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Racism: A Power Struggle by a Different Name

Racism highlights the classic struggle between the rulers and the ruled.

Racism: A Power Struggle by a Different Name

Racism highlights the classic struggle between the rulers and the ruled. Rulers strive to keep power and the ruled endeavor to seize it. Equally shared power between the rulers and the ruled does not exist under any form of government or in any social circumstance. Inevitably, one individual or group exerts final decision-making authority.

In free societies, minority groups become final decision-makers either by block voting, forming alliances from within the final decision-makers power structure, or teaming with other minority groups. In extreme cases, opposition groups impeach or overthrow final decision-makers.

The person or group who makes final decisions possesses real power. Real power seeks equilibrium on a three-dimensional continuum consisting of group dynamics, personal orientation, and the environment. Power increases or decreases during periods of disequilibrium.

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Group Dynamics

Whenever two or more people gather to socialize, they engage in a power struggle to determine the pecking order of the group. The victor of a social power struggle earns the right to decide business and social agendas. Once the group hierarchy is established, the group participants must either recognize the power structure and capitulate or participate in a power struggle to cause disequilibrium in an effort to seize power and change the existing business and social agendas.

Personal Orientation

A solitary person ostensibly holds final decision-making power; however, the decisions he or she makes may contradict his or her personal orientation or conscience thus, preventing or fortifying an action or activity. Personal orientation, the seeds of social and political transformation, can only effect change in concert with group dynamics and the environment. Personal convictions merely express opinions, but personal convictions in tandem with favorable group dynamics and a receptive environment can influence individual and group decisions, change public or corporate policy, start or end wars, and, in some instances, change the course of history. For example, in 1955, Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, refused to yield her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. Park's defiant gesture would have gone unnoticed had the social and political environment and group dynamics not been ripe for change.

The Environment

The social and political environment must be ripe for change before any real change occurs. Personal convictions and group dynamics alone will not force a change in decision-making authority. The environment must present a welcoming forum in which new ideas can be introduced and mature. New ideas, like seeds, will not grow in a harsh environment. In free societies, change comes slowly. This reluctance to change prevents societies from becoming victims to the latest societal or political fad. In many instances, the environment must be cultivated to accommodate change. This may take years if not centuries.

Created Power

Created power seeks to pacify, not empower. Created power gives the illusion of shared final decision-making authority when, in reality, none exists. Final decision-makers bestow created power to neutralize a real or perceived threat by individuals or rival groups to seize power. Final decision-makers may admit a member of a minority group to the board of directors to pacify the group's demand for inclusion and equal treatment, but that person has no final decision-making authority.

Freedom and Power

Freedom checks power by fostering an adversarial relationship between the rulers and the ruled thus, preventing either group from abusing power. Optimally, the balance of power between the final decision-makers and opposition groups represent a 51 percent to 49 percent ratio wherein the majority and the minority exchange final decision-making roles when the respective groups exploit power. If the rulers and the ruled alternate final decision-making authority using a 51 percent to 49 percent ratio, then all members in a society share as much equality as human nature will allow.

Racism

Racism, the intentional abuse of social custom and legislative power, prevents minorities from fully participating as final decision-makers in the social, economic, and political system of the majority. For example, final decision-makers in the United States enacted the Jim Crow laws after the Civil War to restrict African-Americans from participating as equals in American society. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act ceased Chinese immigration to the United States and precluded Chinese immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens. American-Indians were the targets of continuous racist legislation from the time white settlers landed on North American shores. American women won the right to vote in 1920, not because the final decision-makers sought social justice but because they wanted to gain an additional voting block to keep themselves in power.

In the early 1900s, final decision-makers ignored the African-American community because they posed no viable threat to incumbent social or political power. The kernel of the American Civil Rights Movement germinated in 1909 when a coalition 60 African-American and white liberals founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. As the African-American community became more prosperous, they posed a greater threat to the final decision-makers. Whites responded to this threat. In 1917, the White residents of East St. Louis, Illinois rioted because they feared the African-Americans in their community gained too much social and political influence. In 1919, white soldiers returning home from service in World War I rioted because they feared the workplace competition the returning African-American soldiers represented. In 1941, the African-American membership of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Workers (BSCW) led by Phillip Randolph threatened to conduct a protest march in Washington, D.C. to highlight workplace discrimination. To prevent major disruptions in train service, President Roosevelt signed an executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination. Without the threat of disrupted train service, the primary mode of transportation for goods and passengers in the United States at that time, the BSCW demands would have been ignored, as were previous demands by blacks for inclusion and equality. After World War II, disgruntled African-American veterans swelled the NAACP membership rolls giving the civil rights group increased social and political leverage. More important, whites joined the rank and file of the NAACP in large numbers to support the civil rights movement signaling the beginning of a power shift in American society and politics.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the political and social climate in the United States pushed the power continuum further into disequilibrium. If the final decision-makers refused to concede a measure of real power to African-Americans, they risked losing power altogether. Final decision-makers relinquished power not because the rival group was African-American but because the rival group garnered sufficient strength to threaten the powerbase of the final decision-makers. Eventually, minority groups in America will become the final decision-makers and remain in control until their over extension of power is checked by opposition groups and thus, the ruler/ruled power cycle begins again.

 

John R. "Jack" Schafer, Ph.D., earned his degree in psychology from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California and served as a behavioral analyst for the FBI.

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