Since the 19th century, the world has been shaped by oscillations between periods of immense economic growth, tumultuous recessions, and exploitation in between. Racialization is the process by which a non-racial situation adopts racial attributes (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). As these misconceptions develop over time, they get assimilated into everyday life, conversation, and ergo, racialization becomes the process by which stereotypes are formed. Gender-based division of labor is how roles are assigned to individuals based on their sex at birth. From ancient societies and significant religions, every community that has ever existed has felt the need to define roles of men and women based on the biological differences and perceived capacity gaps between the two genders (Delgado and Williams 2011).
Keywords: gender, racism, exploitation
SLAVERY: BEGINNINGS OF RACISM
In the recent past, the rise and development of white supremacy led to colonialism, slavery, or both. White supremacy birthed racism, and with it, a massive offset in the pre-established gender roles for both whites and people of color. It comes as no surprise then that the global division of labor is a process that is influenced by the hybridization of both racist biases and gender roles.
Africans first arrived in America between the 17th and the beginning of the 19th century and were sent to work in American tobacco, cotton, and sugarcane plantations (Desmond 2019). They experienced the most deplorable conditions and were forced to do the hardest of jobs. They received cruel punishment for failure or not being able to meet quotas. The rise of cotton as a significant economic export for the United States made their stay even worse. They had to work harder because, before the great recession, demand for cotton in the world was simply higher than demand. Men and women were treated equally in terms of their roles on the farms. All were expected to deliver on their quotas without failure or face extreme punishment. Punishment was cruel, and for women, it also involved sexual harassment (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). At some point, on top of being forced to work on farms, women were used as domestic servants, taking care of the white man’s household, cooking, cleaning, and intermittently, sex. If they had children to their masters, these children carried their mother’s race according to the one-drop rule. The children were seen as slaves and thus created an additional role for women as breeders. During this time, while the white man dominated in the fields; managing accounts, assigning jobs, ensuring quotas were being met, negotiating loans with banks, punishing the slaves, the white woman was left at home to tend to virtually nothing except reading and going to the parlor. She was not allowed to go into the farm, as it was feared she would probably meet the wrath of the black slaves or some other “grave misfortune” like seeing the black man shirtless, urinating, or taking a bath. A white woman was supposed to carry herself with class, and over time, she began being viewed as a frail and delicate person (Delgado and Williams 2011).
INDUSTRIALIZATION AND CAPITALISM
Eventually, slave trading was abolished, followed by slavery, but racism persisted, with the complex jobs being set aside for people of color. Years of hardship had taught the black race and other people of color that things could indeed get worse. So with the onset of industrialization, people of color accepted the most demanding jobs with the least wages. Business owners continued to reap the benefits of racism in a way that would be hardened and perfected over time with capitalist approaches to economics and wealth creation. This would later be termed wage slavery and is defined as poor working conditions and meager pay. Most people of color became wage slaves, legally free but economically capped. Of course, this did not come without consequences to the western world. Every time a person of color accepted a job with a substandard wage, the value of that job decreased. Therefore, a white man could no longer be viable for employment in the same role because their wage demands were higher than that of a man of color. Thus, the white man’s economic survival was dangerously pegged on their ability to secure better jobs such as managerial posts, and if not, form unions that made sure that their wages were higher. This, in its own right, made no economic sense to capitalists because the goal of a business is to minimize expenditure and maximize profits. In a bid to find cheap labor for the expanding market, industries set up subsidiaries in the global south and east. They opened up factories, which started supplying thousands of units to the worldwide market at almost ten times less the wage cost in the western world (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008).
The countries in the global east and south, grappling with harsh economic conditions and high unemployment rates, appreciated any form of foreign investment even at the expense of their citizens’ fundamental human rights. At the same, western industries and transnational corporations were convinced that they were doing the small economies a favor by opening these factories. This dynamic exemplifies the two main features of the racialization of labor; one group had no basic human rights, and the other perceived their lives as less critical (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008).
In the global east, India and China are classic examples of people being exploited by transnational corporations. It was estimated that 60% of companies listed in the Forbes 500 enlisted remote IT services from India. The Indians were paid a tenth of what ordinary white graduates would be paid for those services, that in addition to being robbed of their own culture and identity by having to use white pseudonyms to appeal to western clients. In China, several companies opened factories due to the availability of cheap labor (Mukhopadhyay n.d.).
In the global south, gendered racialization became so intensified that most of these factories would specifically employ women over men. A study conducted showed that most employers’ ideal factory worker was a young teenage woman because they had “nimble fingers, good hand-eye coordination and the ability to receive a repetitive task patiently” and the men could not (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). These women are also more susceptible to emigrate from their countries into America. In America, the illegal status of entry disqualifies them from fair treatment and equality of wage. They take up jobs such as childcare workers, domestic caregivers, and janitors (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). Women in the global south were viewed as highly exploitable because they were perceived as controllable, dependent, and submissive. The preference for women undermined the traditional roles of men as providers, which caused them to record higher levels of depression and suicide rates compared to their white male counterparts.
In conclusion, the racial and gendered division of labor persists to this day by exploiting third-world economies by transnational corporations, which is fueled by the racist undertones of white supremacy.
Brewer, Rose M., and Nancy A. Heitzeg. 2008. “The Racialization Of.” American Behavioralist Scientist 51(5):625–44.
Delgado, Richard, and Joan Williams. 2011. “Race , Sex , and the Division of Labor : A Comment on Joan Williams ’ s Reshaping the Work-Family Debate.” 34:35–40.
Desmond, Matthew. 2019. “Episode 2: The Economy That Slavery Built – The New York Times.” Retrieved April 17, 2021 (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/podcasts/1619-slavery-cotton-capitalism.html?showTranscript=1).
Mukhopadhyay, Baijayanta. n.d. “The Work , Family , and Equity Index Setting the Global Floor : A Comparative Study of Labour Standards in India And.”