RR welcomes new contributing blogger, Randy Hohle, Assistant Professor, D’Youville College, Buffalo, NY
Neoliberalism is the political and economic framework based on privatizing public works, removing rules and regulations over businesses that protect citizens, and tax cuts for the wealthy. You might wonder why anyone outside of the wealthiest 1% would support such policies. Here’s my theory: neoliberalism was made possible by a racialized language of privatization that defined all things private as “white” and all things public as “black.” This language was first articulated in the post-war South as whites were responding to the black civil rights movement and the modernization of the southern economy. I’ll use post-war Alabama to make my case.
In Alabama, the white response to the Brown v. Board of Ed ruling was to privatize the public school system in favor of letting private and non-profit entities run the schools on a racially segregated basis.
The predominantly white Alabama business community felt that subsidizing businesses to relocate to the South was a bad idea because businesses didn’t stay and states were losing revenue. They pushed for tax breaks on businesses and opposed additional taxes based on the idea that taxes are bad for business, thus, bad for the economy.
In contrast to the ardent segregationists, the white business community negotiated with the civil rights movement to offer blacks employment in the low-pay, low-skill service sector. Yet, this was no act of racial sympathy. The white southern business community sought to integrate blacks in this limited way in order to enhance the idea that the ‘new south’ was more racially tolerant and, thus, a safe place for northern and federal investment.
Whites in Alabama used both privatization and tax cuts to direct all public resources to the most privileged segments of the white community. The language of ‘privatization and tax cuts’ became synonymous with ‘white, superior and preferred’ while ‘public’ implied ‘black, inferior, and inefficient.’ By the mid-1960s, this racial coding of a political ideology formed the pretext of what it meant to be white in America, and thus, made the larger neoliberal turn that started in 1979 possible.
The realities of the white/private, black/public code continue to be found in all major policy debates. And for the most part, the neoliberal crowd has been winning. The rationale for charter schools and educational credits are the grandchildren of the original school privatization bills. The movement against national health care used terminology like ‘the public option’ and ‘Medicaid for all’ to explicitly link national health care with black/public.
The reality is that white resentment towards blacks has made neoliberalism possible despite 30 years of failed policy and to the detriment of whites and blacks.
Suggested further reading:
Cobb, James C. 1999. Redefining Southern Culture: Mind and Identity in the Modern South. Athens & London: The University of Georgia Press.
Feagin, Joe R. 2010. The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing. NY & London: Routledge.
Hohle, Randolph. Forthcoming 2012, “The Color of Neoliberalism: The ‘Modern Southern Businessman’ and Post-War” Alabama’s Challenge to Racial Desegregation Sociological Forum.
Hohle, Randolph. 2009. “The Rise of the New South Governmentality: Competing Southern Revitalization Projects and Police Responses to the Black Civil Rights Movement 1961-1965”. Journal of Historical Sociology 22(4): 497-527.
Kruse, Kevin Michael. 2005. White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sale, Kirkpatrick. 1975. Powershift: The Rise of the Southern Rim and Its Challenges to the Eastern Establishment. New York: Random House.