Social Injustice and the Rise of Capitalism

Ryan Glover 4/15/2010 Social Justice and Diversity Final Research Paper If you ask a lot of people to define social justice you’re going to get many different definitions. Personal experiences and individual views on society play a major role in our interpretation of social justice issues. A person’s take on a particular issue may vary but the overall idea of social justice stays the same. Social justice is concerned with equal rights, in all aspects of society.

The poorest to the wealthiest people in the world should all have equal opportunities. What they make of the opportunities given is a completely different story, but they still need to be readily available. Education and healthcare are just two examples of services that we as people should all have equal access to. Race, class, gender, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and geography should never be a reason why a person’s human rights are violated nor be a reason for advantage gain or an increase in opportunity availability.

Rather than dealing with one of the more obvious social justice issues like injustices in the education system or lack of healthcare in low income neighborhoods, I am going to be discussing a social injustice that has plagued our society from the time of slavery, throughout the industrial revolution, all the way up until now. Not only is it a major part of US history that goes unnoticed, its influences on society, specifically African American communities are still visible today.

Black labor exploitation has been prevalent in our society since the beginning of slavery and is ultimately the backbone of capitalism and the United States economy. Throughout the history of capitalism, there has always been some form of black labor exploitation that has enabled the white man to make gains by violating the human rights of others. Without the exploitation of black people, capitalism and the United States economy would not be what it is today. Just as black labor exploitation helped shaped the United States economy, it also helped to shape black gender roles, stereotypes, elationships between black men and women, and also relationships between blacks and whites. The origins of black labor exploitation in the United States of America started with colonial slavery during the seventeenth century. Africans were taken from their homeland and brought to the “New World” to work as free laborers on plantations for white owners. The slavery taking place in the “New World” was minute compared to the slavery-taking place in the Caribbean but for the purpose of this paper I am strictly going to speak about slavery in the continental US.

Slavery was the ultimate violation of human rights. Not only were African slaves exploited for labor, they were sexually exploited, physically, mentally and emotionally abused and had absolutely no control over any aspect of their lives. Never mind worrying about education and healthcare, they had to worry about when their next meal would come as well as being beaten or even killed by their master. In the late eighteenth century the bill of rights were passed.

None of the amendments in the original bill of rights included slaves, so according to the government, by law slaves had no rights. It wasn’t until the mid nineteenth century where slaves were freed on the accord of the emancipation proclamation. The thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments were passed giving African Americans equal rights across the board in the eye of the law. White slavery enthusiast did not take this lightly and still did everything in their will power to exploit African American for labor purposes and continued to violate their human rights.

Following the abolishment of slavery sharecropping jobs were the only jobs made available to black men as a result of the white man’s fear of job competition. White men were fearful that black men who were once slaves would take their jobs, and they would not be able to efficiently provide for their families. There were no benefits in working in sharecropping and no wages to be earned. The job would almost always lead to an ample amount of debt. Domestic service jobs were the only jobs available to black women, because white women would not take them.

Because of the dynamics of the job market for blacks at this time, the women had to be the breadwinners. What whites thought to be the standard gender roles in regards to work could no longer be held in black households because the female was out working long hours and earning wages to take care of her family while the male stayed at home to take care of the house and kids. Gender norms underwent a shift in the black communities. Black men “wanted black women to conform to the gender norms set by white society.

They wanted to be recognized as men, as patriarchs, by other men, including white men. Yet they could not assume the position if black women were not willing to conform to prevailing sexist gender norms. ”  Black women could not conform to gender norms because of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s refusal to allow black men access to employment. You can still see traces of this in black communities today with the mother being the head of the household. Black labor exploitation had a number of effects on the black community.

During the civil rights era, black genders roles began to look more like white gender roles. Initially the black men were ok with their “unconventional” gender roles created by white society. Whites begin to critique black family structure and begin to question the black man’s masculinity. “White social critics looking at black life have continually emphasized the notion that black men were symbolically castrated because black women were often the primary breadwinners. ”(P. 9) this takes a toll on the black man and he begins to become very self-conscious about his masculinity.

As a result of this many black men go to fight in the military as a way to regain their patriarchal status. The exploitation of black labor effected black men involvement in the military. It was purposely done this way by whites. During the civil rights era “black men declared that they were connected to white men, brothers under the skin, bound by masculinity, by a shared allegiance to patriarchy. ”(P14) With the civil rights movement black men began to become obsessed with the idea of patriarchal masculinity.

It was at this point where black men started to move the blame from white men to black women. Here is where black gender roles began to look more like white gender roles. Prior to WWI whites always had a fear of competition with black workers and blacks gaining political power. During World War I, many white American men went off to fight in the war leaving a large opening in the industrial job market for black men. Black men began moving to the north and working in factories for low wages. Black men now had the ability to earn wages and become the breadwinners.

In Harold Baron’s Demand for Black Labor, “this new demand for black workers was set in motion three key developments: first, the dispersion of black people out of the South into Northern urban centers; second, the formation of a distinct black proletariat in the urban centers at the very heart of the corporate-capitalist process of production; third, the break up tenancy agriculture in the south. ”  The black proletariat class spoke about in this quote had access to patriarchal masculinity that no blacks before them had access to.

They finally had the ability and resources to partake in the patriarchal masculinity that white men had been accustomed to since the beginning of America’s existence. At these factory jobs the black workers had no say in what was going on and could not complain about the horrendous conditions they were working in. Even after they had made some progress in reference to labor and jobs, they were still being exploited. I read about a concept call the “psychological wage” which is what I have come to understand as the psychological satisfaction provided by the owning class to white workers that enables this owning class to pay low wages.

To white workers the psychological wage was more important to than the actual monetary wage because to them blacks being inferior and not being able to compete with them was a lot more important than the actual monetary wages they were earning. They would rather take a pay cut than work with someone black. The fear the white working class had of job competition with blacks, helped shape a number of black stereotypes such as the black male rapist and promiscuous black women. After slavery was abolished as a result of fear of job competition and blacks development of political power, white men began lynching black men.

To disguise the real reason why they were lynching these men, white men used the excuse that black men were uncontrollable sexual deviants who were going around raping white women. On the other hand white men were going around raping black women just as they did during slavery. Black women tried to complain but the myth of black women being promiscuous enabled these rapes to be swept under the rug. The white man’s justification for raping black women was, how could someone be raped if all they do is want to have sex all the time? It was not considered rape because it was said that the black women wanted t. Black women who worked in domestics were subject to sexual harassment and rape by the males of the white families they were working for. You can see how the labor exploitation of black people led to a number stereotypes and misconceptions produced by white southerners. Some of these stereotypes are still prevalent in today’s society and black people are looked down upon because of them. Deindustrialization started occurring around the 1950’s and it left black men jobless, and again taking away the ability to participate in patriarchal masculinity.

Exploitation of black labor has been the backbone of American capitalism and our economy since the beginning of the countries existence and now all of a sudden black labor is no longer needed. Factories were closing down and you begin to see the development of the urban crisis. With the development of the urban crisis, the unemployment rate being sky high and Ronald Regan coming into office, the conditions in which black people lived were only getting worse and social injustices becoming stronger.

In Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation it stated, “Regan’s recession had bloated unemployment levels to the highest since the Great Depression-30 million searching for work. The official black unemployment rate hit 22 percent. Poverty rates were soaring to” (Chang 177). “It was much worse for young people. One estimate was that only 1 in 5 New York City teens had a job, only 1 in 10 African Americans, the lowest ratios of youth employment in the country” (Chang 178).

The only light shinning from the darkness Regan and deindustrialization created was the development of hip-hop. The developments of hip hop in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s led to young black men having taken on a new identity. Black men now had a means to express themselves and the ability to earn money for something they enjoyed doing. It started off with graffiti, break dancing and DJ’s and as a result of the multiplier affects it spread to a number of different industries. Young black men found a way to assert themselves into their communities and in society on their own terms.

The bigger hip-hop became, the more money they earned, and the more confident black men found themselves. As they began to earn money, they were once again able to have access to patriarchal norms. Finally we begin to see something good come from the exploitation of black labor or lack there of. Since the arrival of the first slaves to America, black labor has been an essential key to capitalism and the development of the United States economy we see it today. Black exploitation is a major part of capitalism, and throughout history the exploitation of black workers took a number of different shapes.

It started out with free labor during slavery, went to sharecropping jobs and domestic service jobs following the abolishment of slavery, black men being misled into fighting wars, black men being used to keep wages low, and even the working conditions blacks they had to deal with in industrial factories. It is sad that this is what it took for capitalist development to take place in the United States. This is a huge social injustice that has been going on for a very long time and will continue to go on unless we bring light to the history.

The injustices black faced with regard to their involvement in capitalist development in the United States needs to be taught in all schools because this is a topic that sometimes goes untouched.

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