Black Scare / Red Scare: Theorizing Capitalist Racism in the United States (Paperback)

Black Scare / Red Scare: Theorizing Capitalist Racism in the United States By Charisse Burden-Stelly Cover Image
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A radical explication of the ways anti-Black racial oppression has infused the US government’s anti-communist repression.
In the early twentieth century, two panics emerged in the United States. The Black Scare was rooted in white Americans’ fear of Black Nationalism and dread at what social, economic, and political equality of Black people might entail. The Red Scare, sparked by communist uprisings abroad and subversion at home, established anticapitalism as a force capable of infiltrating and disrupting the American order. In Black Scare / Red Scare, Charisse Burden-Stelly meticulously outlines the conjoined nature of these state-sanctioned panics, revealing how they unfolded together as the United States pursued capitalist domination. Antiradical repression, she shows, is inseparable from anti-Black oppression, and vice versa.
Beginning her account in 1917—the year of the Bolshevik Revolution, the East St. Louis Race Riot, and the Espionage Act—Burden-Stelly traces the long duration of these intertwined and mutually reinforcing phenomena. She theorizes two bases of the Black Scare / Red Scare: US Capitalist Racist Society, a racially hierarchical political economy built on exploitative labor relationships, and Wall Street Imperialism, the violent processes by which businesses and the US government structured domestic and foreign policies to consolidate capital and racial domination. In opposition, Radical Blackness embodied the government’s fear of both Black insurrection and Red instigation. The state’s actions and rhetoric therefore characterized Black anticapitalists as foreign, alien, and undesirable. This reactionary response led to an ideology that Burden-Stelly calls True Americanism, the belief that the best things about America were absolutely not Red and not Black, which were interchangeable threats.
Black Scare / Red Scare illuminates the anticommunist nature of the US and its governance, but also shines a light on a misunderstood tradition of struggle for Black liberation. Burden-Stelly highlights the Black anticapitalist organizers working within and alongside the international communist movement and analyzes the ways the Black Scare/Red Scare reverberates through ongoing suppression of Black radical activism today. Drawing on a range of administrative, legal, and archival sources, Burden-Stelly incorporates emancipatory ideas from several disciplines to uncover novel insights into Black political minorities and their legacy.

About the Author

Charisse Burden-Stelly is associate professor of African American studies at Wayne State University. She is the coauthor of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Life in American History and the coeditor of Organize, Fight, Win: Black Communist Women’s Political Writing and Reproducing Domination: On the Caribbean Postcolonial State, a collection of essays by Percy C. Hintzen.

Praise For…

“Burden-Stelly is not content with simply contributing to existing scholarship. She shakes things up. And Black Scare / Red Scare hits with volcanic force, sweeping away the prevailing tendency to underestimate the Black Marxist threat to racial capitalism and the embedded anti-Blackness driving state repression. Burden-Stelly details precisely how the ‘political economy of capitalist racism’ played a decisive role in the super-exploitation and subjugation of the Black working class, resulting in a protracted war on Black radical movements. A powerful, pathbreaking work that not only reorients the long history of anticommunism on Black liberation but moves the theory of racial capitalism to an entirely new level.”  
— Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“Burden-Stelly is one of our most brilliant radical thinkers and scholars. In Black Scare / Red Scare she recounts, reassesses, and reframes the historical relationship between white supremacy and anti-communism. In light of growing racist authoritarian movements today, the book could not be more timely. Powerful and powerfully relevant.” 
— Barbara Ransby, historian, activist, and author of the award-winning Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

“Engaging various disciplines including Black studies and political theory, Black Scare / Red Scare is a highly sophisticated and timely book. Beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution and ending with contemporary federal campaigns aimed at surveilling and quelling radical Black thought and activism, Burden-Stelly’s deeply researched study presents the long history of two overlapping panics: the Black Scare and Red Scare. A major contribution to the field of African American history, Burden-Stelly brilliantly illuminates how anti-Black and anticommunist sentiments unfolded as the United States pursued capitalist and global dominance. Black Scare / Red Scare is certain to transform our understanding of the origins of anti-Black radicalism and histories of Black activists’ collective fight for liberation and struggle against ‘US Capitalist Racist Society.’”
— LaShawn D. Harris, Michigan State University

“This book is truly one of a kind. The subject matter is timely, and its analysis could not be more original. Black Scare / Red Scare will spark widespread debate and continue to be read for many years to come.”
— Jonathan Fenderson, Washington University in St. Louis

Black Scare / Red Scare is a historical and theoretical tour de force. Burden-Stelly explains how the development of anti-Communism and the suppression of Black radicalism became intertwined central governing priorities that bolstered US capitalism from the First World War to the Cold War and beyond. The eventual construction by government officials of what Burden-Stelly calls ‘True Americanism’ legitimized business interests’ racialized profiteering by condemning its critics as radical alien outsiders. These trends reshaped all branches and levels of government. No previous book has analyzed the dizzying array of committees and organizations whose purpose was to quash democratic opponents to US capitalism: the FBI and its Dies Committee, paid informants and infiltrators, and the courts all dedicated untold resources to smashing threats to US racial hierarchy and the economic inequality it fostered. Black Scare / Red Scare ultimately reveals a countersubversive political tradition, developed over the past century, that connects to current attacks on ‘Black Identity Extremism’ and ‘wokeism’ as distractions from actual fascist developments in American society. All scholars and activists interested in antiracism and democracy in America need to engage with this pathbreaking book.”
— Erik Gellman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“With Black Scare / Red Scare, Burden-Stelly enters the pantheon of Black radical thinkers, past and present. Analyzing phenomena ranging from the structural location of Blackness to the resurgence of fascism, Black Scare / Red Scare demystifies the processes that subjugate Black lives and sustain economic domination. Do not miss this meticulous and uncompromising study.” 
— Vaughn Rasberry, Stanford University
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226830155
ISBN-10: 0226830152
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: November 14th, 2023
Pages: 352
Language: English