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Racist Attacks on the Rise — Policy, Propaganda incite violence

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In July 2008, Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez, walking the streets of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, was attacked by a group of high school students. The attackers shouted racial and anti-immigrant slurs and beat Ramirez to death. This was one of several attacks on non-white immigrants in recent months (Democracy Now!, 7/ 24/08).

Three years ago, Hurricane Katrina exposed the deep economic and racial chasm in the United States. Much of the hurricane’s devastation was borne by poor blacks. During their search for food, water, and shelter following the loss of their homes, the black victims of Katrina were subjected to further suffering and humiliation. They were vilified as thieves and looters by both the media and the local governments. The latter, instead of providing assistance to the hurricane victims, set the police on them.

With the poverty-stricken Katrina victims branded as thieves, white vigilante groups sprung up in the neighborhoods of New Orleans that meted out their own brand of “justice.” Eyewitness accounts indicate that they are responsible for shooting at least 11 black men (The Nation, 12/08).

According to data from the FBI, there has been a steady increase in incidents of racial violence in recent years. In addition, as indicated by the Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks racially-based crimes, the FBI statistics vastly underreport the actual incidence of attacks against minorities.

The SPLC also reports a recent burgeoning growth in white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. Over 500 plots to assassinate black President-Elect Barack Obama have been uncovered. Two members of the neo-Nazi skinhead group Supreme White Alliance were recently arrested in relation to a plot to assassinate 102 black students and Obama.

Violence against people of color can be seen rising alongside the evolution of official policy and media propaganda. The increased and brutal crackdowns by the Department of Homeland Security on undocumented Latin American migrants have fomented racist and anti-immigrant sentiment. It has allowed the ideology of anti-immigrant groups such as the Minutemen, and white supremacist groups such as the National Alliance and the Ku Klux Klan, to gain increasing currency.

The mainstream media, owned and run by big business, uses racial innuendo, dubious facts, and outright lies to vilify poor people of color. CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who doles out daily vitriol on Latino immigrants, is one example of this.

It is important for us to understand the links between economics, class society, and racism. Historical research reveals that the incidence of race-based attacks increases during economic downturns. For example, between 1880 and 1930 the number of lynchings of blacks in the rural southern states was significantly correlated with the price of cotton (Tolney and Beck, A Festival of Violence).

With the current unfolding economic crisis, we can expect a similar surge in racial violence. The brutal scapegoating of ethnic minorities keeps the focus of legitimate discontent away from the real problem, the capitalist system itself.

Throughout history, ruling classes have always made use of racism as a tool for securing and advancing their interests. In order to weaken the immense power of the working class, the capitalist ruling class finds it necessary to divide that majority against itself. It does so by pitting us in a fight for crumbs and encouraging conflict between different racial groups.

It is crucial for us to recognize this dynamic, and to resist all such racist tactics and effectively fight back against the elite’s divide-and-rule agenda. Our best defense is to clearly understand the nature of class struggle under capitalism and to unite the working class in the historic fight to establish a rational system based on genuine democracy and human needs, or in a word, socialism.

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