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Revisiting Wendell Berry's "Racism and the Economy" (1988)

In his 1988 essay, “Racism and the Economy,” Wendell Berry addresses these questions [of racial/economic inequality] directly with a clarity probably beyond the reach of the shared metropolitanism of Baldwin and Buckley. He begins by diagnosing the “contagion” of racism as a form of hubris or pride: “The root is in our inordinate desire to be superior – not to some inferior or subject people, though this desire leads to the subjection of people – but to our condition. We wish to rise above the sweat and bother of taking care of anything – of ourselves, of each other, or of our country” (47). This allows Berry to set racism against people of colour in the wider context of the exploitation of cheap labour. In essence, he agrees with Baldwin that the American Dream has been too often built through the sweat of others.

One of the ways we manifest this desire for superiority is in a hierarchy of labour. Many Americans enslaved Africans to do the kind of work they refused to do themselves, “what used to be known as ‘nigger work’—work that is fundamental and inescapable” (48). Berry argues that this impulse to force others to undertake menial work infects even those who push for greater racial equality and hence taints such aspirations. Berry writes,

The “success” of the black corporate executive, in fact, only reveals the shallowness, the jeopardy, and the falseness of the “success” of the white corporate executive…. It only assumes that American blacks will be made better or more useful or more secure by becoming as greedy, selfish, wasteful, and thoughtless as affluent American whites. The aims and standards of the oppressors become the aims and standards of the oppressed, and so our ills and evils survive our successive “liberations.” (49)

In short, the socio-economic order created by European expansionism and racism not only tilts systems and structures against people of colour, it also defines the goals towards which they strive. Though Berry does not explicitly make this connection, fundamentally western economies – and especially corporations – define the beata vita, the happy life, for everyone.

Read all of "Baldwin. Buckley, and Berry on Racism and the World Order" by Mark Clavier at Front Porch Republic.


Wendell Berry files suit to prevent removal of UK mural

The University of Kentucky should halt the removal of a controversial 1930s-era mural that has been at the center of years of race-related, on-campus debate, a national group against censorship and a contemporary Black artist said in a letter to the university.

The National Coalition Against Censorship and Karyn Olivier — the artist who created a 2018 piece meant to contextualize the mural — say that the university shouldn’t take down the Ann Rice O’Hanlon piece that depicts Black workers, possibly slaves, because the mural’s removal would mute Olivier’s accompanying piece “Witness.”

Additionally, a complaint has been filed by renowned Kentucky poet and novelist Wendell Berry and his wife, Tanya, in Franklin County Circuit Court against the University of Kentucky and UK President Eli Capilouto, according to an attorney in the case. The complaint includes a request for an injunction to halt the removal or damage of the O’Hanlon Mural or the “Witness” installation by Olivier.

Read all of "Wendell Berry lawsuit, Black artist try to protect University of Kentucky mural" by Rick Childress and Morgan Eads at Lexington Herald-Leader.

See also: "Removing an offensive mural from the University of Kentucky isn’t ‘racial justice’" by Karyn Olivier at The Washington Post.
 
 
See also: "Students’ Calls to Remove a Mural Were Answered. Now Comes a Lawsuit" by Julia Jacobs at The New York Times.