I need feminism because people cling to the concept of “equalism” because the patriarchy has us convinced as a society that the prefix Fem has a negative connotation.
I need feminism because people cling to the concept of “equalism” because the patriarchy has us convinced as a society that the prefix Fem has a negative connotation.
Although African-Americans constitute only 13 percent of all Americans, nearly half of all prison inmates in the U.S. are black. This startling statistic has led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to publicly criticize the U.S. for its treatment of African-Americans. A number of recent studies and reports paint a damning picture of how American society dehumanizes blacks starting from early childhood.
Racial justice activists and prison abolition groups have long argued that the “school-to-prison” pipeline funnels young black kids into the criminal justice system, with higher rates of school suspension and arrest compared with nonblack kids for the same infractions. More than 20 years ago, Smith College professor Ann Arnett Ferguson wrote a groundbreaking book based on her three-year study of how black boys in particular are perceived differently starting in school. In “Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity,” Ferguson laid out the ways in which educators and administrators funneled black male students into the juvenile justice system based on perceived differences between them and other students.
Today this trend continues with record numbers of suspensions as a result of “zero-tolerance” school policies and the increasing presence of campus police officers who arrest students for insubordination, fights and other types of behavior that might be considered normal “acting out” in school-aged children. In fact, black youth are far more likely to be suspended from school than any other race. They also face disproportionate expulsion and arrest rates, and once children enter the juvenile justice system they are far more likely to be incarcerated as adults.
Even the Justice Department under President Obama has understood what a serious problem this is, issuing a set of new guidelines earlier this year to curb discriminatory suspension in schools.
But it turns out that negative disciplinary actions affect African-American children starting as early as age 3. The U.S. Department of Education just released a comprehensive study of public schools, revealing in a report that black children face discrimination even in preschool. (That preschool-aged children are suspended at all is hugely disturbing.) Data from the 2011-2012 year show that although black children make up only 18 percent of preschoolers, 42 percent of them were suspended at least once and 48 percent were suspended multiple times.
Consistent with this educational data and taking into account broader demographic, family and economic data for children of various races, broken down by state, is a newer study released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found African-American children are on the lowest end of nearly every measured index including proficiency in math and reading, high school graduation, poverty and parental education. The report, titled Race for Results, plainly says, “The index scores for African-American children should be considered a national crisis.”
Two other studies published recently offer specific evidence of how black children are so disadvantaged at an early age. One research project, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examined how college students and police officers estimated the ages of children who they were told had committed crimes. Both groups studied by UCLA professor Phillip Goff and collaborators were more likely to overestimate the ages of black children compared with nonblack ones, implying that black children were seen as “significantly less innocent” than others. The authors wrote:
We expected … that individuals would perceive Black boys as being more responsible for their actions and as being more appropriate targets for police violence. We find support for these hypotheses … and converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers.
Another study by researchers at UC Riverside found that teachers tended to be more likely to evaluate black children negatively than nonblack ones who were engaged in pretend play. Psychology professor Tuppett M. Yates, who led the study, observed 171 preschool-aged children interacting with stuffed toys and other props and evaluated them for how imaginative and creative they were. In an interview on Uprising, Yates told me that all the children, regardless of race, were “similarly imaginative and similarly expressive,” but when their teachers evaluated those same children at a later time, there was a discriminatory effect. Yates explained, “For white children, imaginative and expressive players were rated very positively [by teachers] but the reverse was true for black children. Imaginative and expressive black children were perceived as less ready for school, as less accepted by their peers, and as greater sources of conflict and tension.”
Although it is clear that negative behaviors were magnified through “race-colored glasses,” according to Yates, her study of children engaged in pretend play found that “there is also potentially a systematic devaluing of positive attributes among black children.” This made her concerned about how “very early on, some kids are being educated towards innovation and leadership and others may be educated towards more menial or concrete social positions.”
Reflecting on the 2001 book “Bad Boys” and how little seems to have changed since then, Yates affirmed that author Ferguson’s assertion that black children are given a “hidden curriculum” is still true now. She told me, “Our data suggests that that hidden curriculum may be persisting today and that it’s starting much earlier than we ever could have anticipated.” She noted her deep concern that “we’re actually reproducing inequality generation after generation.”
When I asked her to comment on the Goff study showing police estimates of black children as older than they are, Yates agreed that it appears as though “the same objective data are being interpreted differently as a function of race.” Ferguson also apparently noted this trend, calling it an “adultification” of black boys. Yates recounted an example from Ferguson’s work in which “when a white student fails to return their library book, they’re seen as forgetful and when a black student fails to return a library book, terms like ‘thief’ or ‘looter’ were used.”
Studies such as these consistently show that African-Americans have the deck stacked against them starting in early childhood through adulthood. Taken together, they make a strong case for the existence of a “preschool-to-prison” pipeline and the systematic dehumanization that black children face in American society.
Yates summarized, “Across these different studies, black children are viewed differently. They are consequently given less access to the kinds of structural avenues required to advance in our society and ultimately they become less valued in our culture,” and are ultimately “fast tracked to the margins.”
Daily Beast staff writer Jamelle Bouie, writing about black preschoolers being disproportionately suspended, provocatively asked, “Are Black Students Unruly? Or is America Just Racist?” Yates gave me the obvious answer saying, “We know that [discrimination] exists. It’s the most parsimonious explanation for these kinds of persistent inequalities.”
But perhaps there is also an element of justifiable unruliness involved. Yates offered that “black children—rightfully so—are more likely to disengage from their educational milieus and potentially rebel against them because these systems are at best failing to support them, and at worst channeling them into this pipeline towards negative ends.”
She indicted American society as a whole, saying, “Our educational system, our economic system, our judicial system, all of these are converging to reproduce these kinds of inequalities and perpetuate the criminalization of blacks in our culture.”
Although Attorney General Eric Holder’s push to reform mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately incarcerate African-Americans is indeed laudable, strong action is needed now to address the early childhood barriers facing black kids. The preschool-to-prison pipeline needs to be dismantled from its starting point rather than simply its endpoint.
Ultimately, “change,” Yates said, “is really going to require effort at all levels such as individual teachers, superintendents, police officers, attorneys general and even in the media.”
- Sonali Kolhatkar
A lot of people learn that men and women should have different roles in this world in order to create “balance” and, therefore, end up with this idea that feminism is not only “anti-man” but “anti-woman” because it’s “against” femininity (or masculinity). If you think that masculine and feminine gender roles are not only innate but good, then you’re likely to see critiques of those gender roles as attacking actual males and females, rather than attacking those socialized roles and behaviours, as well as the hierarchy that is attached to said roles. This leads women to say things like “No, I’m not a feminist, I love being a woman” because they believe their womanhood is attached to a subordinate gender role which they have been told is not only natural, but empowering.
Until 1962, out of 120 billion dollars of government backed home loans, less than 2% went to non-white households. In Northern California, between the war and 1960, of 350 thousand federally guaranteed new home loans, less than 100 went to black families.
And so explains one of the deep aspects of white privilege. Living in a country that laid the foundation that gives you more of a chance to come from a family that has financial stability, property and investments. These systematic top down acts directly lead to current levels of income inequality & concentrated poverty. DIRECTLY.
But yeah no, it’s all about bootstrap pulling.
Today will mark the largest fast food strike ever, spreading far beyond U.S. borders. Organizers expect to rally in more than 150 U.S. cities and in cities in over 30 different countries. Fast Food Forward, a New York-based labor group, and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF) have joined forces to help orchestrate the fast food employee walk-off. The goal of a global call to action is to usher in change, so that this $200 billion industry stops exploiting their employees with low wages and preventing them from unionizing.
Was this on the news? I don’t have a TV but I feel like this was extremely downplayed
A critical introduction to the influential ecological Marxist concept of ‘the second contradiction’, proposed by James O’Connor.
O’Connor’s idea of ‘the second contradiction of capital’ is one of the most influential in ecological Marxism, and remains an important point of reference. In 1988 O’Connor was a founding editor of the quarterly journal Capital, Nature Socialism, and in an article in the first issue he introduced the concept of the second contradiction.
O’Connor’s argument falls on the cusp between Marxist orthodoxy on the one hand, and both growing ecological awareness and the emergence of ‘new social movements’ on the other. The concept of the second contradiction is developed therefore both to preserve, and to develop traditional Marxism into new domains (ecology) and for new subjects (such as feminist, environmental, and national movements). But to do so, he has to relax some of the more orthodox received wisdom. He draws inspiration from Karl Polanyi’s argument, in The Great Transformation, that market relations come into conflict with social reproduction. Combined with Marxism, this provides an alternative to:
…bourgeois naturalism, neo-Malthusianism, Club of Rome technocratism, romantic deep ecologism, and United Nations one-worldism.
We’ll now sketch out the what the ‘first’ and ‘second’ contradictions actually are, before engaging with two of O’Connor’s key ideas: an ‘underproductionist’ theory of crisis, and ‘the rebellion of nature’ thesis.
It’s been said that the 21st century is a race between the first and second contradictions. 2 The first, central to orthodox Marxism, is the contradiction between the forces of production on the one hand, and the relations of production on the other. The forces of production include things like forms of labour, scientific knowledge, co-operation, and technology, while the relations of production are the class relations arising out of private property in the means of production.
In orthodox Marxist theory, this contradiction, via the labour movement, was held to drive a more or less linear progression towards more centralised (‘socialised’) industry and more planning, by states or industrial-financial monopoly capitalists (restructuring “into more transparently social, and hence potentially socialist, forms”). Socialism could then be understood as the workers, or in practice, the Communist Party, taking over the apparatus of centralised production and planning that capitalism had bequeathed.
O’Connor flirts with this orthodoxy but isn’t satisfied with a unilinear, teleological history. Rather, he insists that:
it has become obvious that much capitalist technology, forms of work, and the like, including the ideology of material progress, have become part of the problem not the solution.
He subsequently identifies a second source of capitalist crisis, a second contradiction. This is between the forces and relations of production combined and the conditions of production, broadly speaking, between political economy and the environment:
An ecological Marxist account of capitalism as a crisis-ridden system focuses on the way that the combined power of capitalist production relations and productive forces self-destruct by impairing or destroying rather than reproducing their own conditions.
To develop this claim, O’Connor seeks to develop a theory of crisis adequate to the second contradiction in the way Marxists had for the first. It’s probably helpful to clarify some Marxist jargon here, so that we can see where O’Connor’s originality lies. We’ve tried to keep it simple in the text and pushed some detail to the footnotes.
Perhaps the most common crisis theory we hear is underconsumptionist. Strictly speaking this is more of a left-Keynesian theory than a Marxist one, but many Marxists espouse something along these lines (such as Rosa Luxemburg). The central claim of an underconsumptionist crisis theory is that it’s profitable for individual capitalists to drive down wages, but yet when all capitalists do this, it suppresses consumer demand, since poorer workers are less voracious consumers. Thus capitalists are caught in a rationality trap. The solution is usually some form of social partnership, via the state, trade unions, or both, to keep short-sighted capitalists from undermining aggregate demand, and thus their own interests. Ha-Joon Chang is one of the most prominent advocates of this position.
Therefore for underconsumptionists, crisis is not inherent to capitalism, it can be avoided by more enlightened self-interest and social partnership, making capitalists realise that ‘decent wages’ are win-win.3 The more properly Marxist theory, by contrast, is one of overproduction. This view points out it’s rarely in the interests of capitalists to pay higher wages, since it eats into their profits. And it also points out an error in underconsumptionist thinking: consumer demand isn’t the only demand, firms also consume, e.g. purchasing new machinery. Of course, firms only invest in the hope of future profits, so this creates a ‘grow-or-die’ dynamic, but it means that underconsumption is a symptom rather than a cause of crisis.4
Rather, for the overproductionist point of view, firms investing in more mechanised processes each seek advantage over their rivals by becoming more productive. But as these productivity gains generalise across the industry, rates of profit begin to fall. For overproductionists, this is the rationality trap: capitalists are compelled to become more productive to compete, but increased productivity and competition ultimately depress profit rates. Eventually, suitably profitable investments begin to dry up. Too much capital chases too few profits. Firms either engage in more speculative activity or withhold investment, the economy falters, some firms fail and others are devalued. The general devaluation of capital – crisis – helps restore the rate of profit, and then a new round of accumulation can begin.5
It is in this context that O’Connor proposes a different kind of crisis:underproduction. 6 His argument is as follows: capital increasingly dominates and incorporates its environment. This includes the natural environment – with things like soil nutrient depletion and deforestation. This requires things like synthetic fertilisers or planned forestry. It also includes the social environment – peoples’ health suffers from pollution and overwork, which necessitates things like healthcare provision to maintain the workforce. In this way, nature itself becomes produced, so “that ‘natural barriers’ may be capitalistically produced barriers, that is, a ‘second’ capitalised nature.” 7
Consequently, capital increasingly has to produce its own environment, and this represents an overhead cost at the system level. A crisis of underproduction thus includes, but exceeds, a crisis of social reproduction, encompassing both social and environmental reproduction.
…we can introduce the possibility of capital underproduction once we add up the rising costs of reproducing the conditions of production. Examples include the health care costs necessitated by capitalist work and family relations; the drug and drug rehabilitation costs; the vast sums expended as a result of the deterioration of the social environment (e.g. police and divorce costs); the enormous revenues expended to prevent further environmental destruction and to cleanup or repair the legacy of ecological destruction from the past… 8
In light of the massive costs associated with mitigating and adapting to climate change, this line of argument seems highly salient. This also provides a framework to understand the contemporary discourse around ‘ecosystem services’: once natural cycles are perturbed and/or replaced by political-economic ones, the price of nature’s ‘free gifts’ is revealed in rising financial costs. Examples could include the use of (energy intensive) synthetic fertilisers to compensate for declining soil fertility, or the need to hand-pollinate cropswhere intensive pesticide use and loss of hedgerow habitats have wiped out pollinators. For O’Connor, this dynamic feeds back into economic crisis:
No one has estimated the total revenues required to compensate for impaired or lost production conditions and/or to restore these conditions and develop substitutes (…) all unproductive expenses from the standpoint of self-expanding capital. 9
O’Connor therefore explains the rise of new social movements as a response to the crises of underproduction. This seems to stretch the concept too far, as well as being politically problematic in framing feminist, indigenous, or anti-racist movements as ‘nature’ rebelling. However, the narrower claim that capital’s encroachments on the environment solicit resistance is surely borne out by today’s anti-pollution riots, fracking resistance, and the No TAV movement.
The combination of crisis-stricken capitals externalising more costs, the reckless use of technology and nature for value realisation in the sphere of circulation, and the like, must sooner or later lead to a ‘rebellion of nature’, that is, to powerful social movements demanding an end to ecological exploitation.
It is perhaps here that O’Connor’s attempts to preserve Marxist orthodoxy through broadening its scope comes up against its limits. It is true that ecological explanation can and does provoke diverse ecological struggles. But this is no more inevitable than austerity necessarily giving rise to a powerful, unified class movement. It provides the grievance, but grievance is only one of the conditions for a movement. In the case of climate change, we also encounter a further problem. With a polluting factory or mine, the effects are often felt most harshly in the immediate vicinity, or at least in specific localities, e.g. down river, and the origin is relatively easily identified. But climate change is massively nonlocal in both space and time. 10
That is to say, as the first official climate change refugees evacuate their drowning island, who is to blame? Aside from the impossibility of attributing it to any specific greenhouse gas emissions, the inertia of the climate system means the emissions that caused this warming happened decades ago (warming from recent emissions is still ‘in the pipeline’). How can a movement coalesce against such a diffuse threat, one that is so massively distributed in space and time? We are not saying this is impossible, only that it can’t be taken for granted that ‘sooner or later’ powerful social movements will cohere.
In a sense, this is no different to the more narrowly defined class struggle. Capitalism generates grievances daily, a small percentage of these flare up into local struggles, a small percentage of these broaden out or link up into wider movements, and a small percentage of these escalate to shake the whole social order. Fragmentation and multiplicity are the norm. Ecological struggles seem to follow the same pattern. Indeed, O’Connor insists that “issues pertaining to production conditions are class issues (even though they are alsomore than class issues).” Climate change will certainly escalate the grievances, with crop failures, rising food prices, and displaced populations to name but three.
Reading O’Connor in the context of climate change remains productive, even if it’s sometimes a case of working out where he goes wrong. Indeed, when he writes that “atmospheric warming, acid rain, and pollution of the seas will make highly social forms of reconstruction of material and social life absolutely indispensible”, we can only agree.