The Occlusion of Empire in the Race vs. Class Inequality Debate: A Case Study of the Narrowing of Marxist Thought in the American Sociology of Race

Julia Bates, Sacred Heart University

In their typology of different theories of race, many prominent sociologists of race treat race and class as two opposing explanatory frameworks for U.S. racial inequality (Fields 2012; McKee 1993; Reed & Chowkwanyun 2012; Steinberg 2007; Wallerstein 2007). In this bifurcation, prominent sociologists of race critique “class-based" theories of race, or more specifically Marxist theory, for treating “racism as a baseless ideology ultimately dependent on other, ‘real’ forces in society…” like class structure (Bonilla-Silva 1997: 467). However, these scholars rarely analyze, or even cite, many prominent black Marxists who structurally wed class inequality and racial inequality in their analysis of how U.S. imperialism produces racial inequality in the United States. As a case study of the epistemological narrowing of Marxist thought in the American sociology of race, I analyze the exclusion of the “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government against the Negro people” from overviews of Marxist thought on U.S. racial inequality. William Patterson, a prominent black Marxist who had close ties to the American sociologist of race, W.E.B. Du Bois, wrote this petition and presented it to the United Nations in 1951. I argue the U.S. State Department’s response to “We Charge Genocide” petition, which analytically severed racial inequality from class inequality, and the national from the global, is present in American sociology’s narrow representation of Marxist thought on U.S. racial inequality. I ask in what ways can the broader inclusion of Black Marxist thought contribute to a structural explanation for the ongoing persistence of racial inequality in the U.S.?

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 Presented in Session 154. Performance, Resistance, and Segregation: Race, Space, and Place