global capitalism: what's race got to do with it?
University of California at Los Angeles
nationalist projects of subject
making and capitalist political
Using the United
capitalist project of labor-force creation articu-
in the ethnoracial construction of
should think of
of manhood and woman-
For the sake of those who came of age too recently to have spent their youth in
revolutionary study groups reading all three volumes of
the roots of current concerns about the relationship of capitalism and race. Marxist
predictions, especially about the shelf life of capitalism, have taken a beating at the
hand of real world events in the 20th century. Capitalism was supposed to collapse
sort of tragic flaw, the socioeconomic equiva-
lethal gene that was supposed to bring capitalism to its inevitable
falling rate of profit is supposed to be the somatic manifestation of that contradiction
(see Brenner 1998 for
powerful revision of
implodes, and the international working class, which has been leaning on its collec-
tive shovel watching the whole process, digs capitalism's grave and gets on with the
business of building socialism. But workers of
world did not unite against capital-
such anticapitalist shovel brigades
there were in the fifties, sixties, and
seventies were organized along lines of
ethnicity, and, later, gender and sexual-
ity but not really along class lines.
When these movements weakened in the eighties and nineties, capitalism got
stronger, socialism got weaker, began sleeping with the enemy and having capitalist
babies, and now look at the fix we are in: Of the world's 100 largest economies, half
are corporations. Walmart is bigger than Greece; Philip Morris is larger than Chile;
Chrysler and Nestle are about the same size as Pakistan and Hungary, respectively.
The six largest corporations in the world have revenues greater than the 30 countries
containing half of the world's population. And, if Internet sources are at all reliable,
the top 14 corporations in the world together have greater revenues than the U.s!
238 amerlcan ethnologist
Capitalism now has a power perhaps greater than ever in its history to
to dissolve, national boundaries. When one focuses on the global migration and cir-
culation of people (Basch et
1993), the transition of formerly socialist economies to
capitalism (Eyal et al. 1997), or the multinational nature of capitalist production and
circulation of commodities, it seems reasonable to argue that capitalism may well
erode the nation-state. A look at the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),
the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) and its successor, the World
Trade Organization (WTO), U.S. efforts toward initiating an African version of
NAFTA, the diasporic nature of Chinese capital (Dirlik 1997; Ong 1997; Ong and
Nonini 1996), and the apparent softening of national boundaries within the European
states of the European Economic Community (EEC) provides ample support for the ar-
gument made by David Harvey and others that financial capital is so powerful and
mobile that in its drive for a "free" world economy it might seriously diminish the
power of nations and of nationalism as preeminent political forces (Basch et
Harvey 1989; Hobsbawm 1990; Tilly 1990). The rise of
mass consumer culture
also points to an emergence of a "global village/ in Marshall McLuhan's phrase
(McLuhan and Powers 1989). Since then, cultural studies scholars like Frederic
Jameson (1989) have come to think in terms of "postmodern hyperspace," as national
and regional styles of dress are superceded by Nikes and Levis and local, participatory
forms of entertainment are replaced by a succession of commoditized global forms
via TV and MTV, Hollywood and Hong Kong movies, popular music and the Internet.
How then to reconcile this apparent dissolution of national boundaries with the
staggering upsurge of racial, ethnic, and religious conflict mainly within nations at
precisely the time when capitalism's global hegemony seems most secure? Funda-
mentalist versions of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism are engaging the pas-
sions of people across the class spectrum and shaping struggles over national bounda-
over the meaning of nation and who constitutes its
members. The legacies
of colonial racial and ethnic politics underlie conflicts across Africa, Latin America,
and Asia. Xenophobia and racism are on the rise in the United States, Canada, Austra-
and Europe. And ethnic nationalisms exploded among former socialists just when
they embraced the capitalist road.
The number of people who have been uprooted and killed is horrific. In Afghani-
6.2 million people have been displaced and over one million killed; in Algeria,
105,000 have been displaced and 80,000-100,000 killed; in Colombia, over one
million displaced and between 40,000 and 250,000 killed; India/Kashmir has seen
213,000 uprooted and 30,000-50,000 killed; Iraq, over 1.5 million uprooted and
100,000-250,000 killed; Kosovo, before the NATO bombing, 459,000 uprooted and
2,000 killed; Myanmar, over one million uprooted and 130,000-500,000 killed;
Rwanda, 3.5 million uprooted and 500,000-800,000 killed; Sierra Leone, 1.45 mil-
lion uprooted and 15,000-20,000 killed; Sri Lanka, over 900,000 uprooted and
55,000-70,000 killed; and bloodiest of all, Sudan, with over 4.3 million people up-
rooted and 1.5 million killed (Wright 1999.A11).
Mainstream journalism and TV news present ethnic scapegoat ing and violence
as a taken-for-granted aspect of human nature. Their spread in the face of apparent
widespread governmental, NATO, and U.N. opposition seems only to confirm their
strength and, hence, their primordial nature. These explanations mesh with theories
that explain social structures as based on human nature, and gender and sexuality
based on biology: both capitalism and nationalism are part of the human condition,
whether we like it or not (Fukuyama 1992). Today, however, it is situations of inter-
ethnic violence that seem most in need of explanation.
global capitalism 239
Capitalism has always been a global system. But this latest and most intensely
global phase seems to be eroding some aspects of state power and nationalism, espe-
cially those that impede particular kinds of free trade and those that provide health,
education, and welfare to the populace. One could argue, as Mann (1993) does, that
states are changing their functions but hardly withering away. Alternatively, one can
argue that ethnic violence
a response to the local elites who are too weak to stop the
depredations of global finance capital. Verdery (1993), for example, suggests that
Eastern European scapegoating of Jews and Gypsies is a response to the economic up-
heavals caused by a combination of postsocialism and global capitalism (see also
Nairn 1993; Stolcke 1996). These two explanations are quite compatible. Capitalism
can both change or erode state power and foster the kinds of nationalism and vio-
lence that are at once manifestations and causes of
a common national culture has been an aspect of modern nation-states that
has been historically critical to the development of capitalist political economy (Gell-
ner 1983, 1997). A decade ago, Brackette Williams (1989) argued persuasively that
the demand to impose cultural homogeneity on a heterogeneous populace is at the
core of the nationalist project. Central to the common culture and homogeneity of na-
the construction of national subjects.
Applying these ideas to today's xenophobic violence, Verdery suggests that "no-
tions of purity and contamination, of blood as a carrier of culture, or of pollution are
fundamental to the projects of nation-making" and that the homogeneity insisted on
by nationalist projects requires those who do not fit to be "assimilated or eliminated"
(1993:42). Meredith Tax argues that these ethnoracial and religious movements share
the kind of social purity they seek to create—"a desire for racial, ethnic and religious
homogeneity; an apocalyptic vision of purification through bloodshed; and a patriar-
chal view of women and the family" (1999:24). She argues that these movements are
atavistic, or throwbacks, in the sense that they are "invented traditions" (Hobsbawm
and Ranger 1983; cf. Anderson 1983) yearning for an imagined golden age when
their groups were pure.
Such nationalistic and xenophobic movements are broadly enmeshed in the na-
tionalist project of subject making. The idea that national subjects and colonial sub-
jects have been historically constructed as races (or ethnicities, languages, or
classes, and styles of manhood and womanhood is well established
Kerber et al. 1995; Ong 1996; Stoler 1989; Tamanoi 1998; Williams 1996). There has
been a historic isomorphism (or overdetermination or fit) between the ways states
construct national subjects and the ways capital organizes production and its labor
forces on the basis of gender, race, and ethnicity (recent analyses include Fikes 1998
and Medina 1998). Although nation and capitalism are separate projects, each de-
pends on and shapes the other.
In the remainder of this article, I will use the United States as an illustrative case
to develop further my argument that capitalism is causally and systemicaIly linked to
the construction of race and racism. I will show that relations to the means of capital-
ist production in the United States have been organized in ways that are consistent
with nationalist constructions of national subjects and internal aliens. The central
theoretical point I wish to advance is that race in the United States has historically
been a key relationship to the means of capitalist production, and gender construc-
tions are what has made race corporeal, material, and visible. In Marxist thought, re-
lations to the means of production are class relations. To argue that race is a relation-
ship to the means of production is not to reduce race to class. Rather, it is to complicate
each term, to argue that race and class are mutually constitutive, two facets of the
240 amerlcan ethnologist
same process that apply to both the structure of productive relationships and people's
consciousnesses or identities. It is in such socially structured identities that the nation-
alist and capitalist projects connect.
Current interest in identities—especially the conventional threesome of race,
and gender—has addressed the cultural content of identities for actors, as well
as for the national hegemonic structures that make them meaningful for people to in-
terpret, enact, and embrace. I think it is fair to say that they are dialectical: State pol-
icy, law, and popular discourse make race and gender matter for one's life chances;
people embrace these categories because they matter, but they do not inhabit them in
the ways hegemonic institutions and discourses construct
in turn reshape hegemonic practices.
Class is often
Cinderella in analyses of
threesome with respect to national
projects. That is, it is treated as a "lifestyle choice of you and your family," as Lillian
Robinson (1995:8) puts it when criticizing scholars who treat class
if it were
cultural choices that
unrelated to economic structures.
But one could also challenge the lack of attention to economics in analyses of
race in the same way that Robinson does for class. True, the state, nationalism, and
civic discourse have gotten a lot of play on the structural side of
But the organi-
zation of production and the racial division of
though well described, are
poorly theorized. Thinking theoretically about the ways that race and ethnicity work
relationship to the means of capitalist production in the United States can help us
understand how global capitalism might feed nationalism even as it seems to erode
race and gender as capitalism's relations of production
Treating race (and ethnicity), class, and gender as the mutually constituting po-
litical and economic relationships of capitalism is key to this analysis. By mutually
constituting I mean, first, that none is primary in the sense of being the irreducible
Second, I mean that cultural perceptions of any one of
social being shape the other two. For example, the way a culture classifies a person
racially affects its portrayals of that person's manhood or womanhood.
My entry point for analyzing race as a relationship that structures capitalist pro-
duction is the situation of Jews in the United States. Jews are one of several ethnic
groups whose racial assignment in the last 150 years has gone from white to off-white
and back to white.2 Prior to the mid-19th century, all Europeans in the United States,
including Jews, were more or less equally white. The largely Western European
who entered the United States prior to the 1880s faced anti-Semitism
but not racial unwhitening. Jews ceased to be white with large-scale immigration
from Eastern Europe around the turn of the last century, and then they became white
again after World War
These racial changes are linked to American Jews' changing
relationships to the means of capitalist production and to wider discourses and
cies of national inclusion.
the racial constitution of
as a relationship to the means of production
class, and gender are mutually constituted, it follows that class is consti-
tuted racially as well as in gender-specific ways. We would do well then to start by
were doing in
when they became racially nonwhite or,
more accurately, off-white. It
especially the performance of work that
was at once important to the economy of the nation and defined as menial and un-
that was key to their off-white racial reassignment.
global capitalism 241
Let us focus on New York City at the turn of the last century, where Eastern Euro-
pean Jewish immigrants and their children made up one-quarter of the population
and almost half of the industrial workforce. Their employer par excellence was the
garment industry, which was also the city's biggest industry. In 1900, 40 percent of
Jewish women and almost 20 percent of the men worked in that industry. Clara Lem-
a future union organizer, newly arrived in New York in 1903, found garment
work right away, "at a fraction of the wage her father would have earned for the same
work" (Orleck 1995:25) had he been able to find work. This was a common situation.
Most women garment workers were young and unmarried—daughters contributing to
organization in small shops, the clothing industry was exemplary in its
rapid growth and its shift from a craft organization to an intensely industrial organiza-
tion based on "unskilled" labor. Howe writes, "Measured by number of workers and
value of product, [garment industry growth in the 1890s] was two or three times as
rapid as the average for all industries. For the women's clothing industry, the years of
sharpest growth were during this period, one that coincided with Jewish immigration"
(1980:155). Both growth and reorganization took place at the same time that Jews en-
tered the industry. The availability of Jewish immigrant labor made the industry's
sharp growth possible and also facilitated the reorganization of labor away from
ance on skilled producers of garments to an assembly line where many workers em-
ployed fewer skills to produce a large number of
The irony of this situation, as Stephen Steinberg (1989:98-99) has shown, is that
Jewish immigrants were a skilled bunch, especially in the garment trades but also as
printers, bakers, carpenters, cigar packers, blacksmiths, and building trades work-
Two-thirds of all Jewish adult workers who immigrated between 1899 and 1910
were classed as skilled, a much higher proportion than that among English, Scandina-
and German immigrants. The availability of very high skill levels among immi-
grant Jewish garment workers could have sustained greatly expanded craft produc-
but manufacturers nevertheless reorganized for mass production by de-skill ing
the jobs and by intensifying the work.
What was it about a Jewish labor force that allowed manufacturers to do this? I
suggest that occupational restriction was the critical factor. Jewish workers were fro-
zen out of many occupations in which they were skilled, such as printing and the
and out of
that were controlled by unions, like transportation and
communications. American Federation of Labor craft unions in these trades played a
big role in excluding Jews. These unions were most definitely the province of white
male workers—a "privileged labor class" of Irish, British, and Germans—who often
met the immigrants of the newer streams with violence. Such practices were appar-
ently highly valued in governmental circles, for, in 1910, the U.S. Immigration Com-
mission congratulated the trade union movement for being among the "bulwarks of
Jews went into the garment industry because they could; they had the skills, and
those jobs were open to them. They did not become print, transport, or construction
workers, not because they lacked the skills but because they were not allowed into
the unions that controlled the right to practice them. For those unions, whiteness was
an important requisite for membership.
I am arguing that job degradation and racial darkening were linked processes.
The immigrants who worked in the garment industry saw their jobs divided and their
The construction industry provides a nice contrast. It
also expanded, but its jobs underwent no equivalent de-skilling or division. Indeed,
242 american ethnologist
agreements between employers and trade unions governed the way in which labor
was organized as well as who could perform it. The degraded jobs of the nonwhite
workforce in the garment industry stand in sharp contrast to the artisan-like conditions
that prevailed in the building
where white unions, with explicit approval from
government and tacit consent or enthusiasm from employers, policed both the condi-
tions of labor and who was allowed to do it. The freedom of craft autonomy in the
construction of work was a prerogative of whiteness. It stood in contrast to the servil-
ity of the nonwhite and off-white assembly line.
At the end of
19th century, Jews were part of
vast stream of some 23 million
immigrants. This immigration coincided with the American industrial revolution.
European immigrants became its factory workers and the bulk of the urban popula-
tions in the East and Midwest, while Asian and Mexican immigrants formed the core
of Western agribusiness.
European races were visible especially given where Americans worked. Immi-
grants were visible not least because they were concentrated in urban industrial cen-
By 1910, 58 percent of the industrial workforce in 20 of the main mining and
manufacturing industries were European immigrants (Steinberg 1989:36). In both the
1910 and 1920 censuses, native-born whites made up slightly less than half of the to-
tal labor force and hence an even smaller percentage of the working-class labor force.
In 1880, when only 13 percent of the U.S. population were foreign-born, the foreign
born made up 42 percent of the workers in manufacturing and mining. In contrast, a
staggering 44 percent of all native-born white male workers in 1910 worked in farm-
lumbering, and livestock-raising far from the industrial centers (Carpenter
The way the garment industry reorganized with Jewish and Italian immigrant
workers was typical of other industries of
period. David Montgomery (1979) notes
that a big supply of immigrant workers underlay the rapid expansion of a system
where the skills required for industrial jobs came to be embedded in the machinery,
the organization of the labor process, and forms of supervision (like piecework) de-
signed to outfox workers' resistance to management's control of productivity. Indus-
trial capitalism was not a system of scientific management, but rather one that treated
workers as casual and easily replaced factors of production. The captains of industry
put their energy into intense supervision and into piecework schemes to increase
workers' output. For example, Goodyear Rubber had one inspector for every ten
workers. The same pattern prevailed in the oil, chemical, and rubber industries,
where two-thirds to three-quarters of the workers were European immigrants, as well
as in steel, meatpacking, and textiles, also with large immigrant work forces. In the
very organization of industrial work, employers seem to have constructed workers as
more instrument or "hand" than fully human, more thing-like than citizen-like. Under
the intense gaze of foremen, the work was broken down into simple, repetitive tasks
that appeared to justify wages so low that households typically depended upon the
wages of more than one earner. Driven labor became a "natural" way to organize
mass production, a function of responding to competition and to demand on the one
and to reliance on "inferior" workers on the other. In turn, degraded forms of
work confirmed the apparent racial inferiority of
workers who performed them.
Only when these immigrants took their places as the masses of unskilled and
residentially ghettoized industrial workers, around 1900, did Americans come to be-
lieve that Europe was made up of
variety of inferior and superior races. At that point,
those who formed the mass of immigrant industrial workers found that they were be-
ing classified as members of specific and inferior European races, and for almost half a
global capitalism 243
century, they were treated as racially not quite white by American law, social prac-
and civic discourses. In California, where they worked in less industrial condi-
southern and eastern Europeans continued to be whiter than they were in the
east (Brundage 1994:21-23; diLeonardo 1984:153-156). Nationality- or ethnic-spe-
cific job niches complemented residentially segregated ethnic communities, making
European races seem
State projects also contributed to race making, as Omi and Winant (1994) and
Haney Lopez (1996) have argued so persuasively. Thus, the U.S. Bureau of the Cen-
(1930:25-26) in the early 1900s carved out a special, not-quite-white niche for ra-
cial Europeans. They were not part of ''Negroes and other races," but neither were
they the same as "native" whites. It created a set of off-white categories not only by
distinguishing immigrants from "native" whites by country, but also native whites of
native white parentage and native whites of immigrant (or mixed) parentage, that is,
children of immigrants.
The changing racial categorizations of Mexicans in California illustrate the recip-
rocally defining interdependence of race and class and the contribution of state
cies to race making. When California became a state, the race of the indigenous in-
habitants was an important issue of state policy: the new Anglo rulers fit them into the
extant American system of racial classification as red (noncitizen, no rights), white
(citizen with rights) or black (nonperson, private property). Spanish speakers were in-
itially classified as white by virtue of the class standing of the Mexican landowning
The California constitution enfranchised "White male citizens of the United
States and every White male citizen of Mexico, who shall have elected to become a
citizen of the United States" (Almaguer 1994:56). California courts, however, often
classified working-class Mexicans as Indians. In white supremacist California, Indians
could not be citizens and had no rights whatsoever. They were subject to the 1855
Vagrancy Act, which mandated fines,
or enforced labor service on such Mexican
individuals found guilty of vagrancy.
Racial stigmatization of working-class Mexicans, sporadic in California's early
decades of statehood, increased as Mexican men and women became the main labor
force for an emerging agribusiness sector that developed after 1880 (Almaguer
1994:57). By 1930, racial stigmatization of Mexicans underlay the U.S. Census pre-
sumption that Mexicans were to be classified as nonwhite unless a particular individ-
ual was known to the enumerator to be white.3
At the turn of the last century
the U.S. labor force was marked by broad pat-
terns of occupational segregation based on race. Not-quite-white southern and east-
ern European immigrants produced the industrial wealth of the United States largely
in factories of the east and midwest. In the west and in Hawaii, agribusiness grew rap-
idly, dependent on labor forces made up of
immigrants and resident and in-mi-
grating Mexicans. In the southeast, the post-Reconstruction white plantocracy contin-
ued to hold its African American agricultural labor force in various forms of debt
peonage. The labor force of U.S. agribusiness has been no less racially segregated
than that of industry.
That bondage of Africans was the template for an enduring organization of capi-
talism in which race was the basis for the organization of work and that degraded,
driven gang labor made no distinction on the basis of gender are well-developed ar-
guments in African diaspora scholarship (Bennett 1970; DuBois 1935; Fields 1982,
Smedley 1993; Williams 1966). This work organization began in the New
World's first agrarian—and staggeringly profitable—industries based on unfree labor.
There, the willing participation of workers on the white side of the then-new racial
244 amerlcan ethnologist
divide was critical to the success of the project. Recent scholarship on labor history
has documented the persistence of many varieties of working-class whiteness and ra-
even amidst efforts at interracial unionism (Honey 1993; Ignatiev 1995; Letwin
race in the making of national belonging
Race making has been a historically important state project, although this is not
the ways they have been "made" have
of race-making laws include the entire edifice of
Crow, early colonial anti-misce-
genation laws, laws denying citizenship to Native Americans, and the 1790 law al-
lowing naturalization only to whites (Haney Lopez 1996). Such laws have contrib-
uted to establishing who is and is not a member of the nation of the United States at
any given time. Although who is included among whites and Americans has had
some historical fluidity, public policy and civic discourse have continued to construct
African Americans as the template for nonwhiteness. Sometimes state race-making
policies have dovetailed with capitalist projects of organizing relationships to the
means of production racially. Sometimes the racial formations of state projects have
been at cross-purposes or otherwise inconsistent with those of capitalist projects. The
persistence of de jure and de facto discrimination against upper-middle-class African
Americans has recently been made visible by protests against "driving while black,"
by Danny Glover's suit against New York City cabbies' refusal to pick up African
Americans, and by protests against racial profiling by police forces across the country.
Sometimes racial projects are more immediate and contested than at other times.
Nevertheless, capital's project and the state's project both address race in an ongoing
way. The process is best captured by Omi and Winanf s (1994) notion of "racial for-
a continual outcome of political and economic
practices that shape and are in turn shaped by racial meanings. They argue further
that the state has participated in making races through a series of historically specific ra-
A new racial project has been developing since the implementation of the 1965
immigration law and new patterns of
The ethnoracial map of the United
States has been reconfigured once again as new immigrants have become the back-
bone of the growth sectors of the working class, and—along with white women—a
secondary track in many key professional and technical occupations ranging from
computers and engineering to nursing and medicine (Choy 1998; Ong and Liu 1994;
Ong et al. 1994; Park 1997; Parrenas in press; Portes and Rumbaut 1990). Although
the nature of jobs and the racial composition of the labor force have changed along
with the industries in the economic core, the mass of the working-class labor force is
still (or more accurately, once again) not quite
tionally segmented. In the last two decades, Central American and Asian men and
women have become concentrated in rapidly growing personal-service industries
like hotels and restaurants, health care and cleaning, and the manufacture and proc-
clothing, and increasingly shelter (in the form of nonunion construc-
All of these industries have been reorganized around "unskilled" labor on a
minimum wage and temporary
and along Taylorist
Many new immigrants
with professional backgrounds found jobs initially in a secondary sector of their pro-
fessions. In the late sixties, for example, foreign-trained doctors and nurses worked in
public hospitals while their
counterparts took better jobs in the private
sector (Choy 1998). Some professionals were unable to work in their fields and
adapted by becoming small urban entrepreneurs or, especially among
global capitalism 245
factory workers (Park 1997; Sanjek 1998). For example, in northern California in the
1980s and early 1990s, mainland Chinese women medical doctors were working in
child care centers
teachers or teachers' aides (Carollee Howes, personal communi-
Soon after the reopening of immigration in 1965, a Federal Interagency Commit-
tee was formed to create for the Bureau of
Census a classification of race and eth-
nicity reflective of the nation's new immigration and attentive to the progress of af-
firmative action. The result was the now-familiar four racial groups: American
Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, black, and white. The committee de-
cided that the fifth group, Hispanic, was an ethnic group but not a race. The govern-
mentese term Hispanic emphasizes the Euro-origins of Spanish speakers from many
nations. These "Hispanics" are not exactly white, which they were in the 1960 cen-
Rather they are modified, not-quite whites, as in Hispanic whites (Wright 1994:
In sum, although race was initially invented to justify a brutal regime of slave la-
bor that was profitable to Southern planters, race making has become a key process
by which the United States continues to organize and understand labor and national
Africans, Europeans, Mexicans, and Asians each came to be treated as
members of less civilized, less moral, less self-restrained races only when they were
recruited to be the core of
U.S. capitalist labor
Such race making depended
and continues to rest upon occupational and residential segregation (Massey and
Denton 1993). Race making in turn facilitated the degradation of work
ganization as "unskilled," intensely driven, mass-production work. Race making is
class making, just
much as class making is race making. They are two views of the
gender as the embodiment of race and class
Evelyn Nakano Glenn (1985) argued that the United States has
consistently defined women of color
workers for the capitalist sector and explicitly
not as mothers. Since that time, a considerable body of work has demonstrated both
of those points (Collins 1990; Coontz 1992; Glenn 1994; Gordon 1994; Mink 1995;
Solinger 1992). Historically, women of ethnoracial groups that have been defined as
nonwhite have worked for
in significantly greater rates than white
includes Jewish and other European immigrant women who worked in factories, in
other people's homes (as domestic servants), and in their own homes (doing piece-
work), and Asian and Mexican women who worked in agriculture as
these women worked side by side with men.
By contrast, until the 1970s, white women worked in much smaller numbers,
they did so in protected all-white, all-female occupational niches,
like clerical and sales work, the "women's professions," or in intensely paternalistic
milieus marked as "family/' for example, in Southern textile mill villages (Hall et al.
1987) or early boarding houses for women workers in New England mill towns (Dub-
lin 1979). Indeed, such segregation has been a key marker of respectability of women
workers and their whiteness. By the same
unauthorized contact with men has
disreputable. Race-based differential treatment of women and men
has also been characteristic of the nationalist project. Thus, benefits the state has his-
torically extended to women because the state manifests an interest in protecting the
mothers of future Americans have not been extended equally—or at all—to non- or
homework, and private household waged
jobs where nonwhite women were concentrated were all excluded from coverage by
246 american ethnologist
protective labor legislation, Social Security, unemployment compensation, and mini-
mum wage legislation (Boris and Bardaglio 1991; Kessler-Harris 1995; Rose 1994).
Likewise, Mother's Pensions, antecedents of
to Families with Dependent Children
excluded African American women and excluded or gave conditional or lim-
ited benefits to women of other nonwhite colors (Ladd-Taylor 1994). Although these
women were not numbered among the mothers of the nation or among the nation's
respectable women, there have been consistent differences between the treatment ac-
corded to African American women and that accorded to women of other non- and
off-white colors. Public welfare discourses and practices have most consistently
matized African American women as unfit mothers, but have constructed Euro-ethnic
women and sometimes Mexican- and Asian-ancestry women as redeemable, as con-
ditionally worthy of motherhood if they attempt to emulate ideals of middle-class
white domesticity (Coontz 1992; Gordon 1994; Ladd-Taylor 1994; Naples 1997;
The belief that different races have different kinds of gender puts flesh on the
American idea of race. To think of gender as the corporeal form, the embodiment of
race helps one grasp consistent themes in a large body of feminist literature that seeks
to understand the interrelations of race, gender, and nationalism (see Mohanty et al.
Williams 1996). An important set of popular and scientific discourses attended
to by this literature
the variety of
that nonwhite and off-white women and men
are represented, namely as beings who lack the manly and feminine temperaments
that were requisites for full membership in the body politic and social. Such dis-
courses resonated with discourses of labor that made those who performed degraded
labor into degraded beings. In these discourses, nonwhite women workers were
matized alongside nonwhite men.
Civic and scientific discourses about race and labor were both supported by a
discourse that understood gender as racially bifurcated, one kind of gendering for
whites and another for nonwhites. This discourse was first elaborated in defense of
slavery and in social Darwinism. Gail Bederman points out that "even state constitu-
tions outside the South explicitly placed African American men in the same category
as women, as 'dependents.' Negro males, whether free or
were forbidden to ex-
ercise 'manhood' rights—forbidden to vote, hold electoral office, serve on juries, or
join the military" (1995:20).
African American women since Sojourner Truth and Harriet Jacobs have been
saying that femininity and "true womanhood" are privileges of white women only
(Brody 1996:154; see also Brown 1996; Crenshaw and Morrison 1992; Higgenbotham
As Leith Mullings has argued, "stereotypes of African American women re-
volve around an underlying theme of defeminization—the African American woman
as being without a clearly ascribed gender identity, that is, as being unfeminine in the
sense of not possessing those
alleged to be biological, that
but also protected women of the time" (1997:111). The gender stereotypes of black
women and men emphasized similarities between them, such that African American
women were portrayed "as the antithesis of the American conception of
ninity and womanhood," possessing "physical attributes and emotional qualities tra-
ditionally attributed to males," like hypersexuality, strength, and aggressiveness Oew-
Just as scientific and popular discourses did not construct African American
women as women, so too they refused manhood to African American men. A corre-
sponding set of racist stereotypes showed black men as "weak and henpecked, domi-
nated by their robust and overbearing wives" (Bederman 1995:28). Indeed, there was
global capitalism 247
a positive phobia in white speech, even at the turn of
century, on combining terms
for African American or American Indian with terms for manhood. The common lin-
guistic pairing, Bederman tells us, was "the Negro" or "the Indian" and "the white
Social Darwinist constructions of savagery and civilization developed the same
theme. Gender-blurred, amoral "savages" were stock figures, foils to civilized ladies
and gentlemen in early evolutionary schemes. For Herbert Spencer (1910:611-631,
715-743), savage men and women were equally amoral and brutish, but each sex
had its own form of barbaric temperament based on relative strength. Men ruled
women only because they were stronger. Spencer arranged his information about
non-Western societies into a linear historical narrative that ended with Victorian
lization's chivalrous patriarchy and feminine domesticity. The idea was that biologi-
cal and temperamental differences between men and women developed only with
the evolution of "civilized" races. "Savages" (n on whites) made no distinctions be-
tween men and women, and even white women, though they were ideally suited to
be mothers of citizens, were themselves not yet evolved enough for citizenship
(Spencer 1884:374-375; see also Sacks 1978:18-20,26-32).
Stereotypes invented in service of slavery and imperialism were rediscovered,
and recycled to support dominating new groups of proletarians. Thus,
Asian and Jewish men came to be stereotyped as effeminate, more like "their" women
than white men, when they joined the bottom of
labor force, while African Ameri-
Irish, and Polish women were labeled masculine and hypersexual, again, more
like "their" men than like white women. These constructions work dialectically, and
in quite complex ways (Bederman 1995 for the U.S.; Carby 1987; Jewell 1993; Mull-
ings 1997:109-127; for postcolonial analyses see Mohanty et al. 1991 and Stoler
A wide spectrum of nationalist cultural constructions ranging from xenophobic
to somewhat progressive but nevertheless paternalistic incorporate notions of fully
virtuous mothers as white, and of nonwhite and off-white women as unfit or condi-
tionally fit mothers (whose best possible redemption lay through work); of chivalrous
citizens as white men; and alien or criminal "hands" as men and women of color.
Such constructions have rested on associations of female virtue with heterosexual do-
mestic dependency on a man. Beliefs about who is entitled to such patriarchal do-
mesticity, a family wage, and motherhood have been heavily racial in American his-
tory. And in turn, such beliefs have permeated the civic discourses that effectively
shape the laws and policies governing employment, immigration, and public health
and welfare (Domfnguez 1986).
In these examples, nationalist projects have resonated and become integrated
with the capitalist project (although the two are rarely in synchrony) in the notion that
the American populace consists of two mutually exclusive kinds of people who are
defined by mutually exclusive ways of being women and men. White ladies and gen-
tlemen (mothers of the nation and thinking citizens) are taken-for-granted national
subjects, as if they were the real Americans. Nonwhite peoples (constructed
male and female workers) are aliens within—dangerous perhaps, sometimes
conditionally entitled, sometimes "pitied but not entitled" (Gordon 1994). Economi-
cally, both capitalism and a white middle-class "we" have depended upon a non-
white working-class "they." Politically and ideologically, the American "we" has
been constructed by contrast to an internal and un-American "they." That said, soci-
ety is full of exceptions, for example, women in management and the professions, a
significant African American middle
and African American presence in political
248 american ethnologist
This doesn't mean that gender is waning or that successful African Americans
are becoming white. It's more realistic to see these patterns as hard won but embat-
tled gains of earlier massive social movements.
capitalism, and nationalism
I have discussed American racial formation to illustrate two suggestions: (1) that
anthropologists should consider race and gender
constituting capitalism's class re-
lations of production; and (2) that the gendered race making that is key for the repro-
duction of those relations of production is also produced by state policy, civic dis-
course, and state-sanctioned nationalism. The United States—like many other nations
as Brackette Williams (1989,1996) argues—has defined itself
a nation as much by
a contrast between a resident "us" and resident "Others," as by contrast with those of
Taken together, both points contribute to current efforts (Basch et
and Nonini 1996) to understand the linkages between capitalism (through its project
of creating and re-creating appropriate working classes), nationalism, and nation-
states in the contemporary
We need to explain the current and persistent
ence or reproduction of
ethnicity, and religion as organizers of labor and politi-
cal belonging. Although race is the master constituent for organizing labor and
national belonging in the United States, it need not be so elsewhere (Stolcke 1996),
where ethnicity, religion, or other forms of "cultural fundamentalism" may function in
similar ways. Can we show that current waves of xenophobic violence are demon-
strable and proximate outcomes of state policies and capitalist practices that make
religion, or ethnicity matter greatly for economic, social, cultural, and national
entitlement? Can we show this for contemporary nation-state projects and for capital-
ist labor force projects, singly and in their interactions?
One necessary line of research would explore whether nationalism necessarily
produces despised others, and whether capitalism necessarily produces its workers as
ethnoracially or religiously stigmatized others. For example, Germany has recently
shifted away from citizenship-by-blood, allowing certain long-term immigrants and
their children to become naturalized German citizens. Kesha Fikes (1998:14-15)
gests that Portugal's participation in the European Union has not led to a decline in
the salience of
but rather to
shift in racial constructions.
to whether ethnora-
cial or religious others have been structurally necessary to capitalist relations of pro-
we might revisit Robinson's (1983) challenge to the notion that European na-
tions had "all white" industrial labor forces prior to the postcolonial immigrations of
the sixties. Or we might revisit the nationalist dimensions of socialist states to ask
about the salience of ethnicity in national policy and to ask what if any role ethnicity
played in organizing socialist relations of production and patterns of residential and
bureaucratic segregation (Verdery 1996:84-97). Answers may help us to better un-
derstand the sharp rise in ethnic violence in so many of
former socialist countries.
How did ethnoreligious loyalties persist or become so salient for 70 years in a system
supposed to end them?
Another line of research would interrogate apparent syn chronic it ies between na-
tionalist and capitalist projects. The 19th-century idea of ethnically homogeneous
European nation-states, together with European colonial and imperialist expansion,
seem to have helped globalize systems where race, class, and national belonging de-
fine one another, where working classes have been constructed as alien others.
Post-World War II anticolonial movements—India and Pakistan come immediately
to mind—were also nationalist movements, founding states that struggled around
global capitalism 249
creating homogeneous national subjects. Some of
nations became solidly
talist, some sought various kinds of socialism, and some pursued
such national projects continue to organize each of these different organizations of
Capitalism has developed newer global power centers beyond western Europe,
the United States, and
In Asia, China and Chinese diaspora capitalisms (Dirlik
Ong and Nonini 1996) have joined japan and Korea as major players. They
certainly operate globally within national contexts shaped by European ethnoracial
patterns and make use of existing races from the cartography of colonialism to organ-
ize overseas labor forces. But it would be interesting to explore the organizations of
capitalist labor. Can one have, as Eyal et
(1997) argue for parts of Eastern Europe,
capitalism without capitalists? Do any of
capitalisms create their own domestic,
ethnoracial others within? Gender is an important principle for organizing labor in
Taiwan (Hsiung 1996)
japan (Kondo 1990; Tamanoi 1998), but do different varie-
ties of womanhood and manhood map onto discourses of something class-like or eth-
nic-like in these countries?
It will also be important to analyze the contradictoriness within and between na-
tionalist and capitalist projects lest we anthropologists fall into the trap of neofunc-
Thus, the argument I advance in this article accords with Tom Nairn's
(1993:158) suggestion that Balkanization with its attendant ethnocide, xenophobia,
and religious fundamentalisms is integral to the progress of capitalism
Pursuing this line of research about the capitalist-nationalist nexus suggests that na-
tionalist projects may find themselves between a rock and a hard place: If imposing
ethnic homogeneity on a heterogeneous populace is part of making working classes
and building nations, its consequences are nevertheless difficult to control, and the
ensuing violence can be bad for business. Should violence and Balkanization be un-
the labor and birth pains of new varieties of national subjects and stigma-
There is also no shortage of contradictoriness within the capitalist projects as to
how they relate to nationalist projects. For example, particular industries or blocks of
capital may find themselves in conflict with other blocs of
over particular state
policies. The arms industry and the tourist industries are among the world's largest in-
government-mediated business in that governments and pub-
lic police forces are the major purchasers of weaponry. It is an industry that benefits
from particular kinds of
The tourist industry depends upon the discretionary
travel of individuals. Although a particular kind of commoditized nationalism and
cultural authenticity are good for tourism globally (Enloe 1989), nationalist wars are a
growing threat to the international tourist industry, which served some 200 million
people annually by the mid-eighties, and by 2000 will have become the world's big-
gest industry (Enloe 1989:20).
Capital's global expansion and erosion of national borders seem to coexist un-
easily with nationalism. As the recent meetings of the WTO showed, powerful trans-
national corporations in concert with powerful states push against national borders
for freer movement of their capital and commodities. But other powerful capitals and
states also erect specific barriers against the capital and commodities of competitors.
Likewise, weak national capitals may encourage borders, even as their comprador
elites may open them. Public protests by and on behalf of the world's "have-nots"
challenged the legitimacy of
those capitalist and national players
against the in-
vast majority of the world's populace. It is important to note that the most
powerful efforts to make national borders permeable, the North American Free Trade
250 amerlcan ethnologist
Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), for ex-
ample, apply to the movement of capital. With few exceptions, states have surren-
dered no power—nor has capital asked them to—to govern the movements of work-
ing people. Indeed, the creation of stigmatized, nation-based racial others through
immigration and citizenship laws, among other state practices, has stimulated the rise
of cottage industries and mafia-like enterprises to help undocumented people keep up
with capital's global shifts in production (Randall 1999).
Nationalism and nation-state-making projects seem to coexist with a contradic-
tory set of
toward the weakening of
For example, this
latest and most intensely global phase of capitalism seems to be eroding some aspects
of state power and nationalism, specifically those that impede particular kinds of free
and those that provide health, education, and welfare to the populace. The
Reagan-Thatcher "revolution" of the 1980s, which drastically cut public nonarms
spending, has gone global. Helped by the imposition of World Bank policies, laws fa-
voring "free market" national policies have become the norm for many of the world's
nation-states. Yet, other aspects of nation-states, notably armies and police, have be-
come even more important. Michael Mann (1993) argues that what looks like a with-
ering away of the state within and beyond Europe is really a shift in the functions it
performs and the powers it exercises in relation to changes in the nature of capitalism.
The integration of the European Union (EU), in developing a common currency, al-
lowing the free movement of capital and people presents another example. Is the ex-
istence of the EU a sign that capitalism can overcome nationalism and its ethnoracial
divisiveness? Or are the new migration policies of the EU instead reinserting old di-
chotomies from colonial days—between European whites and nonwhite ex-coloni-
als—and a new form of supernationalism in which whites of postcolonial nations be-
come the measure of Europeanness?
Finally, what do we make of the very real global shift toward capitalism's de-
pendence on women's waged (as well as its continued dependence on their un-
waged) labor? In virtually every region of the world, women across the spectrum of
ethnicity, nation, and religion have been incorporated into the waged labor force so
that today women make up significant portions of the labor forces across the globe
-17). How do we understand the rise of waged labor, not only among
poor and working-class women, but also among those of more affluent classes? Do
these patterns work for or against fundamentalist and nationalist race-making projects
and capitalism's race-based patterns of exploitation?
To return to the beginning of my remarks, Marx believed that capitalism would
collapse of its own contradictions, in an economic meltdown. Instead in 1999, we
have what looks like global capitalism triumphant. Yet there are signs of trouble, the
most obvious and heartbreaking of which is a proliferation of nationalist implosions.
Without a democratic alternative, it is not a pretty picture. Yet I do not think Marx had
it all wrong. I am suggesting that Western capitalism has organized its relations of pro-
duction racially and by gender. It has pursued political and economic policies that
make nations at once multiracial and racist (or otherwise xenophobic). These trajecto-
ries have their own contradictions, manifest in organized nationalist and fundamen-
talist intranationalist violence in all parts of the globe. I suggest that alternatives and
challenges to this state of affairs will need to take on directly the racist economic and
political practices and their gendered embodiments that are critical to capitalism and
to nationalism. To do that, we need to understand them better than we now do.
global capitalism 251
Acknowledgments. This is a revised version of the keynote address at the annual meeting
of the American Ethnological Society in Toronto on May
thank Carollee Howes and
four anonymous readers for their helpful comments.
See also dehai news/ email@example.com Subj: Distribution of world's wealth, accessed
The material on race as a relation of production
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