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Last week I finished reading Jim Freeman’s Rich Thanks to Racism, adding another book to my list of bleak reads on the state of America. The book argues that the ultra-wealthy in the United States benefit from racism which is why they are so invested in funding policies and initiatives that maintain systemic racism. Their efforts are sometimes covert, sometimes more overt, but when taken together, they demonstrate how and why the ultra-wealthy work so hard to keep racist systems in place even as these systems decimate communities of color. It’s a bleak look at the state of things in the US — an enlightening though certainly not heartening read.
Freeman’s book traces the influence of the ultra-wealthy in a few key areas, including education, mass incarceration, and immigration. The book emerged out of his own work as a civil rights lawyer and the resistance that met his civil rights work at every turn. He recalls, “We would strike down a discriminatory policy, but then another one that may have looked a little different but had the same effects would soon follow. . .It was as if we were in a big game of Racism Whack-a-Mole. For every injustice we thought we were solving, an equally nasty one would pop up to replace it.”
As he started paying attention to this resistance, Freeman noticed a pattern — similar bills using similar language pushing similar initiatives. All the evidence he found pointed to the influence of the ultra-wealthy in supporting systemic racism and opposing attempts to combat racism and expand civil rights.
And as Freeman details in his book, it’s not just the usual right-wing suspects, though ALEC, the Koch brothers, and other right-wing benefactors do show up frequently. Bill Gates and the Bill Gates Foundation are also complicit as well as other “liberal” foundations.
Why do the ultra-wealthy do this? Freeman details many of the reasons in his chapters on mass incarceration and immigration. He notes that promoting and preserving systemic racism gives the ultra-wealthy preferential treatment and protects their privilege. It also helps them exert control, suppress democratic action, and prevent the masses from building solidarity across racial and class lines.
The bottom line, however, is really that it makes them more money, and as long as perpetuating racism makes them even richer, they’ll do what they can to ensure racism continues unchecked. Not only that, but they’ll turn a blind eye to the human suffering their support of racism causes.
How unfair and unethical for these people to have this much money and yet refuse to use it to help people. And what does democracy mean if the ultra-wealthy can undo or suppress any democratic action or decision with their immense wealth. The word evil came to mind frequently as I read the book.
It also made me a little sick to think of all the important grassroots work being done to combat racism while the ultra-wealthy are busy spending money to slow, stall, or outright undo any progress on these fronts. It’s unfair and unjust. But as Freeman observes, “When the relentless pursuit of profits is allowed to take priority over people and the planet, the ultra-wealthy benefit.” And because they benefit, they care little about the human misery that’s left in their wake.