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Many scholars argue that social inequality has been racialized, even though its roots are not racial. Cultural racism, from their perspective, is simply a new ideological device for masking more fundamental processes of global capitalism that are responsible for contemporary inequality and stratification. Cultural racism is the latest “discourse” of the powerful to justify domination, a discourse that some say has its roots in the colonial era.

These scholars are examining the relationship between cultural racism and the pursuit of imperialism and capitalist developmental goals. They note how ideas of cultural superiority and inferiority among nations serve to justify the political and economic subjugation of the seemingly economically “backward” Third World countries. With the decline of biological explanations of racial disparities, cultural racism emerges as an updated explanation of continual, yet seemingly hidden, transformations in a postcolonial and globalizing era. Analysts view cultural racism as a widespread manifestation of (and response to) such transformations as global labor competition, powerful multinational corporations, and increasingly concentrated wealth, although these are expressed differently in local contexts.

Studies of colonial and postcolonial migrant labor, particularly within the western European context, trace the emergence of an ideology of cultural racism to industrial and postindustrial capitalism. In the British context, the sociologist Robert Miles (1982) describes the nineteenthcentury racialization of Irish migrant laborers, the negative depictions of the Irish, and the use of these culturally racist images to justify the exploitation and mistreatment of Irish. More significant, cultural racism operated to mask the more substantive class relations underlying Irish-British relations. Studies continue to show how racial ideologies, such as cultural racism, are integral to class formations and capitalist development.

Third World social ills are not interpreted as rooted in institutions, in power relations between nations and governments. Rather, proponents of cultural explanations highlight the cultural inferiority of sub ordinate groups and the cultural superiority of dominant groups. Third World cultures are “mired” in insurmountably “traditional,” “static” values and practices—in contrast to purportedly flexible, pragmatic, and “scientific” First World practices. Third World nations can only “benefit” from their inclusion in the global polity and economy. But to do so, Third World countries must undertake significant self-sacrifices and take “individual” responsibility to overcome their traditional “backward” cultural practices.

Frantz Fanon was one of the first to explore the role of cultural racism as a new legitimizing ideology for imperialism. In his 1956 speech “Racism and Culture,” the Martinique-born and French-trained psychiatrist used the term “cultural racism” to emphasize the impact of western European cultures on the minds of its colonized and newly independent populous. Fanon referred to it as an “enslavement” doctrine that targets the psyche, destroying cultural values and the ways of life of colonized people and producing alienation. The colonized, in contrast, never question the intrinsic “superiority” of their culture. Fanon viewed this doctrine as the ideological content necessary for the “systematized oppression of a people.”

Others have built on Fanon’s work, showing how cultural racism reinforces dominant-subordinate relations between former colonies and colonizers, whether between “First” and “Third” World nations or among racial groups within newly independent states, such as South Africa and Zimbabwe. Cultural racism has shaped the social psyche of varying groups and complicates efforts to create “culturally authentic” national institutions in postindependence contexts. For instance, colonial structures of cultural domination often created both western-trained elites and revolutionary fighters, each offering a different cultural version of postindependence, nationalist redemption.

Scholars such as Arun Sivanandan offer reminders that Fanon’s notion of cultural racism persists under postcolonial forms of imperialism, as political and economic refugees flow from Third to First World nations. One legacy of cultural racism, he argues, is the continuing appeal of the colonial culture, prompting some former colonials to migrate to Europe. Once there, they encounter, even more pervasively, the colonial legacy, including its assumption of cultural superiority and its erosive effects on the psyche of the formerly colonized. This legacy is visible in all institutions, and it exists subliminally in “the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the music you hear, the television you watch, the newspaper you read” (Sivanandan 1989, p. 12).

Some analysts focus on how cultural racism has been linked since the 1980s to what are called “neoliberal” economic practices. These practices seek to privatize government activities (e.g., public health, education, and prisons), dismantle government laws regulating corporations and protecting labor and the environment, and eliminate restrictions on trade between countries. Institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization argue that neoliberal policies and structural adjustment will help “develop” and “modernize” Third World economies, alleviate poverty, and curtail what they describe as cultural deficiencies such as political corruption, social welfare dependency, and insularity (i.e., economic protectionism).

Critics observe how neoliberalism, through the discourses of government officials, development agencies, and powerful media, implicitly employs cultural-racist explanations for inequality. Third World nations are consistently, if subtly, depicted as culturally incompetent, culturally ignorant, and culturally incapable of managing their own affairs. They are seen as being responsible for their own poverty, health problems, agricultural degradation, educational underachievement, and lack of equal participation in civil society. Cultural deficiencies, therefore, provide a rationale and explanation for persistent economic inequalities, legitimizing neoliberal capitalism as a redemptive solution.

Cultural racism, in its neoliberal guise, appears to be enlightened, seemingly promoting global racial equality through eliminating Third World poverty and including “developing nations” in the “world” economy and culture. Yet it ignores history, the impact of colonialism, and prevailing power relations, thus delegitimizing Third World struggles to achieve global justice. It can also be used to legitimize the seizure of communal land, extraction of material resources, and exploitation of human labor (Wylie 2001).


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almost 8 years ago

has a Haitian such a hard time, understanding why the west is always about creating poverty in the LDC as growth. Their policices has millions to die;and don't understand the LDC countries go along with such abuse of their own peoples. will this madness ever end? Neoliberal economic the more I read and research it, it seem more like the status quo of LDC slave stocks.