Three Class Based Analysis Of Race

Discussion of the three types of class-based analyeses of race as defined by Omi and Winant -- Market relations, resource stratification, and class conflict. Thorough discussion, researched and cited.

The theory of "race formation" in Omi and Winant [Racial Formation in the United States] is a criticism of economic essentialism in class-based analyses of race. Class-based analyses of race fall into three major categories: the market relations approach, the resource stratification model, and class conflict theory or Marxism. Omi and Winant criticize these paradigms theoretically while Roediger spends more time revealing historical paradoxes that contradict class based theories.

The market relations model approaches race relations in the U.S. within the framework of the capitalist economy. Since racism and discrimination only hinder hiring the best employees, paying the cheapest wages, and taking advantage of the most ideal market situations, it is a hindrance to the market process. The claim is that the dynamic capitalist economy, unhampered by an interventionist state, would eliminate racial discrimination. This approach, however, narrow-mindedly assumes that racism stems only from institutional sources and that the "world" or "world economy" is inherently colorblind. This neglects many dimensions of racism which are embodied in race formation.

The resource stratification approach takes just the opposite perspective and sees the unequal distribution of resources as the cause of race inequality. As such it mandates that the state take increasing measures to insure the equal distribution of resources and thus equality of opportunity to succeed of all races. The approach, however, also neglects the multidimentional analysis of race embodied in Omi and Winant's race formation by assuming that there is no institutional racism and that the only cause of inequality is that blacks have fewer resources to build their future.



The essential strength of the race formation theory is its very ambiguity. The previous two attempts at explaining racial inequality attempt to define racial inequality not only as an economic phenomenon, but as an economic phenomenon with a specific cause. Market relations blames racial inequality on institutions while resource stratification blames racial discrimination on society. The very fact that both theories developed a following indicates that there are probably some elements of truth in both. Race formation's strength is that it recognizes the role of the economic state as well as economic society as well as many other non-economic elements in the determination of race hegemony. The essential point, however, is that economics alone do not account for the dynamics of race relations in the United States.

Roediger's history of the antebellum white working class gives a scathing critique of essentialist class based theories. As the U.S. white working class grew out of the War for Independence, the interests of the white working class and those of blacks become increasingly antagonistic. The white worker developed his identity as a "free republican" in contrast to blacks and the institution of chattel slavery (Roediger [The Wages of Whiteness] 23). White workers justified their own increasing wage slavery by a distaste for the intertwined identity of servitude and blackness. Blacks, even those who were free, were driven from Independence Day parades, victimized by white worker race riots developing from white worker insecurity with increasing wage slavery, and degraded in blackface minstrel shows by the white working class. Irish immigrants were willing to lynch and beat blacks to emphasize their own "whiteness" and thus receive the benefits of being a white worker. White workers organized to prevent blacks from entering certain industries and would beat blacks on the job with surprisingly little instigation. Most white workers and their unions supported slavery and were paranoid of a freed slave influx which would take away all their jobs. This divergence of class interest and racial interest definitively shows that the interests of workers and blacks are not always the same, thus implying that the problems associated with class conflict and those of racial conflict have different. In other words, according to Roediger, economics cannot be the only source of racial inequality. The white working class has shown that it can take the initiative in violent racism as well as the state.

I think that Roediger's argument and Omi and Winant's argument against Marxism breaks down at this point. In the first place, working class concepts of "whiteness" and "blackness" so often used as evidence that a class analysis is wrong is race hegemony. If the workers consider themselves "white" or "black," it cannot be solely attributed to them. Racial hegemony is maintained by the racial state (Omi and Winant 84). Thus, even though racial identity can be more or less emphasized or acted upon by workers, the entire drive for potential emphasis comes from the existing racial hegemony, in the care of the state. This does not divorce workers from all responsibility, but it does show that "whiteness," regardless of origins, is a racial project long established and supported by the "racial state" which pervades the working class and gains an unthinking, common-sense acceptance -- hegemony (Omi and Winant 66-67).

Similarly, Marxism does not assume that the workers are enlightened or that workers will naturally recognize their common exploitation and ignore race differences to fight in solidarity. This interpretation of Marxism is called "vulgar" Marxism; the very concept of spontaneous cooperation is both unrealistic and irrational. Marxism requires a conscious political "project" to further the aims of the workers. In America this would mean a definitive "racial project" to depropagandize workers and challenge race hegemony. Solidarity and unity of the working class is essential to Marxism. Many self proclaimed Marxist organizations have essentialized race, and typically in a dogmatic and "vulgar" critique. These vulgar critiques of race, however, are thrown out by Omi and Winant on page 30. According to a Marxist critique, race is a primary concern for any progress in America, but class is the penultimate tool for a real challenge to capitalism and its abusive system.

The pertinence of class in race relations is well illustrated by Montejano regarding the use of labor repression to secure workers for growers as an integral cause for segregation. In this instance there is a virtual marriage of race and class as Mexicans performed almost all manual labor in south Texas. Marable's observation of the increasingly labor oriented and socialistic tendencies of Civil Rights leadership through experience in dealing with race relations also indicates the importance of class in race relations.

With a historically greater emphasis in the U.S. on race instead of class, the weakness of labor or class identification is not surprising. The historically segregated and racist unions run by white racist workers has also hurt a broad level of labor support across race lines. This trend is slowly being reversed, however, as the fastest growing and most successful union in this country are those with a large minority representation. The emphasis on racial identification, however, still poses a major obstacle to broad based organizing.

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