Professor Noam Chomsky said it would be “no small trick” for the Ferguson protests to turn into an anti-racism and social justice movement, considering America’s founding principles are slavery and the extermination of the indigenous population. In a sweeping interview covering everything from Iraq and Syria to China, capitalism, and the protests in Ferguson, MIT linguistics professor Chomsky told GRITtv’s Laura Flanders that events in Ferguson and the protests that have followed show how little race relations in the United States have advanced since the end of the Civil War.
“This is a very racist society,” Chomsky said. “It’s pretty shocking. What’s happened to African-Americans in the last 30 years is similar to what Baptist (Edward E. Baptist in The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and The Making of American Capitalism) describes happening in the late 19th Century.” Chomsky said constitutional amendments were supposed to free African-American slaves, which they did for about ten years. Then, he said, a North-South compact granted former slave-owning states the right to do whatever they wanted. “And what they did was criminalize black life, and that created a kind of slave force,” said Chomsky. “It threw mostly black males into jail, where they became a perfect labor force, much better than slaves.”
Chomsky explained that as a slave owner, the concern was keeping the “capital” alive. When the states were able to exert greater control over black lives, it became their responsibility to handle strikes and disobedience. Since African-Americans couldn’t effectively fight back against this increased state control, Chomsky said it led to a subjugated labor force. He said that was the backbone to the American Industrial Revolution in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and it didn’t end until World War II. “After that,” Chomsky told Flanders, “African-Americans had about two decades in which they had a shot of entering [American] society. A black worker could get a job in an auto plant, as the unions were still functioning, and he could buy a small house and send his kid to college. But by the 1970s and 1980s it’s going back to the criminalization of black life.” Chomsky blamed the drug war, describing it as a racist war.
“Ronald Reagan was an extreme racist – didn’t hide it – but the whole so-called drug war is designed, from policing to eventual release from prison, to make it impossible for the black male community and, more and more, women, and more and more Hispanics to be part of [American] society,” he said. “In fact, if you look at American history, the first slaves came over in 1619, and that’s half a millennium. There have only been three or four decades in which African-Americans have had a limited degree of freedom – not entirely, but at least some.” Chomsky said there are some privileges for black elites, but not for the mass of the population. “They have been re-criminalized and turned into a slave labor force – that’s prison labor,” Chomsky concluded. “This is American history. To break out of that is no small trick.”