- From the Editors
This special issue of Race/Ethnicity seeks to address the challenge of race and labor. In the opening decade of the twenty-first century, political commentators heralded the election of the first African American president of the United States as the most striking evidence of an advancing "post-racial" social order. In Western democracies such as the United Kingdom, Home Secretary David Blunkett curtly dismissed the concept of "institutional racism" as an outdated and tired "slogan," while communities secretary John Denham spoke of racism's waning force thanks to New Labour's promotion of racial harmony and equality (Seymour 2010).
Admittedly, the celebratory tone did not last for long. Global capitalism in the advanced industrial heartlands remains mired in a spectacular slump, conditions all too eagerly seized upon by those forces prone to blame immigrants, sow racial antagonism, and diminish possibilities for a politics of compassion. Even before the meltdown, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France declared in 2007, "In this election, the question is to know whether the legacy of May '68 is to be perpetuated or if it must be liquidated once and for all" (Portis 2010, 2). Britain's Tory coalition government after the elections of 2010 promptly announced plans to slash 490,000 public-sector jobs. Once touted as kinder and gentler than Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, the new Tories say they will not flinch from additional axe-wielding budget activism.
While the various political systems have proven capable of gift wrapping hundreds of billions of dollars to bankers in crisis, labor has been asked to accept one retreat after another. While Obama was regularly lambasted as a socialist, a closet Muslim, and a person harboring "a deep-seated hatred for white people," in the words of Fox primetime news commentator Glenn Beck, Tories and tabloids screamed about the new head of the Labour Party Edward Miliband. "'Red Ed' in hock to powerful union barons" is how the Financial Times (Barker 2010) summarized the prevailing media storyline. The Labour Party helmsman scurried to show his zeal for imposing further sacrifice on workers. New Left Review editor Susan Watkins reflected that "The lightest touch of the media lash . . . was enough to get the leader of the opposition squealing denials and denouncing 'irresponsible' trade union action against the cuts" (Watkins 2010, 8) The subsequent headlines exhibited how much putatively left politicians were willing to thrash labor when challenged by less than affable media outlets and an aroused political right: "You Must Crush Unions, Ed is Told" (Shipman 2010); "Red Ed: I'm Not a Union Puppet" (Daily Star 2010); "I won't push party to the left, says 'Red Ed' Miliband" (Maddox 2010); "I'm different—and I'm not tied to unions, insists Ed" (Linton 2010); "Miliband Talks Tough on Strikes" (Chapman and Groves 2010); "Plea by Red Ed and Strike is Dead" (Hartley 2010); and "Red Ed's U-Turn on TUC Rally" (The Sun 2010).
Meanwhile, in the United States in November 2010, 13.2 percent of Latinos and 16 percent of African Americans were unemployed, [End Page v] the latter figure nearly double that for whites. Apparently fearing the wrath of white Americans, the president seems paralyzed when it comes to pursuing any special initiatives to assist these communities. With a crucial swath of the African American middle class working in the public sector, Tory-style cuts could prove devastating. Looming in the background is a peculiarity of the U.S. social order, the immense prison and jail population, which skyrocketed from 503,586 in 1980 to 2,304,100 in 2008 (Glaze and Bonczar 2009, 3; and Bureau of Justice Statistics 2010). It remains to be seen whether the spirit of austerity will extend to the prison-industrial complex currently incarcerating African Americans and Latinos at a rate that makes them a substantial majority of the vast U.S. inmate population. When released, most are destined for the bird-cage bottom of the labor market. In her book The New Jim Crow (2010), Michelle Alexander suggests that public acquiescence with mass incarceration is strangely buttressed by the extraordinary rise of Condoleezza Rice, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama:
Highly visible examples...