The economic and social importance of the ideology of race – Inferiority, class and the slave.





An Except from-“ A sociological Investigation into the effects of the Diaspora on the development of the black Identity in Western societies”- Written by Myself.


One perspective presented regarding the development and sustainment of the ideology of race, is presented by Cox (as cited in Levine, 2006) who drew a correlation between racial prejudice and the increased travel of Europeans to different parts of the world. Cox was particularly interested in racial prejudice within the theoretical framework of Marxism, arguing that the ideology of race was driven by the convenience that free slave labour provided for the growing capitalist society. All employees were encouraged to be looked upon as capitalist property, causing the ruling class to only be concerned with those in the working class,  pertaining to the amount of profit that could be obtained from their labour. The objectification of Africans and those of lower working classes, was to ensure that no personal relationships between the two classes developed.

Cox likened the subjugation of Africans by Europeans to the exploitation suffered by those in the working class at the hands of the bourgeoisie in the capitalist system in industrialised societies. The justification of this exploitation focused on how unalike Europeans were from Africans, and how these differences were utilised to cultivate the belief that Africans were inferior, simply because of their differences; Akin to the way in which the rich  see the poor in capitalist systems.

“So far as ideology is concerned, the capitalists proceed in the normal way: that is to say, they develop and exploit ethno-centricism and show by any irrational or illogical means available, that the working class of their own race or whole people of other races, whose labour they are bent upon exploiting, are something apart: (a) Not human at all. (b) Only part human. (c) Inferior humans and so on” (Cox, as cited in Levine, 2006:212).

The perspective of using difference to create the link between race and a sense of inferiority is an idea also presented by Jordan (1962). Jordan did not engage with the Marxist analogy as Cox does, but does concur with the recognition of difference that the Europeans took notice of within Africans physically, culturally and religiously. Jordan explains that the first European interactions with Africans were facilitated upon the basis of trade and not racial prejudice, with Europeans initially seeing the Africans as just other men, despite their differences. This view makes sense of the need for the justification of exploitation that Cox speaks of, as to enslave those that one once conducted business with would surely have a negative impact on the conscience.

In agreement with Jordan, Fields argues that racial ideology did not simply appear when slavery did, but took time to become normative (Fields, 1990). Fields argues that the main reason behind the longevity of the ideology of race and subsequent racial discrimination is that the basis of the argument suggesting hat Africans are innately inferior, is biological in origin.

“People are more readily oppressed if they are already seen as inferior by nature. The reverse is more to the point. People are more readily seen as inferior if they are already oppressed” (1990: 106).

The social discourse of race and it’s dependence upon the hierarchal categorisation of a people, is also highlighted in an analysis of the social purpose of the concept of race and the social discourse of race by Malik (1996).  Malik describes the ideology of race as a result of social change.drawing from Rousseau’s argument, Malik stated that inequality between groups was based upon two different categories; the social and the physical. The social concept of race,  a result of one of these differences becoming the other, or rather the two differences combining.

Race is a social category that in time merged into being thought of as so natural, that the assumption developed that it must be biological in origin. The ideology of race as presented by Malik, was a result of the contradiction between the premise that democracy is based upon equality and capitalism’s inherent nature of inequality; The ideology of race according to this perspective developed as a way to explain and justify social inequality in a society that considered itself  an advocate for social equality, both socially and economically.

Malik goes on to argue that the development of the discourse of race in western European society was due to the rapid economic and industrial growth fueled by the French revolution in the 19th century. After such intense growth and change, the ruling class felt the strain that was driven by both the creation of the working class and the inevitable degeneration that the lack of constant progress inevitably would bring.

 “The sense of society trapped by inevitable advance and natural regression helped shape a racial outlook on the world”. (Malik, 1996:73).

The concept of race placed the inevitable regression of society in a certain perspective and fostered a sense of superiority in the Europeans for the ‘progress’ that had been made thus far in comparison to other societal  groups. One example  of this being the view that African societies were primitive in comparison to European societies, due to the absence of African industrialisation at this time, or alternatively cultural, with the view that Europeans would always be superior simply because they were European. Race as a social construct became more socially profound than it was biologicallyThe superiority  of the white race that the ideology of race preserved, prohibited feelings of any future inadequacies that the European ruling class  may develop within themselves, a view that Fields concurs.

“facts of nature spawned by the needs of ideology sometimes acquire greater power over the mind than facts nature spawned by nature itself” (Fields, 1990:106).

The concept of ‘race’ was a result of the permanence of the social categories that capitalism created.





References and sources

Fields, B.J., 1990. Slavery, race and ideology in the United States of America. New Left Review, (181), p.95.

Malik, K. (1996). The meaning of race: Race, history and culture in Western society.  Great Britain. NYU Press.

Jordan., W.D. (1962). Modern Tensions and the Origins of American Slavery. The Journal of Southern History. 28 (1), 18-30.

Levine, R. F. (Ed.). (2006). Social class and stratification: Classic statements and theoretical debates. Rowman & Littlefield.


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