The “Market for Racism”

The following is a graphical illustration based on economic principles that illustrates how social sentiments around racism develop and change. The tools we will use for this purpose are similar in nature to those of standard economic supply-and-demand analysis — thus, the “market for racism”. This framework is not exact, nor does it necessarily apply in all circumstances or situations. However, it has broad application as an illustrative and pedagogical tool in understanding the ways in which cultural attitudes and feelings can change over time.

First, we have to define the two variables that serve as the bedrock of our analysis. The first is the Demand for the Cessation of Racist Actions. It has a downward slope and can be drawn like so:

The Demand for the Cessation of Racist Actions can be seen as the public demand at any given time for those actions in society that they perceive as being racist to stop or otherwise be prevented. As this demand increases, the outcry for these actions to be halted increases, and vice versa. The ways in which this demand can manifest itself can — and historically have been — quite varied. They may include open protests, introduction of anti-racist legislation, or quiet and private activism.

To help better contextualize this first variable, let’s define our second variable, the Supply of Racist Actions. It has an upward slope and can be drawn as such:

The Supply of Racist Actions is the total amount of actions being taken at any given time that are perceived by the general population as being racist. These can include a wide spectrum of actions, from the more extreme, such as lynching, or relatively minor, such as individuals making disparaging comments on the basis of race.

Given that the Supply curve is upward sloping and our Demand curve is downward sloping, as shown above, the two will have an intersection point. The intersection point of these two determines the social zeitgeist around racism at any particular time. The way in which we can describe this social zeitgeist is through the axis of the graph. The first of these is the X-axis, which we will label the Consciousness of Racial Problems.

The Consciousness of Racial Problems corresponds to the degree to which the general population is aware of and concerned with racist actions in society. As we move further along this axis, the population is more cognizant of the racist actions in society, and vice versa.

The Y-axis we will label the Level of Racial Equity:

The Level of Racial Equity is the degree to which racist actions are absent from society. The further along we move on this axis, the lower the number of racist actions and greater the level of equity between races and vice versa.

In order to understand more fully how all of these pieces fit together, let’s examine some instances of shifts in the demand and supply curves and the results that they have. The most intuitive of these is an increase in the supply of racist actions, as illustrated by the graph below.

We can see here a shift in the supply curve outwards, indicating that the number of racist actions in society has increased. The result of this is the new intersection “social zeitgeist” point is located lower on the Y-axis and higher on the X-axis. This corresponds, first, to a lower Level of Racial Equity, and secondly, to an increase in the Consciousness of Racial Problems. These results make sense, given that an increase in racist actions would lead both to a society where there is a greater disparity between the treatment of different races and if the number of racist actions increase while demand for these actions to stop remains the same, people will generally be more aware of the racist actions taking place around them.

Let’s examine a second case, a decrease in the demand for the cessation of racist actions:

Above we can see a shift inwards of the demand curve, indicating that people have relatively lower desires to see racist actions ended in society. The resulting intersection point with the supply curve indicates a lower level of racial equity and a lower level of the consciousness of racial problems. If people as a whole no longer cared as fervently to eliminate racism from society, then we would expect to see racist actions increase as a result. Similarly, people would less aware of these actions as well, given that their desire to see those actions ended has been dampened.

We can use this graphical tool to illustrate hypothetical changes in the way that society views racism, but we can also use it to illustrate real world events in the past and present. The first of these that we will examine is the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the 1960s United States:

During the Civil Rights Movement, there was a great increase in the demand for racist actions to be ended. The racist actions in particular that they were concerned with were southern Jim Crow laws, segregation of schools, etc. The result of this movement was the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the achievement of a greater level of racial equity for Black Americans. We can see this playing out graphically as well. The increase in the demand curve causes the intersection point to shift so that it corresponds to a greater consciousness of racial problems and greater level of society equity, both of which occurred during and as a result of the Civil Rights Movement.

For the succeeding decades after the 1960s, racism in the United States steadily declined, by most measurable metrics. This of course does not mean that racism no longer existed, but that it lessened compared to era before the Civil Rights Movement. We can see this decline illustrated below as well:

The result of the lower supply curve is the there is a greater level of social equity and a lower corresponding consciousness of racial problems. In other words, as racism has decreased in the United States over the course of the last 50 years, racial equity has increased and people are generally less concerned with racism than they used to be in previous times.

This decline was a steady occurrence until around the early-to-mid 2010s when a new style of thinking about racism came into vogue. It has been given many different names, such as “Wokism”, Race-Essentialism, and so forth. However, we will refer to it as Critical Theory Informed Racism. This new paradigm of thinking about race relations borrowed heavily from the critical theory traditional and post-modernist thinkers, viewing racism no longer as actions and feelings from individuals, but as imbedded in power structures that perpetuate racist outcomes. As a result, racism is no longer about individual actions, but about the larger social systems that they live within.

One of the most visible results from this paradigm shift motivated by Critical Theory Informed Racism is that the definition for what qualifies as a racist action was greater expanded. One way to demonstrate this is the “Is ___ Racist” game. The way in which this game works is that you type into Google the words: “Is ___ Racist” (or alternatively in statement form “___ is racist”). You may put into the blank space whatever it is that you can think of. A noun, verb, adjective, or adverb — whatever it is that your mind can think of. Almost invariably, one or more results will show with an article, paper, or book explaining why whatever it is that you had filled the blank with is racist or associated with racism in some way.

In order to graph how the advent of Critical Theory Informed Racism has played out in recent years, we have to first illustrate an additional concept: the Limit of Racial Equity. At any given time, there is a realistic limit to the degree to which racist actions can be extricated from a society. As unfortunate as it may be, there will always be some base level of racist actions in society, just as there is an inescapable level of murder, theft, etc. As a result, there is a limit on the achievable degree of racial equity, which can be illustrate like so:

The practical consequences of this limit are that regardless of the changes in the supply and demand curves, we cannot achieve a higher level of racial equity than the “ceiling” that exists. As a result of the cultural shift that accompanied Critical Theory Informed Racism, there has been a great increase in the demand to see racist actions ended. We can illustrate that, along with the Limit of Racial Equity, like so:

We can see that there has been a shift outwards in the demand curve, indicating a stronger desire to see racist actions stopped, which has resulted in a higher level of consciousness of racial problems. However, because of the limit of racial activism, the level of racial equity can only increase so much. The result is that the new intersection point is above this line, meaning that there is a relative disparity between the demand and supply curves. The demand for racist actions to be ended outweighs at this point than the supply of racist actions that exist. In other words, there is a “shortage” of racism that exists.

This leads to a very unique sociological situation. In a normal economic analysis, when we have a price ceiling on markets, the result is a shortage of goods where there are too many buyers chasing too few sellers. However, in a cultural setting such as this, there are no goods being exchanged, only sentiments and beliefs that are held. Thus, the actual components of these beliefs can also be subject to change. In a cultural setting, even if we have a shortage, we can still solve it through changing the nature of the subject in question. The way in which this change has manifested itself over the last decade is through expanding the definition of racism. Because the disparity between demand and supply exists, in order to bring about a “social equilibrium”, the definition of racism was expanded in compensate for this shortage. The visible results of this are things like the “Is ___ Racist” game.

We should state again that this model is not a perfect representation of how cultural dynamics and changes operate. Indeed, there is no model of any sort that could accurately represent all of the nuances that human society inherently possesses. However, as stated above, it can give us a tool to understand the broad strokes of how these factors change and shift over time.

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