BY VERN TURNER
I spoke with an “enlightened” friend the other day and he told me that in his life’s adventures he has seen and heard all the things that came with the Jim Crow era in the South. There are those who will not enter a restroom if a person of color is in there, will not sit next to “one of those people” on public transportation and will not drink from the same water fountain, etc., etc.
I went back to Ohio for my father’s funeral in 1977 and heard the same sort of racial slurring I heard a decade earlier from people my age and younger. Silly me. I had just spent the last decade in California learning to accept people of all shades, religions and interests. Some things in some places just didn’t change.
More recently, I’ve had occasion to talk to old friends from my home state and the “stuff” about our president and the dog whistle comments about everyone else who doesn’t look like them was like fingernails on a blackboard.
I guess some folks have tried to alter their views, but I think there is an ingrained bias that people learned from their earliest days in Lilywhiteville, USA.
What does this have to do with capitalists and capitalism? We have to go back to the 15th Century when Europeans discovered sugar and the traders and entrepreneurs of the time decided to make it a western industry. Muslim caliphs had already taken sugar to the ceremonial levels in their cultures, but Europeans saw ways to make profits. How right they were.
The August 2013 issue of National Geographic includes a brief history of the sugar industry, and the most significant part of it is that slavery was necessary to make the profits happen. Since the work of growing, harvesting and processing sugar cane is brutally difficult, only forced labor could do the job consistently and, coincidentally, for maximum profit, thus linking sugar and modern capitalism forever.
Columbus planted the New World’s first sugar cane on Hispaniola and the Caribbean sugar industry was born. Feckless West African leaders of the time were eager to sell their miscreants, slaves and captive enemies to the European slave traders and the race was on toward the sugar boom. Of course, there were all sorts of slave rebellions in the New World and the Europeans had to quell them or perish.
Slavery, paradoxically, was not born of racism, but the economic necessity of no cost, forced labor turned those who were slaves into lesser beings in the minds of those who developed the sugar – and finally the cotton industry in North America – empires for the rich.
That said, it isn’t a large leap to see why people of African origin in the western hemisphere, or at least in predominantly white-controlled countries there, have an inherent prejudice and racial bias: Even today, black people are still considered less than fully human in some parts of the southeastern United States and elsewhere to where that ingrained bias was transferred.
Racial resentment in the northern U.S. is also understandable since even before the Civil War, blacks seeking freedom from slavery took jobs for much less pay than whites would or could work for. It looks like capitalistic economics is restrictive of overcoming such bias.
Even the great documents of the United States illustrate a double standard with the all men are created equal phraseology offset by the two-thirds of a person language still present in the Constitution. Why hasn’t that been expunged from the Constitution? The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments had plenty of room for that language.
Recently, a Russian historian sagely commented that Karl Marx didn’t know much about communism, but knew a great deal about capitalism. In Das Kapital, Marx described the scenario of capitalism that we see happening in western civilization today.
How did he know? Well, he understood that the root of capitalism is greed, cheap labor, or no labor cost whatsoever. Slavery and robotics are, therefore, the two most important aspects of capitalism even though it takes highly skilled labor to build the robots. That labor, unlike slavery, becomes just another part of the cost of doing business and robots don’t demand benefits.
In John Helyar’s excellent book about Major League Baseball, Lords of the Realm, the struggle of the capitalist owners of the teams to maximize profits dominates the narrative.
At an owner’s meeting, Ted Turner, then the owner of the Atlanta Braves, commented on his colleagues’ attempts to restrict court-ordered free agency and put salary caps on their payrolls by saying, “Gentlemen, we have the only legal monopoly in the country and we’re [screwing] it up.”
Such is the mindset of the capitalist who has much and always wants more.
In Gene Klein’s book, First and a Billion, he describes an NFL owner’s meeting where the owner of the Atlanta Falcons [What is it about Atlanta?] proposed increasing revenues by lining the fields with criss-crossed yard stripes. Why? Because he said that would give him double the 50-yardline seats when the teams played one half going in one direction and the other half in the other direction. Since he charged premium prices for 50-yardline seats, he’d increase his revenue. You can’t make this stuff up.
So, from the sublime [racism] to the ridiculous [professional sports ownership] we come to a crucial time in our preoccupation with money, government and human interaction.
President Obama’s presence and one-time popularity have opened the can of latent prejudice [Tea Party] while giving previously hopeless people hope and inspiration to achieve and grow individually and as a people.
Will capitalism join this discussion, or will it continue to outsource jobs, expertise and the middle class in order to meet the quarterly report expectations of the stockholders?
Will capitalism remain chained to the limited philosophy of profit at all costs, or will it realize that the long-term existence and quality of life of a nation is more important than three-month segments?
Will capitalism liberate itself from its own self-imposed slavery of mindless searches for profit at the expense of people and the Earth it so wantonly exploits?
What happens when we run out of those things to exploit? Who will be the slave and who will be the master then?
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. He is the author of three books – A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools, The Voters Guide to National Salvation and Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status – all available through Amazon.com.