- The Rule of Racialization: Class, Identity, Governance
"This book examines what it means that racism and white supremacy exist, and persist, and it analyzes the social and cultural structures that they express (26)," writes Steve Martinot. "The hope is to open a conceptual space in which to address these issues." Martinot's theoretical study is divided into four chapters: "The History and Construction of Slavery and Race"; "Racialization and Class Structure"; "The Contemporary Control Stratum"; and "The Meanings of White Racialized Identity." This is a sweeping historical survey of racial construction in the United States since early European colonial settlement. It is broad in its use of disciplines, and considers a number of important theoretical works, including those by W.E.B. Du Bois, David Brion Davis, and Winthrop Jordan. Martinot places particular emphais on Albert Memmi's theory of racial construction as a "negative valuation of the other" along with its corollary: the positive self-valuation by the aggressive, privileged group.
Martinot distinguishes between "racism" and "racialization": the former he calls a "system" and the latter "the process...s through which white society has [End Page 1140] constructed and coopted differences in bodily characteristics and made them modes of hierarchical social categorizations (180)." "Racialization" is white agency, in other words, and some of the book's strongest points come in the third chapter's discussion of what Martinot calls "the gratuitousness of race and racialization that makes racism and white supremacy so impervious to reason, argument, or ethics (131)." Yet despite an interesting survey of secondary and published primary literature and some compelling arguments on how whiteness is encoded in everyday social life, Martinot's use of primary sources is minimal, no new primary sources are introduced, many key secondary sources are omitted, and those cited are often under-utilized or incomplete or questionable in their applications.
One of the pitfalls of writing sweeping historical studies is the tendency to generalize without introducing sufficient evidence. And an intellectual history like this should also provide some basis for suggesting as Martinot does, for example, that Du Bois may have only be speaking "metaphorically" when he referred to the slaves' Civil War resistance as a "general strike (13)." That reference is part of a larger discussion where Martinot makes sweeping judgements of "Marxism" as if that were one monolithic analysis, ignoring not only its voluminous versions and revisions but also Marx's arguments that the slaveholders were capitalists, enslaved Africans in America were proletarians, and white workers were the primary obstacle to working-class unity.
Martinot argues that the U.S. evolved a "dual class structure" of whites and blacks and that "racialization was not a divide-and-conquer strategy (70)" because whites had begun constructing allegiance based on social "paranoia" (65). Where is the historical conflict and motion? The metaphor of slave patrollers and white prison guards that Martinot uses to analyze the historical social control function of the white population is somewhat useful—until his declarations that "the white working class" should be "decriminalizing" and "deproletarianizing... people of color (208)." If the contradiction is between white and working-class identities, shouldn't we be talking about whites needing to join the working-class movement, rather than talking about "the white working class" (what is that?) needing to set people of color free, as his language suggests?
In chapter one Martinot poses the question: "Did the social invention of race bring racism into existence, or did racism create race (28)?" His conclusion is that "slavery, racialization, and biologization... constructed the concept of race and white supremacy (72)." Dialectical struggle over time is missing from this analysis that emphasizes the "concept" over the practice and contradictions of whiteness: "Out of a confluence of slavery, the purity concept, matrilinearity, paranoia, and organized political terror, the English settlers produced for themselves a sense of white nationality (70)." Where did that "purity concept" or "sense" come from, what were its contradictions, and how did it become hegemonic? How did successive waves of non-Anglo European immigrants become accepted as white by Anglo...