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August 29, 2012
Dr. Jahi Issa
The Cases of Dr. Jahi Issa
Dr. Jahi Issa was fired on August 17, 2012 from his position as Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies at Delaware State University (DSU). He also faces serious criminal charges and several years in jail. These actions against Dr. Issa are related to his attendance at a March 1, 2012 student rally/protest against attacks on Black education that was conducted under such slogans as “Its Time for A Change.”
Delaware State University in Dover, Delaware is one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). It was established in 1891 as “The State College for Colored Students,” by the Delaware General Assembly under provisions of the Morrill Act of 1890 by which land-grant colleges for African-Americans came into existence in states that maintained separate educational facilities for Black students and for “white” students. The school’s current enrollment is about 4,000 students and it is the second biggest university in Delaware. Currently, an estimated 72% of its students are African-American.
Dr. Issa’s permanent discharge stems directly from his attendance at, and support for, the March 1, 2012 student rally at the DSU Board of Trustees meeting. The specific charges in his notice of dismissal were “failure to perform professional responsibilities” and “serious misconduct.” Dr. Issa maintains he is innocent of all charges. At the time of the protest Dr. Issa was one of only two full-time African-American professors in the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy, he had received positive reviews, and the Department had no tenured African-American faculty.
Dr. Issa also faces serious criminal charges related to his attendance at the March 1 student protest. Board of Trustees meetings are supposed to be open to the public, students were rallying outside the meeting site, and Issa was supporting and watching them when the police came up on him. He now faces several years in jail for allegedly “rioting” [i.e. protesting without a “permit”], allegedly refusing a direct order [to disperse], allegedly verbally abusing a police officer, and allegedly putting a hand on a police officer. Issa pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Dr. Issa insists: there was no “riot”; he was attending a lawful rally outside a Board of Trustees meeting by Black students over issues related to attacks on Black educators and Black education; he acted lawfully; his first amendment and free speech rights were violated; and he was seized and roughed-up (causing him to be sent to the hospital) by police in an apparently pre-meditated targeting because of his outspokenness on issues related to attacks on Black educators and Black education.
Issa emphasizes he was at the rally to support students in their civic engagement and "remind them of their First Amendment rights" when police approached him. "I never insulted anyone. I never hit anyone. I was attacked," he says. He then adds: "They were pulling my arms up. I was losing my breath. I said, 'You're hurting me.' I told them I was getting hurt, and I was losing my breath." After being seized, Dr. Issa was taken to Kent General Hospital. His blood pressure was over 200 and he had a separated shoulder and other medical injuries. After Issa was manhandled by the police the DSU students spontaneously broke into a chant of “Rodney King! Rodney King!” (See Issa being seized by police in the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1YuJzYnetM at 0:34 Click Here
Dr. Issa also calls attention to the disparity in treatment that he received and the treatment that was extended to an overwhelmingly “white” group of student demonstrators who raised issues regarding the Equestrian team in March 2010. At that demonstration, protesters rode horses in front of the Administration Building yet no one was subjected to an attack similar to what Dr. Issa faced.
Jahi Issa is convinced that he was attacked because of his writings about ongoing attacks on Black faculty, Black students, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities and that the attacks on him are part of the systematic attacks currently directed at Black education and public education. (See, for example, his article Jahi Issa, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Historically Black Colleges in the Age of Obama” article http://www.blackagendareport.com/blog/7896 Click Here
Issa also thinks the attacks are directly related to his support for the March 1 students’ rally and concern about his ideas reaching students and a wider audience both within and beyond the university.
He writes that his firing comes “after more than three years of harassment and physical attacks by the DSU Administration . . . I was fired based on false allegations. There was no due process! And no hearing! I have not even had my day in court! The DSU Administration has systematically eliminated most of its African American faculty from the school. In fact, this is why I was fired. Because I had the audacity to stand up and tell the truth about the future of African American EDUCATION in the country.”
The attacks do appear to come from people in very high places and they appear to be aimed at isolating Issa politically and intimidating him and others who would speak on these issues. Dr. Issa maintains that powerful, moneyed interests and their political allies see billions of dollars in public education monies as objects of their greed. He believes they are the ones who are ultimately leading these attacks.
Dr. Issa seeks to call attention to these issues and to broaden political and legal support for his defense. He is a married father of five children (oldest 14). His college and university background includes a B.A. from Texas Southern, an M.A. from Southern, and a Ph.D. from Howard. His phone number is 302-465-3787 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org . He urges those interested in helping to contact him directly.
Background to Jahi Issa’s Work and His Cases
Video of Dr. Issa being seized and knocked to the ground by police (at 0:34 seconds) while he peacefully watches student protest at Delaware State is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1YuJzYnetM Click Here
Coverage from the Dover (Del.) Post on the arrest of Dr. Issa is at http://www.doverpost.com/news/x1160487010/Delaware-State-University-professor-arrested-during-student-protest Click Here
Additional coverage of the Issa arrest from Black Star News available at http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/128/ARTICLE/8291/2012-06-16.html Click Here
Jahi Issa’s article in Black Agenda Report on the "The Ethnic Cleansing of Historically Black Colleges in the Age of Obama" is at http://www.blackagendareport.com/blog/7896 Click Here
See also Jahi Issa's discussion of Historically Black Colleges as "a strategic resource for the higher education of African-Americans" in “No Need to Overhaul Black Colleges,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education at http://chronicle.com/article/No-Need-to-Overhaul-Americas/129565/ Click Here
Rudolph Lewis's Chicken Bones includes some letters of support for Dr. Issa and a copy of his letter published in the "Chronicle of Higher Education" at http://www.nathanielturner.com/supportletterjahiissa.htm Click Here
An article on the ACLU's early support of his case is at http://www.doverpost.com/news/x1704640114/Follow-Up-ACLU-backs-Delaware-State-University-professor-arrested-during-protest Click Here
An Article from Black Commentator on his work in North Carolina for Obama campaign in 2008 is at http://academic.udayton.edu/race/2008electionandracism/Obama/Obama20.htm Click Here
The struggle at DSU is not unique and recently Professor Jane Davis, Chair of the Faculty Senate at Tennessee State University was recently handcuffed and arrested for protesting university policy at an August 20, 2012 Faculty Senate meeting. See http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120821/NEWS04/308210030/TSU-Faculty-Senate-leader-arrested?gcheck=1&nclick_check=1 Click Here
For those interested in financially aiding Jahi Issa (he has lost his job, has five children, and already has thousands of dollars in legal costs) see www.hbcuinstitute.org Click Here
Please share this information widely.
August 28, 2012
[This document written in 1989 (in the language of the day) discusses important work from the 1980s by union activists who viewed the struggle against white supremacy as central to workers’ interests. It is hoped that readers will find that it offers some insights for use in struggles today.]
THE MAIL HANDLERS UNION AND THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM
at the National and at the Grass Roots Level
by Jeffrey B. Perry
Notes From a Talk By the Treasurer of Local 300
At the Labor Notes Conference
Sunday May 21, 1989
Over the past five years at the 4000-workers New Jersey International Bulk Mail Center (in Jersey City, NJ) and over the past year-and-a-half at the national level, Postal Mail Handlers, desirous of a better life, have waged somewhat successful struggles in three broad areas: against contract givebacks and business unionism; against the organized crime dominated Laborers’ International Union; and for an autonomous, class conscious, and democratic rank-and-file oriented union.
From the beginning, the struggle against racism has been central to these efforts. It has been central in two crucial ways. First, we have been able to take significant strides forward because, as we have consciously fought against racism, we have developed a solid human core on which to build. Second, by addressing each major issue and stage of our struggle in light of the question “How does racism affect this?” and by then seeking to combat such racism, we have had a political direction that has enabled us to move forward. We have not merely reacted to racism; rather we have sought to dictate the direction of anti-racist struggle.
Lessons We Have Learned
In the course of our struggle we have learned, at times very imperfectly and at times with great difficulty, some important lessons. These lessons are no catechism of accepted beliefs, rather, they are based on specific and concrete struggles and each one is backed up by concrete examples in the real world.
These lessons, as we understand them, are:
1. By identifying and exposing racist practices, patterns, and ideas, and then calling on people to fight against them, we have not weakened our efforts, but we have made our efforts stronger.
2. To the degree that we have regularized, routinized, and institutionalized our anti-racist work, particularly in our publications, job responsibilities, and leadership positions, to that degree have we been better able to counter racial efforts aimed at undermining our struggle. Regularized and consistent work, not spontaneous reflex actions are needed against racism.
3. In developing our publications we could effectively employ political, economic, and moral arguments against racism, and that once we got the moral upperhand it was possible to employ disproportionately effective publicity against our opposition.
4. The core of our racist opposition was objectively sexist and that by exposing and struggling against this opposition on both grounds we were more effectively able to build our movement.
5. Our enemies, both in USPS management and in the LIUNA hierarchy, particularly at crucial stages in struggles, have consciously tried to make racist appeals and attacks to weaken us and to undermine our efforts.
6. Given the clearly racist positions taken by LIUNA, our struggles for “Autonomy” have been struggles which were objectively antiracist and which gave major impetus to our movement for democracy.
7. In our Black-led union, as opposed lo our union under LIUNA's “white” appointed leadership, progressive ideas and causes were far more warmly received and promulgated and thus Black leadership at all levels has greatly aided the progressive development of our union.
8. In the course of our struggles, white workers who have united with us on anti-racist issues have played a particularly important role in either winning or neutralizing other "whites," thereby enabling our efforts to move forward.
9. And finally, we have found that by challenging "white race" appeals and so-called "white worker rights” and "white worker interests" we better prepared ourselves to counter the racist appeals of management and LIUNA.
Who We Are
The National Postal Mail Handlers Union represents 52,000 Mail Handlers nationwide. Approximately half of our 42,000 members are African American, Hispanic, or other peoples of color. About 15% of our members are women. Six out of seven members of our National Executive Board are Black and about two-thirds of our 37 Local Presidents are Black or Hispanic.
We are the third largest of the Postal Unions. The American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers each have six to seven times our membership.
Mail Handlers perform the heaviest, dirtiest, lowest paying work of the principal postal crafts. We load and unload trucks and otherwise "move" mail within postal facilities.
Since 1968 Mail Handlers have been merged with and a Division of LIUNA—the Laborer's International Union of North America, AFL-CIO. LIUNA is an organized crime dominated construction union of some half million members. The majority of its members are Black and Hispanic and its leadership is, almost exclusively, “white." LIUNA is one of the pillars of conservative reaction in the AFL-CIO. Further, through the AFL-CIO's Building Trades Council, LIUNA President Angelo Fosco and LIUNA Attorney Robert Connerton wield inordinate power.
LIUNA believes that it ultimately holds all decision making power over Mail Handlers -- particularly regarding our contract, constitution, and finances. LIUNA also apparently believes that it never has to answer to us. Over the past year-and-a half the NPMHU challenged LIUNA on all these counts.
We have had significant victories over LIUNA in two conventions, three national elections, in blocking a trusteeship, in gaining an injunction against their seizure of our money, and in passing a reform constitution highlighted by one-person-one-vote for national officers, democratic rights, and Mail Handler control, and shaped by the principled position articulated in our preamble, that "all members of society should challenge such pernicious evils as racism, sexism, and capital's domination of labor."
At the base level, workers at the 4,000-worker New Jersey International Bulk Mail Center in Jersey City, New Jersey have a history of struggle. Bulk workers participated in major wildcat strikes in 1974 and 1978, co-organized a several thousand person strong New Jersey Anti-Apartheid Mobilization Committee March in 1986, were vociferous Mail Handler opponents of the sellout 1987 postal contract, and currently are in the 10th day of a 100% successful cafeteria boycott. (In the first wildcat strike amnesty was obtained, in the second over 100 workers were fired. These firings were for striking against the federal government and were forerunners to the PATCO firings.)
Some Examples of Struggle
At the Base
At the NJIBMC over the past 5 years Mail Handler union members put out a regular, hard-hitting, 2-to-4 page weekly newsletter. The union has developed a well-trained stewards apparatus and a history of organized struggle.
Since 1984, campaigns have been waged for contract enforcement, particularly around: discipline attacks; safety violations; harassment of the ill, injured, and pregnant; bid posting violations; layoffs; restrictions on shop stewards functioning; opposition to split rest days; opposition to use of casual employees; opposition to improper holiday scheduling; for work clothing allowances; and against discrimination and favoritism in disciplines, details, overtime, promotions, and light duty assignments.
Struggles have also been waged on broader issues including the sell out 1987 postal contract; the right to distribute literature; asbestos removal; improper locker room searches; drug testing; cafeteria management; toxic waste removal; contra aid; a free Ireland; against mob control of our union; for a reform union constitution; and for a democratic one-person-one-vote union. When the union took up and co-organized the 1986 New Jersey State anti-apartheid march the work inside the plant was so productive that thousands of "Free South Africa" buttons were sold and worn by workers (of all races and nationalities) within the plant.
The First Struggle Set the Stage
At the NJIBMC, the first major struggle in this period set the stage for all future efforts and it was a decidedly anti-racist struggle.
After our new administration assumed office in 1984, on an anti-racist platform, it was quickly put to the test. Within a matter of weeks we discerned a clearly racist pattern to management's treatment of our workers. It started out with light duty denials -- denials of work to people with off-the-job injuries whose doctors said they could perform work with certain limitations. The first eight cases of light duty denials, which we encountered, were cases involving Black workers--one man with 5 children had been denied work for twenty-five months.
Other areas we examined had a similar racist shaping -- disciplines came down more frequently and more harshly against Black workers, promotions for Black workers were disproportionately few, as were assignment detail requests that were granted.
On further investigation we found that virtually every top level manager running our postal facility, as well as key high level officials in the other major facilities in North Jersey and New York, were white male members of the Columbia Association--an openly segregatory organization for Italian Americans only.
We found that this management dominated organization had utilized USPS-paid “free” mailings to solicit members and had incorporated in the State of New Jersey with its principal place of business at our postal facility.
We also found that its membership included high-level union people from our union, and reportedly from the other two major postal unions. The former head of the Mail Handlers Union at our facility was also the former President of the Columbia Association.
We openly challenged the existence of this racist/sexist organization, the power it wielded, and we opposed the patterns of discrimination it had established.
In the course of that struggle we were warned about how powerful the Columbians were, we were advised that we would alienate the “white” and the Italian workers, and we were advised to stick to more nuts and bolts union issues.
We, on the other hand, developed an effective media counter-offensive which helped us build our newsletter; we stressed how these issues directly affected all our workers; we emphasized that if we truly were a union which aimed to protect its workers that we had to make special efforts to counter special discrimination; and we emphasized that neither “white" workers' nor Italian workers' interests as workers were being served by this Columbia organization.
Once we gained the upper hand morally we used it to constantly hammer management on this issue and virtually every other issue that we touched. As long as the management dominated Columbia Association functioned we were relentless in our denunciations.
The Columbians did attempt a racist counter-offensive from within our union ranks, led by that former union leader who was also a former President of the Columbia Association, but this effort was quickly isolated, tied to management, and discredited.
The campaign against the Columbia Association was successful. The workers denied light duty assignments got the assignments and the man out 25 months got back pay.
The campaign effectively ousted the Columbia Association from our building and weakened management's power in relation to our union. The new union administration got off to a good start -- our efforts were viewed to be foursquare against racism and sexism, for the workers, and principled.
Over the next few years we tried to continue emphasizing this pro-worker, anti-racist perspective in developing our steward apparatus and grievance handling. We also sought to emphasize this pro-worker, anti-racist perspective in our newsletters. We found that we were best able to do this with a publication which was regular and frequent (we published weekly) and in which racism was seen as a central factor to be considered in all issues.
Fighting Racism at the National Level
At the National level we have been waging a major struggle for autonomy and democracy and we have increasingly tied this to a struggle for a better contract. In each stage of this struggle the fight against racism has been central. LIUNA has been accurately portrayed as racist, undemocratic, and ready to sell us out. The National Postal Mail Handlers' Union, in contrast, has consciously tried to oppose racism, build democracy, and oppose sellouts.
In late 1987, as 26 months of LIUNA trusteeship over our union was coming to an end, our union representatives at convention, and led by Black leaders, stood up in open rebellion and voted down every single one of LIUNA's proposed amendments to the Mail Handler constitution. Mail Handler delegates also elected a new progressive administration in which six out of seven Executive Board members were Black.
While there was a long history which went into the December 1987 Conference, it is important to realize that LIUNA supported a more conservative “white” candidate for top office and that the LIUNA trustee, in a widely reported statement, had sought to make a racist appeal to one of the white Local Presidents. That the racist appeal was exposed and criticized by “whites” helped to cement the necessary anti-racist, pro Mail Handler unity which was necessary to stand up to LIUNA and reject all their proposals in late 1987.
As the newly elected administration developed it openly challenged LIUNA rule on the grounds that it was autocratic, greedy, mob-tied, and racist, and therefore not working in the interest of Mail Handlers. This appeal, supported by facts and some exceptional legal work, enabled Mail Handlers to first march on LIUNA headquarters in protest, then block a LIUNA trusteeship, and then hold a remarkable constitutional convention.
The Constitutional Convention reshaped the union on the principles of one-person-one-vote direct election of national officers and Mail Handler control of contract and constitution matters. It also included important wording from the "Union Member's Bill of Rights."
The December 1988 Constitutional Convention also passed some remarkable Resolutions supporting freedom movements and workers efforts in the West Bank and Gaza, South Africa, and Nicaragua while opposing such domestic evils as two-tier wages, drug testing, organized crime involvement in our union, and the Hatch Act. Other resolutions also called for union democracy, organizing the unorganized, childcare, AIDS work, and taking the Postal Service off budget.
The Mail Handlers' Reform Constitution is an educational document that broadly proclaims the principles on which Mail Handlers have sought to build their new union. The Preamble declares:
We believe that all members of society should challenge such pernicious evils as racism, sexism, and capital's domination of labor. We further believe that it is important for the working class to ever realize "in unity there is strength" and that "an injury to one is an injury to all."
The Constitution also, consciously aimed to protect free speech rights and to allow struggles against racism and sexism by removing wording from the old constitution which prohibited "criticism, reflection, argument, or debate touching on any member's race, religion, color, creed, sex, place of national origin . . . etc." The thought behind this was that if you can't name, identify, and describe the problem, you couldn’t begin to solve it.
After we passed our constitution, which LIUNA is currently challenging, we entered a full-scale political struggle with LIUNA in the form of two, first-ever, one-person, one-vote, elections of national officers.
The LIUNA candidate for the top spot had money, resources, and a base of support centered around eight locals, six of which were “white”-led and conservative.
Literature supporting the LIUNA candidate was of two types. First, was material, which was misleading and sought to focus on narrow contract issues. Second, there was a series of "anonymous" "Willie Horton" type pieces that were simply vicious, racist literature -- and which were small time versions of the literature that appeared during the Bush campaign.
In contrast, the progressive African-American led “Team for Democracy" ran a campaign of broad appeal which had its core support in the South, the inner cities, and certain progressive locals. We centered our appeal on the newly franchised rank-and-file voters (who were all voting for the first time) and combined rank-and-file oriented literature and literature distribution with visits to facilities and in some places phone trees.
The “Team for Democracy" campaign took the higher ground, focused in-depth on contract issues, openly opposed racism, and tied the LIUNA candidate to our last sell-out contract and to selling us out to LIUNA.
The 1987 Postal Contract, signed by LIUNA while they had Mail Handlers under trusteeship, was broadly viewed as a back door deal between organized crime dominated LIUNA and Postmaster Preston Tisch. In that contract LIUNA undercut the other two postal unions by signing three weeks early and settling for a meager 1.6% wage increase (at a time when most of the media was predicting we would get anywhere from a 2.6 to a 3.2% increase).
In various literature which circulated it was also charged that the contract which LIUNA signed was tied to business deals between Tisch's CNA Insurance Company which underwrites and administers the Billion Dollar Mail Handler Benefit Plan (and several smaller union-related insurance plans) and LIUNA. LIUNA reportedly sought to gain control of signatory power over the lucrative Mail Handler Benefit Plan and wanted increased formal contract recognition from the United States Postal Service—recognition that it received when Tisch and Fosco agreed to replace Mail Handlers with LIUNA in certain key passages in the contract.
In that sell-out contract LIUNA also willingly gave up major EEO protections for our workers in the form of simultaneous dual filing rights. This was a racist concession which neither other postal union made and focus on this issue by the “Team for Democracy" greatly aided in the principled exposure of LIUNA.
The “Team for Democracy" election strategy worked. In the first round of the two-stage election procedures the “Team" swept five of seven National Executive Board spots. In the final runoff, the “Team" won the last two spots, including the crucial position of National President. In that final, head-to-head election, “Team for Democracy" candidates, running on an anti-racist anti-sellout, pro-democracy campaign won by almost a two-to-one margin.
In sum, based on recent experiences in the Mail Handlers Union, the struggle against racism has been central to our struggles for a more democratic, class conscious, rank-and-file oriented union and to the degree that we have maintained that perspective and acted accordingly we have moved our struggle forward.
August 28, 2012
Jahi Issa recently asked me what I thought Theodore W. Allen meant when he argued that "white race' privileges and white supremacism were disastrous for European-American workers.
I try to address this question at some length in my article “The Developing Conjuncture . . . ,” (see below *). For now, however, I offer a few brief comments based on Allen’s work and some recent statistics.
Allen’s research argues:
1. The “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation and a system of “racial slavery,” a form of racial oppression, was implemented in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77).
2. A system of racial privileges was deliberately instituted as a conscious ruling-class policy in order to define and establish the “white race.”
3. The consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African-American workers, it was also disastrous for “white” workers.
Allen explains that in Virginia the colonial period, among the masses of European workers, “the bourgeoisie established the dominance of race consciousness as against proletarian class consciousness.”
He emphasizes “there were too many [European-American workers] . . . to be promoted to the bourgeoisie” so they were made members of “the ‘white race’” and this “white race,” this “all-class association of European-Americans held together by ‘racial’ privileges conferred on laboring class European-Americans relative to African-Americans – [has functioned] as the principal historic guarantor of ruling-class domination of national life” in the U.S.
For Allen, “the ‘white race’ must be understood, not simply as a social construct, but as a ruling class social control formation.” The ruling class created and maintains the “white race” in their own interests and it continues to serve their interests.
Under capitalism those ruing class interests are opposed to the class interests of the workers. Allen emphasizes that “ . . . their (the poor “whites”) own position, vis–a-vis the rich and powerful . . . was not improved, but weakened, by the white-skin privilege system” that the ruling class established.
Based on this understanding Allen describes “white race” privileges as a “poison bait” and explained that the privileges “do not permit” the masses of European American workers nor their children “to escape” from the working class.
“It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than [s]he must have to support [her/]himself,” but “the black worker gets less than the white worker.” By, thus “inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure.”
Allen would frequently provide statistics showing that in the South where race privilege “has always been most emphasized” the “white” workers have fared worse than the “white” workers “in the rest of the country.”
Allen goes further, however, and continually stresses that “white race” privileges are not “benefits,” but that they are “poison,” “ruinous,” a baited hook, to the class interests of working people.
He cites other important examples with great relevance for today. He describes how “The normal course of capitalist events brings on a deterioration of the conditions of the laboring classes” as happened in the 1870s, 1890s, and 1930s.
Then, in the accompanying “three periods of national crisis [the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s] characterized by general confrontations between capital and urban and rural laboring classes . . . The key to the defeat of the forces of democracy, labor and socialism was in each case achieved by ruling-class appeals to white supremacism, basically by fostering white-skin privileges of laboring-class European-Americans.”
In the face of attacks by bosses and the ruling class workers need to unite and organize to fight. When workers break ranks and collaborate with bosses the interests of workers are weakened. This is what happens when “white workers” put “white” interests before worker interests.
For Allen, “The ‘white race’ is the historically most general form of ‘class collaboration.’”
The international implications of this are that “the greatest political, social, and ideological bulwark of the imperialist warmakers and colonial oppressors is precisely white supremacy in America.”
Based on his research Allen wrote, “history has shown that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers, it also shows that the concomitant racist ideology has blinded them to that fact.”
He emphasized, “‘Solidarity forever!’ means ‘Privileges never!’” and he elsewhere pointed out, “The Wobblies caught the essence of it in their slogan: ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’”
About two years ago I pulled together (see my article* The Developing Conjuncture . . . linked to below) statistics showing some of the ways that the existing white supremacist capitalist order was disastrous for working people. While conditions have generally worsened since then, here is some of what I found--
After-tax income gaps between the richest one percent and the middle and poorest fifths in the United States had more than tripled between 1979 and 2007. The concentration at the top of the income scale was the greatest at any time since 1928, immediately prior to the Great Depression.
On July 1, 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 14.6 million Americans were unemployed, 45.5% of these were long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more), and the official unemployment rate was 9.5 percent.
Another 8.6 million were listed as involuntarily working part-time and 2.6 million more were marginally attached to the economy (they hadn’t looked for work in the four weeks preceding the survey). Included in this group were 1.2 million “discouraged workers” who had given up looking for work “because they believe no jobs are available for them.”
Overall, the BLS counted 25.8 million workers unemployed/underemployed, some 17 percent of the workforce.
Other workers were turning to the Social Security Administration’s disability program for help and the SSA’s chief actuary predicted “roughly a million more disability applications from 2009 through 2011 than it would have without the recession.”
Approximately 40 million Americans, 13.2% of the population, were living in poverty, fifty percent of children would need food stamps while growing up, over 46 million Americans were without healthcare, home foreclosures hit a record high of 937,840 in the third quarter of 2009, and a newly developed Economic Security Index found that 20 percent of Americans without a financial cushion experienced a 25 percent or greater loss of household income in 2009 (and conditions were expected to worsen).
The World Health Organization reported that “the U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country,” but it ranked 37th in performance.
The Social Security Administration found that “50 percent of wage earners had net compensation [wages, tips, and the like] less than or equal to . . . $26,261.29 [$505 per week/$12.63 per hour pre-tax] for 2009.
The U.S. “the highest rate of incarceration in the world,” “incarceration rates have increased 800 percent in the last 30 years,” and “90 percent of all criminal defendants fall below the poverty line.”
The Economic Policy Institute compared the U.S. to 19 other industrialized countries and found that workers in the U.S. it had “weaker unions, lower minimum wages, [and] less generous social benefits” than the other countries. Not only do U.S. workers work more hours than those in these other countries, they do so without statutorily paid public holidays and they are alone amongst this group in not receiving statutorily paid vacation time.
Most significantly, on the two major measures of household income inequality (the Gini coefficient and the ratio of 90th-to-10th percentile), the U.S. showed the greatest inequality.
Such statistics could go on and on, and each and everyone is shaped in a horribly white supremacist fashion (which is documented in my longer article).
"White race" privileges and white supremacism are found in every aspect of U.S. society and they should be opposed by all. Victims of racial oppression have led in opposition to "white race" privileges and white supremacism. It is in the class interest of European-American workers to vigorously join in this struggle.
I think the point is clear – working people in the U.S. are not faring well, weapons for fighting back (including unions, workers organizations, labor parties, left parties, etc. are weak), white supremacy is central to understanding this situation, these conditions are worsening, and working people in the U.S. need to wage a concerted struggle against white supremacy as they challenge their bosses and the ruling class.
* An in-depth treatment of Theodore W. Allen’s thinking on this subject can be found in my article "The Developing Conjuncture . . ." (esp. pp. 8-11 and 30-109. A link to the PDF of that article can be found at www.jeffreybperry.net (top left) Click Here
and the article refers to many other Allen articles including some that can be found at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/_center__font_size__3__b_4__theodore_w__allen_br___with_audio_and_video_links____86151.htm Click Here
Jeffrey B. Perry
August 28, 2012
For anyone reading (or using in a class or study group) Edmund S. Morgan’s "American Slavery/American Freedom" and/or Winthrop D. Jordan's "White Over Black," I would encourage also reading something by Theodore W. Allen.
In particular, I would recommend either Allen's “The Invention of the White Race” (which is being published in a new edition by Verso in November 2012), his 1978 review of Morgan’s book in “Monthly Review,” his article “Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race” (available online at http://clogic.eserver.org/2006/allen.html Click Here
), or his "Summary of the Argument of 'The Invention of the White Race'" (available online at http://clogic.eserver.org/1-2/allen.html Click Here
Allen's work details the development of racial slavery and racial oppression in Anglo-America with special emphasis on social control and "the invention of the 'white race'" in late-17th century Virginia.
In the process, it seeks to challenge what Allen considers to be the two main arguments that undermine the struggle against white supremacy by European-American workers: (1) the argument that white supremacism is innate, and (2) the argument that European-American workers “benefit” from “white race” privileges and white supremacism -- that the privileges are in their class interest.
These arguments are respectively related to two historical master narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period.
The first argument is associated with the “unthinking decision” explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by Winthrop D. Jordan in "White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812."
The second argument is related to Morgan’s contention that as racial slavery developed in Virginia, “there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter.”
Allen's rigorously researched two-volume "classic" challenges both these positions and it (along with his other writings) offers an important counter-narrative to the narratives of Jordan and Morgan.
It is a seminal contribution to U.S. history!
Jeffrey B. Perry
August 8, 2012
Some interesting background regarding proposed Census changes in how it measures "race" and "ethnicity" is provided in Theodore W. Allen's "'Race' and 'Ethnicity': History and the 2000 Census"
online at "Cultural Logic.
Jeffrey B. Perry
August 5, 2012
In Vol. 2 of “The Invention of the White Race,” sub-titled “The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America,” Theodore W. Allen addresses the question of the differential treatment of John Punch at some length and with many footnotes from original sources. I strongly recommend that volume. Many of the key points he makes can be found online in Theodore W. Allen, “Summary of the Argument of the Invention of the White Race” available Here
Drawing from Allen, I offer the following brief comments:
Status of African-Americans
Allen maintains that the relative social status of African-descended and European-descended people in a very “Volatile” Virginia society up through Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77) “can be determined to have been indeterminate.” It was indeterminate because “it was being fought out . . .in the context of the great social stresses of high mortality, the monocultural [tobacco] economy, impoverishment, an extremely high sex ratio - all based on or deriving from the abnormal system of chattel bond-servitude.” He argues that Bacon’s Rebellion was the critical moment of that social struggle and “posed the question of who should rule.” The answer, “contrived over the next several decades, would not only determine the status of African-Americans, but would install the monorail of Anglo-American historical development, white supremacy.”
Allen further argues that the General Court’s order relating to John Punch [see below] “is equally proof that he was not a lifetime bond-laborer when he ran away” and, by that act, “he was demonstrating his unwillingness to submit to even limited-term bond-servitude.” Thus, “The John Punch case . . . epitomized the status of African-Americans in seventeenth-century Virginia. On the one hand, it showed a readiness of at least some of the plantation elite to equate ‘being a negro’ with being a lifetime bond-laborer. On the other hand, development of social policy along this line was obstructed by several factors.” [italics mine]
Among those factors cited by Allen were the “institutional inertia presented by English common law, . . .and by . . . principles of Christian fellowship”; the many examples of “normal social standing and mobility for African-Americans”; and the “opposition of African-Americans, both bond-laborers and non-bond-laborers, with the general support - certainly without the concerted opposition - of European-American bond-laborers, and other free but poor laboring people, determined by a sense of common class interest.” Allen discusses all of these factors, along with the insubstantiality of an intermediate buffer social control stratum, at great length.
By 1640 the Virginia General Court was receiving daily complaints about “servants that run away from their masters” and, writes Allen, the problem “had reached such proportions that the Colony Council made the recapture of runaway bond-laborers a public concern, and ordered that the expense of recovering fugitives be borne, not by the owner, but by the public treasury of the respective counties.” This was the situation in June 1640 when three Virginia bond-laborers, “Victor, a Dutchman . . . a Scotchman called James Gregory. . . . [and] a negro named John Punch,” escaped together to Maryland. After they were caught they were brought back to face the Virginia General Court.” Also in June 1640, the Virginia Colony Council and General Court commissioned a Charles City County posse to pursue “certain runaway negroes.” The cost was to be shared by all the counties from which they had run away and Allen says that this suggests “that the phenomenon was extensive.”
Limited and Lifetime Servitude
Allen explains “the reduction of the almost totally English labor force from tenants and wage-laborers to chattel bond-servitude in the 1620s was a negation of previously existing laws.” Regarding imposing two distinct categories of servitude -- limited term and lifetime servitude – Allen emphasizes that “the death-rate was so high for several decades, that there would have been no practical advantage for employers in seeking to institute such a distinction.”
Just such a distinction was anticipated, however, “when the Virginia General Court . . .imposed lifetime bond-servitude on John Punch.” The question is fairly asked, writes Allen, “why did the appetite for profit not lead the Court to sentence John Punch’s European-American comrades to lifetime servitude also?”
Why the disparate treatment?
If the court “was motivated by ‘white’ supremacist thinking,” comments Allen, it “is not a fact of the record.” He mentions other possibilities. “Under English common law Christians could not be enslaved by Christians; presumably, Scots and Dutchmen were Christians; but Africans were not.” Since “England’s relations with Scotland and Holland were critical to English interests,” there “might well have been a reluctance to offend those countries” while “no such complication was likely to arise from imposing lifetime bondage on an African, or African-American.” The “Court members in all probability were aware of the project then under way to establish an English plantation colony on Providence Island, using African lifetime bond-laborers” and “they surely knew that some Africans were already being exploited elsewhere in the Americas on the same terms.” [italics mine] They “might have been influenced by such examples to pursue the same purpose in Virginia.” They were also aware that “the African-American bond-laborers arriving in Virginia from the West Indies (or Brazil via Dutch colonies to the north of Maryland) did not come with English-style, term-limiting indentures” and “the members of General Court may thus have felt encouraged to impose the ultimate term, lifetime, in such cases.” Whatever the reasoning, “citing John Punch’s ‘being a negro’ in justification of his life sentence, was resorting to mere bench law, devoid of reference to English or Virginia precedent.” Allen then emphasizes, what the record does show in this case is “a disposition on the part of some, at least, of the plantation bourgeoisie to reduce African-Americans to lifetime servitude.” [italics mine]
As the proportion of bond-laborers who were surviving their terms increased, “some employers began to see an appeal in extending the bond-laborers’ terms generally. The ‘custom of the country’ for English bond-laborers in Virginia, which had been set at four years in 1658, was increased to five in 1662.” Also, with “the flourishing of the Irish slave trade” after Cromwell’s conquest, “laws were enacted to make Irish bond-laborers, and, after 1658, ‘all aliens’ in that status, serve six years.”
A 1660 law “equalized at five years the length of ‘the custom of the country,’ without distinction of ‘aliens,’ but that same law for the first time restricted term-limiting to those ‘of what christian nation soever.’” [Ireland now qualified as a “christian country.”] Since “the only ‘christian nations’ were in Europe, this clause was most particularly, though not exclusively, aimed at persons of African origin or descent.” Allen concludes that this exclusion of African-Americans from the limitation on the length of servitude imposed on bond-laborers, “reflected and was intended to further the efforts made by some elements of the plantation bourgeoisie to reduce African-American bond-laborers to lifetime servitude.” This, he adds, was “a form of class oppression of bond-laborers by owners, somewhat like the slavery of Scots miners and salt-pan workers from the end of sixteenth century to the eve of the nineteenth century.”
Not yet a system of racial oppression
This was, Allen emphasizes, “a long way from the establishment of a system of racial oppression.” Although “its implicit denial to African-Americans of even the lowest range of social mobility, from bond-labor to freedom, contained a seed of a system racial oppression,” that “seed could not be fully developed without a strong intermediate social control stratum.” And that did not exist in the period up to Bacon’s Rebellion.
The Plantation Bourgeoisie
Allen explains that the “English bourgeoisie finally secured direct access to African labor at the end of the Second Dutch War, concluded at the Treaty of Breda in 1667” and five years later, with the establishment of the Royal African Company, England embarked on a career that within less than forty years made English merchants the preeminent suppliers of African bond-labor to the Western Hemisphere.” Now, “finally the plantation bourgeoisie was brought within reach of the realization of the vision foreshadowed in a number of laws already enacted” that aimed at “enrichment through the imposition of lifetime, hereditary bond-servitude of Africans and African-Americans.” The “anticipated reduction in labor costs would have been desirable for the employing class at any time, but as the end of the seventeenth century neared, it appeared to offer the bourgeoisie both a way of evading the unresolvable contradictions between [tobacco] monoculture and diversity, and a significant easing of the contention between English and continental branches of the business with respect to profits from low-priced tobacco.”
Allen comments that it was “a conscious decision, not an unthinking one” by Virginia’s plantation bourgeoisie to opt for monoculture and chattel bond-servitude.” However, “a lack of capacity to command’ had made it impossible for the plantation bourgeoisie to impose the necessary social discipline on free and middle-rank tobacco farmers.”
The Invention of the "White" Race
Allen concludes: “Given the English superstructural obstacles and the already marked resistance of African-Americans to lifetime hereditary bondage, a rapid and large addition of African bond-laborers to the population in the 1670s, would certainly tend to reduce the effectiveness of the already weak social control stratum.” In that situation, writes Allen, the “white race” was “invented” as a ruling class social control formation “whose distinguishing characteristic was not the participation of the slaveholding class, nor even of other elements of the propertied classes; . . . [but] the participation of the European-American laboring classes: non-slaveholders, self-employed smallholders, tenants, and laborers.” He calls attention to the fact that “Whatever might have been the case with . . . members of the ruling class, the record indicates that laboring-class European-Americans in the continental plantation colonies showed little interest in ‘white identity’ before the institution of the system of ‘race’ privileges at the end of the seventeenth century.” He then emphasizes that “this white race social control system begun in Virginia and Maryland, would serve as the model of social order to each succeeding plantation region of settlement.”
Ancestry.com cites the following paragraph from the Journal of the Executive Council [of Colonial Virginia] dated 9 July 1640 as “the only one surviving account that certainly pertains to John Punch’s life”:
Whereas Hugh Gwyn hath by order from this Board brought back from Maryland three servants formerly run away from the said Gwyn, the court doth therefore order that the said three servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a [D]utchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired ... the third being a Negro named John Punch shall serve his said master and his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.
See also my August 3, 2012 piece "No Basis for Claims John Punch Was 'Indentured' and Two Servants Were 'White'" available at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/blog.htm?post=868025 Click Here
Jeffrey B. Perry
August 3, 2012
In "Obama's slavery roots on mom's side" the "History News Network" (1 August 2012) repeats inaccuracies from Sheryl Gay Stolberg's (30 July 2012) "New York Times" article "Obama Has Ties to Slavery Not By His Father but His Mother, Research Suggests." HNN and Stolberg write “ In 1640, Mr. [John] Punch then an indentured servant, escaped from Virginia and went to Maryland. He was captured there and, along with two white servants who had also escaped, was put on trial.”
There is no basis for the claims that John Punch was "indentured" and that the other two servants were "white."
Ancestry.com (in the article Stolberg discusses) cites the following paragraph from the Journal of the Executive Council of Colonial Virginia dated 9 July 1640 as “the only one surviving account that certainly pertains to John Punch’s life”:
"Whereas Hugh Gwyn hath by order from this Board brought back from Maryland three servants formerly run away from the said Gwyn, the court doth therefore order that the said three servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a [D]utchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired ... the third being a Negro named John Punch shall serve his said master and his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere."
There is no indication in the 1640 document that John Punch was “indentured.” While the document specifically indicates that the other two “servants” James Gregory and Victor did have “Indentures” it does not say this about Punch. There is no documentation that Punch signed an indenture (particularly not for transportation to Virginia) and it is extremely unlikely that he did. What is likely is that he was previously subjected to limited-term chattel bond-servitude (the passage makes reference to John Punch serving “his said master and his assigns”).
Theodore W. Allen in his seminal two-volume study "The Invention of the White Race," in Volume II on "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America," shows that in Virginia chattelization was imposed on free laborers, tenants, and bond-servants increasingly after 1622, that it was imposed on both European and African descended laborers, that it was a qualitative break from English labor law, and that the chattelization of plantation labor constituted an essential precondition of the emergence of the subsequent lifetime chattel bond-servitude imposed on African-American laborers in continental Anglo-America under the system of racial slavery and racial oppression.
The other two servants captured with John Punch were not “white” and were not described as such. The 1640 record says only they were “Victor, a [D]utchman” and “a Scotchman called James Gregory.” In Volume I of "The Invention of the White Race," subtitled "Racial Oppression and Social Control," Allen emphasizes there were no “white” people in Virginia at that time and he explains that after examination of 885 county-years of pattern-setting Virginia’s colonial records, he found no instance of the official use of the word “white” as a token of social status prior to 1691. This was not merely a matter of semantics; he also found that the “white race” as we know it was not, and could not have been, functioning in early Virginia.
It is important to understand that through much of the seventeenth century there was a commonality of experience between European and African descended laboring people in Virginia who fought together, ran away together, made love together, and, in general, resisted their oppression together. When economic hard times worsened after 1660 there were numerous examples of militant labor solidarity culminating in the later, civil war stages of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77) in which European and African descended chattel bond-laborers fought together demanding their freedom from bondage.
Allen insightfully explains how in the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion the “white race” was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to such labor solidarity; how a system of racial privileges was deliberately instituted as a conscious ruling-class policy in order to define and establish the “white race”; how a system of “racial slavery” was imposed that was also marked by severe racial proscriptions against free people of African descent; and how the consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African-American workers and other direct victims of racial oppression, it was also disastrous for “white” workers.
As people organize to protest the growing hard times today it is most important to accurately learn our seventeenth-century history and whose class interests are served by white supremacist appeals.
Jeffrey B. Perry
(with audio, video, photo links)
Life, Legacy & Some Writings
(with audio and video links)
by Hubert H. Harrison
(Diasporic Africa Press)
with a new introduction, biographical sketch, and supplementary notes
by Jeffrey B. Perry