Monday, September 15, 2008

Globalism and Racism

By S. P. Udayakumar, Research Fellow for the Kirwan Institute

The elusive interplay of globalism and racism manifests in many inscrutable ways. On the one hand, as William Greider points out, “the process of globalization is visibly dismantling enduring stereotypes of race and culture, ancient assumptions of supremacy.” Mastering modern technology, and dispelling the notion that high-caliber work can be done only by well-educated white people in a few chosen countries, people of color who exist in surroundings of comparative scarcity are making complex things of world quality for the global market. Thus one of the major racial constructs of the modern world is being steadily eroded by globalization. On the other hand, emulating the Western science and technology and producing copycat products also creates the impression that the non-Western cultures have little else to offer other than trying to excel in Western technologies.

Focusing on the lopsided global power and opportunity structure that is a system of domination, discrimination and oppression, one can see how the people of color are the ones who are left out. Even when whites are a minority in some national societies, they control much of the national resources. For instance, in Zimbabwe, a predominantly black country, some 4,500 white farmers control the most arable land. Similarly, in South Africa, Afrikaners, who are hardly 7 percent of the national population, dominate the economy.

Despite the fact that Britain invested more total money in the U.S., and although Canada controlled 26 percent of all foreign owned real estate (as opposed to Japan’s 15 percent) in the early 1990s, Japan was often singled out for scare-mongering. There had been a longstanding accusation that the “Japanese investors are buying America wholesale.” Globalization of racism plays out in many more discrete ways such as global environmental racism; consolidation of racial and ethnic hatred through internet; exclusionary measures such as the Proposition 187 of California and so forth. In defining biotechnology research agenda, for example, cosmetic drugs and slow-ripening tomatoes come higher on the list than a vaccine against malaria or drought-resistant crops for marginal land. Even as communications, transportation and technology are driving global economic expansion, headway on poverty is not keeping pace.

Thus the globalized world plays a sort of socioeconomic-political ‘hide-and-seek’ with the racial and ethnic minorities. Their identities are reified for profit but their voices are erased for any political claims. Some of the globalized world’s precepts and practices appear to be rectifying some of the defects of the established order only to turn the same into additional disadvantages. While the white center has emerged as the solid guiding spirit for the globalized world, the periphery stands dispersed, disorganized and disturbed. While racism pervades globalization overtly and covertly, any acknowledgement or problematization is carefully avoided.

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