The Theory of Domestic Neo-Colonialism
The notion that African people in America constitute a distinct, oppressed, underdeveloped nation subjected to the economic and political domination of the European settler nation class, has been the contention of many African political tendencies operating within the community. The question of what constitutes a nation is key in determining the validity of African nationhood in the United States. The mere acceptance of African nationhood in the US does not automatically resolve the key questions of: where does this nations exist, i.e., what are the boundaries; what geographic areas does the land mass of the nation cover; do Africans have primary land claims to the south-central and south-eastern portion of the United States; if Africa should be the focus of the African-American political struggles, how does this fit into the contemporary neo-colonial nation-state politics of modern-day Africa?
The concept of the African community being an internal colony comprising wage-laborers and a burgeoning reserve army of labor, has been advanced by various social scientists since the late 1960s. In 1972, Robert Blauner published his study on the sociology of African-American oppression entitled: "Racial Oppression in America," where he advanced the theory of the Black internal colony. Also a further elucidation on this question can be found in Richard C. Hill's "Exploitation and Discrimination in Capitalist Metropolis: Is Detroit An Internal Colony? (1977). Hill provides a definition for what consitutes an internal colony, he states that: "a structure of capital accumulation and social control which corresponds to the logic of exploitation within a racial capitalist society."
The interrelationship between race and class is a key component in viewing the historical development of the oppressed African nation in the US, however, the partial or total recognition of the interrelationship between race and class cannot depict the totality of African-American oppression. In the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder Report of 1968, it is stated that there are two socieities in America: one black, one white, separate and unequal. This analysis of the dual nature of the US social system stops far short of stating that African people suffer national oppression. Such an admission would lead one to conclude that such national oppression could only be abolished through a national struggle aimed at ending the oppressive colonial system.
The failure of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, commonly known as the Kerner Commission, to explicitely accept the nationally oppressed character of the US social system is rooted in the fact that the white ruling elites both liberal and conservative maintain a vested interest in the preservation of the status-quo vis-a-vis the US political economy. The ideology of racism which permeates the major social institutions in the US has served as a rationalization for the maintenance of the current system. Blauner, in relation to racism states that: "the conquest of people of color by white westerners, the establishment of slavery as an institution along color lines, and the consolidation of the racial principle of economic exploitation in colonial societies led to the elaboration and solidification of the racist potential of earlier modes of thought."
This schism based on race has been interjected into the very fabric of the production process itself. The historical development of Detroit itself can be analyzed within this context. With the increase demand for labor during the pre and post World War I periods, the industrial giants encouraged the migration of millions of African-Americans from the rural and urban south to the burgeoning industrial north.
During the years of 1916-17, over 30,000 African-Americans migrated to Detroit. At the beginning of the 1920s, the African-American population had increased by more than 600 percent over what it was in 1910. By 1925, another 40,000 African-Americans had re-located in Detroit, doubling the population of Africans, making it approximately seven percent of the city's population. This migration of African people into Detroit went unmatched by any other city in the industrial north other than the steel center of Gary, Indiana.
The entrance of African-Americans in large numbers into industrial production was carried out in a manner which perpetuated the division of the industrial workforce along racial lines. This division served the aims and objectives of the owners of capital by promoting racial antagonism in the fierce competition for jobs and housing. For example, Ford Motor Company was the largest employer of African-Americans in the auto industry, however, it kept them largely confined to the Rouge complex. Outside of Detroit, Ford refused to hire Africans as production workers, but only as menial workers. In all, the African-American was confined t the most menial, dirty and low-wage jobs inthe entire industry of auto production.
The fact that Ford had hired 12,000 African-Americans in its plants by the mid-1920s, Henry Ford I held tremendous influence in the African-American community of Detroit. His philanthropic assistance to Detroit African-American churches gave his political views tremendous exposure in the community. The Detroit chapter of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) was heavily based in the churches since its founding in 1912. Consequently, the organization became a recipient of large donations from Ford and other auto owners and executives.
In addition to the influence among the churches and the NAACP, the Urban League of Detroit, which was founded by the Empolyers Association of Detroit and the Community Chest in 1916, was instrumental in recruiting African-Americans into industrial production in Detroit. These factors served to promote a leadership subservience to the auto giants in Detroit. The NAACP, the Urban League and the churches remained for the most part heavily pro-management and anti-labor throughout the 1920s, 30s and early 1940s.
Living conditions for the Africans who had migrated into Detroit remained sub-standard. Africans were confined largely to an area known as Paradise Valley, located on the near-east side of the city. In this area they were charged high rents for deteriorating houses and apartments, and as a result, suffered disease rates 200 to 300 percent higher than the city's white population.
In efforts aimed at maintaining cheap labor and a reserve labor pool, the owners of capital encouraged the development of a split labor market in the industrial north. Racial antagonism was fueled by increased competition among African and white workers for better housing and employment opportunities.
Racial Antagonism and the Split Labor Market
As a result of the development of racial categorization in job availability, pay-scale and working conditions in Detroit, a large segment of the white working class felt that they held a vested interest in preserving racial privilege in employment and housing practices. African-Americans who were restricted as a source of cheap labor and a reserve labor pool, increasingly became the victims of racial violence. In the 1940s, the population of workers grew tremendously in Detroit. In the first three years of the decade, over 50,000 Africans and 500,000 southern whites migrated into the city. This factor of large-scale migration in the 1940s, resulting from increased labor demands in the war industry, exasperated racial tensions.
In the area of housing an acute crisis existed in regard to quality and availability. White controlled real estate firms in cooperation with the "neighborhood improvement associations" worked to keep Africans confined to their sixty-square block black ghetto on the lower east side. These restrictions created appalling for the residents of this section of the city. A report issued by the city's Housing Commission in 1941, pointed out that over 50% of the dwellings in the Paradise Valley section were considered substandard. Many dwellings utilized outdoor toilets which were oftentimes shacks built over open sewage mains. The report also noted that five-room apartments that rent in white neighborhoods for 25 dollars per month, were being subdivided into five one-rooms dwellings renting for 15 dollars each.
As a result of the large number of African-Americans in the city and the many employed in the war industry, the federal government decided to build a housing project for the African-American residents of the city. Heretofore, the public housing in Detroit had been reserved exclusively for whites. This proposal caused a tremendous reaction in the white community, leading to the so-called "race riot" of 1943 which left thirty-five people dead including twenty-five African-Americans.
The role of the white dominated United Auto Workers (UAW) during this period was quite dubious. The UAW had initially fought to keep Africans out of higher paying skilled job categories before the union was recognized formally as a bargaining unit. Henry Ford had promoted this racial division in the work force by cultivating this African workforce as an insurance against recognition in the early 1940s. In 1941, 800 African workers barricaded themselves in the Rouge Plant in order to prevent the final UAW organizing drive. Africans were also used unsuccessfully as strike-breakers at Chrysler in 1939.
Out of the necessity of war-time production it became necessary to upgrade the status of African workers in the auto plants. The response to this was usually the staging of wildcat strikes by rank-and-file white workers. In these instances, the UAW did intervene on the side of African workers being upgraded. In fact, one factor precipatating the racial tension before the June 1943 race riot, was a strike by 25,000 Packard workers over the upgrading of three African workers.
With the conclusion of World War II, the number of migrant Africans in continued to increase. At the same time, many whites began to relocate in the burgeoning suburban areas surrounding city boundaries. The breakdown in housing segregation patterns helped to foster this process. The outlawing of Restrictive Covenants in deeds for housing, resulting in the purchasing of homes by affluent African-Americans in wealthier white neighborhoods.
However, despite slight progress in housing conditions among African-Americans during the post WWII period, the problem of housing availability and quality persisited. During the 1950s, with the building of the major freeways: the Lodge, Ford and Chrysler, many African-Americans communities were violently disrupted from a social standpoint. Areas which were moved into by African-Americans soon became overcrowded and substandard based on the fluctuation of the labor market and the avarice practices of landlords in overcrowded African-American areas.
Another factor in racial antagonism among Detroit's population was the relationship between the majority white police force and the African-American community. Many police were recruited from the lower echelons of the white working class southern migrants. The overt racial intolerance of the white southern migrant worker was unleashed on the African community through the Detroit police force. In the early 1960s, the liberal Jerome Cavanaugh administration gained power in the city as a result of African-American discontent with rabid police brutality prevalent in the community.