Democracy Or ‘Racial Dictatorship’ In America?
Amanda Gorman’s poetry reading at the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021, has catapulted her to world fame. Another Black artist has risen from the ashes of racial domination inside America through her poetic and defiant spirit that has always distinguished the “Souls of Black Folk.” Amanda’s newfound fame notwithstanding, the police killings of African Americans, their high mortality rates (along with Latinx and Native Americans) caused by Covid-19, and their lowly status at the bottom of the American economy should draw our attention to the historical racial and class inequities that the 2020 elections and the Trump presidency have made hyper-visible.
Michael Omi and Howard Winant in their classic book, Racial Formation in the United States, describe American society as a “racial dictatorship.” The racial dictatorship, the authors argue, effectively emerged from the relationship between the conqueror (European colonisers) and the conquered (the non-Europeans) in the New World. In a nutshell, European Americans have exclusively controlled economic, political, legal, and cultural institutions, leading to the subjugation of non-Europeans. They posit, “U.S. society is racially structured from top to bottom”, and that race plays a central role in both structuring and representing the social world in the U.S. Compounding this racial configuration, the powerful economic forces have further accentuated and magnified the class divide produced by the recurrent crisis inherent in capitalism for more than half a millennium, which always results in political unrest, hunger, destitution, war, or what sociologists term systemic chaos: the total collapse of political and economic systems.
Some 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential elections. So unflinchingly convinced of a “stolen election” and everything Trump promised them, his voters marched violently on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, denouncing the country’s political system as their enemy. This movement dates back to anti-government hysteria called Reaganism, let loose by Ronald Reagan’s presidency (another great Hollywood celebrity-turned Republican politician) in the 1980s, who condemned the “government as the problem,” and an obstacle to the nation’s prosperity and progress. Reaganism and fellow Republicans led the country down the road of union-busting, deregulation, privatization, or in sum, neoliberal reforms that have pushed workers, minorities, and the environment to the brink, while making corporations billions, if not trillions, in profits. Reagan’s neoliberal legacy, embraced by both the Democrats and Republicans, has created 400,000 (and growing) casualties from the Covid-19 pandemic, homelessness and unemployment of tens of millions, and contraction of the economy to the extent that by 2028, China will overtake the United States as the largest economy of the world, threatening the global primacy of the U.S. dollar.
Throughout the history of the U.S., the American racial divide has continuously reared its ugly head, as witnessed during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, during decades of racially motivated violence targeting the Black community, the police killings of unarmed African Americans, and throughout the disastrous and racist presidency of a billionaire TV star, Donald Trump. Simultaneously, deregulated capitalism has unleashed an irreparable economic crisis, attributable overwhelmingly to decades of neoliberal reforms that stripped the government of its responsibility to provide services to the public: schools and libraries, affordable housing and health care, clean water and air, and a living wage that doesn’t push the majority of people into debt bondage and destitution, which now define the social and economic order of this mighty nation.
The year 2020 will bear historic significance as America’s cardinal sin, when the country witnessed the complete dysfunction and breakdown of its economic system (rooted in the neoliberal reforms’ amputation of government’s regulatory function to soften the blow of an economic and health crisis). Most importantly, the year 2020 exhumed the deep racial divide evidenced by Covid-19’s mounting casualties of brown Americans, by the continued police killings of Black Americans, and by the January 6 march on the Capitol of an angry mob of militant white Americans ready to overthrow the republic. The pandemic and Donald Trump’s presidency have vomited up the fault lines of economic and racial disparities that have defined racist, capitalist, violent America since its beginning, and will perhaps lead to its end.
Dr. Khalid Afsar is a researcher and holds a PhD in education.