems involving similar racial dichotomies.

Race and Democracy

Race and racial inequality have powerfully shaped American history . While One of the great paradoxes of American history is that we’d like to think that the foundation of the United States is driven by the quest for freedom; religious liberty and political and economic liberty, historical accounts have shown that the founding was equally based on brutal forms of domination, inequality and oppression. Racial classifications are always constructed through complex historical and cultural processes. I’d like to think that current events, the nature of the judicial system and law enforcement are but ramifications of that paradox.

While the Civil Wat brought forth the abolishment of slavery, legally enforced racial oppression and forms of white dominations were not completely dismantled. Consider how the cultural transformation of Blacks; it was only in the 1980s that media started showing positive portrayal of Blacks in television. 1990s they began to appear in television programs in roles traditionally filled only by whites (doctors, lawyers, scientists). In 2003 in Bruce Almighty, God was played by Morgan Freeman. In 2017, first two Black actors to win an Oscar (Go Viola Davis and MaherShala Ali!)

The American experience of democratization and the construction of the “racial state” reflects to what extent elites’ conservatism can go to maintain a hierarchy of races; wealth and power. In fact, “The Abolition of White Democracy” by Joel Olson shows that race and the construction of a “racial state” had largely influenced democratization in the U.S. More interesting in the readings for today is the Natural citizens (White) Vs. second class citizens (Black). Arguably, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed equal protection of the law and full rights to all citizens, then the 15th, specifies these rights and that they are applicable to all people regardless of race or color. Second-class citizenship is not something in the past and is still commonly used nowadays.

I don’t think that this issue is contingent to the U.S only. We see instances of this in Europe and more surprisingly in African Countries. At least I can speak of my country; racism is a social issue that is rampant but no one speaks about it. More than that, we don’t have laws that punish racist, discriminatory behavior. Furthermore, our parliament does not have a representation of minorities (Jews for instance). Yes, there are laws protecting religious minorities but what’s that for if they don’t have a voice for their constituencies.


Race Dynamics of American Democracy

Racial constructions played a fundamental role in the formation of American democracy. I found Olson’s section on the creation of race particularly interesting. He elaborates on how the first immigrants from the Africa and the Indies possessed most of the same rights and duties as all other Virginians.  It wasn’t until Bacons Rebellion, where poor Englishmen aligned with African indentured servants against the wealthy, that racial lines began to be drawn. The elites deliberately created ethnic tensions and strife to separate Englishmen from Africans and Indians. Thus, a system of citizenship was created based strictly of race. The elites used the subordination of non-whites as a cheap labor force and the non-elites recognized the benefits of being white and further embraced the divide, supplemented by fear that the subordinate class might become them. America then created a quasi-democracy where all men were treated equal and deserved basic rights except African-Americans who “by nature or by curse is fitted for the condition in our system of which he occupies.”  

Manza sought to find if the racial composition of state prisons systems were reflective of the states felon disenfranchisement laws. His finding resulted in an emphatic yes. His research showed the states with higher African Americans in the prison systems were the most likely to have strict felon voting restrictions. It’s not at all surprising that Maine and Vermont are the only two states that don’t restrict felon voting rights. The racial dynamics of America’s prison system heavily disenfranchise the African American community from equal representation in their votes.

American Democracy and the Racial State

Race and the construction of a racial state has mainly influenced the concept of citizenship in the process of democratization in the U.S. Race, as Olson points out, was a construction of white elites to prevent class war against them in 17th century Virginia. Citizenship came to be valued by the poor white men as something that could be, at any moment, taken away from them. Thus, white men came to resent and fear blacks because the blacks’ slavery could have become the white working class slavery. To poor whites, African-Americans represented everything they did not want to have happen to them.

The American experience of the construction of the “racial state” shows the lengths elites go to maintain their grip on wealth and power. Our earlier case study of Nigeria certainly has some parallels of the American example. While I would argue the Nigerian case had more to do with economics than citizenship, one can make the case that working class Nigerians were insecure about their rights of citizenship. Elites in Nigeria stirred up ethnic tensions in order to achieve higher returns at the ballot box. The stirring up of ethnic tensions was not just out of pure cynicism, but rather a calculated strategy to divide up the lower classes to prevent a class war, since there are many more lower-income people than wealthy elites. Ethnicities as well as race are both invented concepts in order to carve up and control the working classes.

American Democracy and the Racial State 2-28-17

“The Abolition of White Democracy” by Joel Olson suggests that race and the construction of a racial state had largely influenced democratization in the U.S during the antebellum period. Thus, he looks at the mobs of this time and the riots they ensued as a reflection of the varying perspectives of democracy. Furthermore, he examines the role of democratic citizenship in racial terms suggesting that citizenship was granted to whites and further maintained the color bar. The author is therefore arguing that citizenship came to be defined in terms of white citizens and wholly disregarded black men and women. Moreover, he suggests that the whites had impeded opportunities for basic equality which in effect had greatly damaged the operation of democracy in the U.S. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the authors argument that race had been invented and ultimately structured through citizenship. Thus, resulting in the privilege of the white race. A primary component of citizenship, then, came to be the position that one holds in society. Slaves and women, therefore, were equated with non-citizenship whereas white men were “natural” citizens. Ultimately, then, the correlation between democracy and race can be defined by saying, “White citizenship represents the democratization of social status, extending it from the upper class to the masses by transforming it from a perk of wealth to a perk of race.” (Olson, pg. 44) Thus, Olson proposed that the privilege of the white citizen became an issue for democracy.

Research Journal #5

This week’s research update is brief, but continues some of the research outlined in my previous journal. In sharp contrast to the Falun Dafa Association, Uyghur and Tibetan rights groups regularly lobby the American and various European governments, in addition to making regular appearances at the UN. These two groups demonstrate a high degree of cohesiveness, as evidenced through their political dealings and individual mission and goals listed on their websites.

As I get further into researching this topic, I am beginning to see the varied responses the CCP has to the three groups. This partly has to do with each group’s standing within China: both Tibet and Xinjiang are autonomous regions, and Tibetans and Uyghurs hold official minority status that carries with it equal rights on par with China’s dominant ethnic group, the Han (at least in theory– more on that in future posts). Falun Gong practitioners, on the other hand, do not currently hold any legal protections in Mainland China. The religion is banned outright; as a result, we see harsh rhetoric from the CCP such as the following article:

I found this article to be particularly interesting because it responds to the Shen Yun performance that I mentioned in my previous post. Next week, I will focus on gathering more information on CCP responses to the Tibetan and Uyghur lobbies, something that I suspect will be different than responses to Falun Gong because of their respective minority statuses.


Research Journal #6

At this point, I believe I’m ready to begin writing, at least an original tracing of the history of Gambia.  I’ve found a few new sources on the relationship between Gambia and Senegal, including  a book by William F.S. Miles titled “Political Islam in West Africa,” as well as an article in the International Journal of Africa Historical Studies titled “Islam and Decolonization in Africa: The Political Engagement of a West African Muslim Community” by Zachary Valentine Wright. Additionally, from the English Historical Review, I’ve found ‘Till these Experiments be Made’: Senegambia and British Imperial Policy in the Eighteenth Century” by Matthew P. Dziennik.  I hope these newer articles will provide an slightly more historical perspective on understanding the commonalities between Senegal and Gambia, as well as helping me understand the cultural similarities by which democracy (and its fervor) might spread from Senegal to Gambia.  I also hope to trace a number of common interests held by Senegal in the Gambia, as a few Gambian newspaper have outlined these interests while lacking the academic integrity and backing I need for this paper. I hope to have an introductory paragraph to copy and paste here by the end of next week.