Inclusive Approach Reflecting an Inclusive World

Inclusive Approach Reflecting a More Inclusive World

Kwame Anthony Appiah resurrects the question aptly and ironically raised by Rodney King after race riots in Los Angeles nearly thirty years ago, “People, why can’t we all just get along?” In our efforts to do that in which Mr. King alludes, we have tried studying class, gender, and race; and, indeed, in the past three decades since Mr. King posed the poignant question, there has been a wide expanse in research, literature, and popular attention to class, gender, and race (Appiah). However, we must not just embark upon our journey of understanding these social constructs in a separatist fashion or in a manner that focuses solely upon the content of each construct. A thorough understanding of these constructs necessarily involves exploring class, gender, and race according to their contexts, or, in more specific words, according to the time and place in which these constructs have been lived within society and our shared histories. In particular, in examining the histories of race, gender, and class within societies amongst societies, colonialist and post-colonialist work should not isolate these theories from the overlying social, economic, and political forces that come with imperialism. To do so, would deny the complexity of society and the histories of the persons living within said societies. We, as human beings, do not operate in isolated substrands of class or of gender or of race. Accordingly, in order to understand each other better, we cannot extrapolate notions of imperialism from race, gender, and class when looking back at colonialism and its impact upon individual nation-states, cultures, and identities.

Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto published in 1848, sets forth the view that the histories of human beings amounts essentially to a struggle between the haves and the have-nots or, in other words, the property holders (the bourgeois) and the labor force (the proletariat). According to Marx, the reason people were not “getting along” in Europe was directly related to the class structure at that time. In the economic system of capitalism, the proletariat class was exploited to the benefit of the further accumulation of wealth for the land-holding bourgeois elite. In 1847, Marx was asked by the Communist party to write down his philosophies in order to set forth an ideological basis from which the party could forge. Consequently, the Communist Manifesto came into being detailing the foregoing ideology that postulates that history is controlled and social structure is controlled by the struggle between two classes. In order to eliminate the inequities in society, the proletariat must revolt and replace the economic system of capitalism with socialism in order to re-allocate the division of wealth amongst all people (Marx 1063).

Critics of Marx’s unilaterally focused ideology might ask questions which expand notions of equality outside the realm of class and labor. Specifically, a more holistic set of questions might incorporate an analysis of gender and race along with class. Namely, how can mere redistribution of land in and of itself remedy deeply engrained inequities within society that had predominated for centuries? In particular, what about women who had been relegated to the domestic sphere for centuries? What about slaves who had been uprooted from their tribes and families and used as cheap labor and, thus, relegated to the social status of second-class citizen (if even that) in Europe? Indeed, more than just class inequity have postulated that Marx’s view is shortsighted at best because a redistribution of wealth does not necessarily take into consideration the need to also level the field in the domains of gender as well as race.

Indeed, such criticism is well taken, however if we do that which these critics would have us do (e.g., analyze class, gender, and race in the context of the time), then Marx is not the near-sighted idealist that some would like to make him out to be. In fact, in a letter to a German newspaper at the time of the publication of the Manifesto, he notes that his Communist Manifesto was not intended to cure all of societies ills. Moreover, in examining the context in which he wrote the Manifesto, the bitter feuds within Europe were, indeed, precipitated by economic forces that lead to extreme wealth at the expense of the working class who could not even afford basic necessities of life such as bread and clean water. Thus, if we examine Marx’s manifesto as a product of his time an his place and to the realm in which he wrote, economics, then his words continue to have import and are not shortsighted. While his study could be and later would be expanded into the realms of feminism and class, they are when examined as a historical document a truly direct representation of the economic underpinnings of the social and political conflict of his era.

In the century following Marx’s Manifesto, feminist scholars such as Alice-Kessler-Herris author of “Social History” and Joan W. Scott author of “Gender: A Useful Category of Historiographical Analyses,” linked the history of women and gender to previous areas of society which has predominantly been studied and analyzed excluding the perspective and experiences of women. In “Social History” by Kessler-Herris, she notes that beginning in the 1960’s the study of history had seemed to reach a point where the voices of the excluded began to be examined and history included the social structures within it, thereby moving beyond a recollection of what it was like in “his” world and moving into an analysis of the social structures that coincided and intersected to create the reality of a particular time and place (Kessler-Herris within Foner 231-232). Furthermore, in Joan W. Scott’s work, she asserts that while we have been moving in the right direction by trying to incorporate gender into a study of class systems, the approaches have not served to provide a clear picture of gender, class, and history. To Scott, a more inclusive approach should recognize gender as a critical component of social relationships based upon perceived notions of sex differences and, moreover, gender is a primary way of organizing power relationships (Scott 1067).

Women are not the only group that has been excluded from historical thought and analysis. In fact, as note by Kwame Anthony Appiah in his series of essays including “In My Father’s House,” the real history of Africa has all too often been misconstrued and misunderstood. In fact, he notes that this is not necessarily surprising given that primarily the history of Africa was not even written in the tongue of the Africans

themselves but in the tongues of the imperialist nations whom dominated Africa during colonialism (Appiah 3). In his writing, Appiah demonstrates the need to not allow notions of ethnocentric theories and writings to define what “race” means to the African by using the specific examples of Africans, such as his father, whom experienced different notions of “race” depending upon whether or not they were enslaved in the America’s or in Europe. As summarized by Richard Fraser, the class problem of slavery became complicated and confused by the race question. The slaves, besides being an exploited social class, became, in the perverted thinking of the dominant society, an inferior race as well (Frasier 14). Specifically, when some slaves returned home to Africa, he explains how one’s place and time define what race means. To the enslaved African in America who was mistreated and abused by the slave owner in a land where color was used to create separate and distinct classes, race became a means of division with extremely negative connotations of abuse of power. However, to the African who perhaps worked in Europe as a servant and married a European, his notion of race will not encompass such a bitter and hostile conception of the term. Accordingly, two men from the same tribe in Africa might return to that tribe and, as a result of their different histories with regard to what “race” means within a particular society may come to completely different denotations as well as connotations of the same term (Appiah 6-7).

It makes sense that the advanced and more inclusive study of a history of a group of disenfranchised individuals, such as women and/or men and women of color, would occur simultaneously with the rise in providing them a voice within their modern place in society. The fact that these individuals have not been traditionally explored within the realm of class, society, and politics does not mean that they are not a part of our History. Rather, it is a reflection of the historical underpinnings of our societies as traditionally relegating women and people of color to a realm of silence in a lesser role of the other or the inferior class. On a positive note, the fact that researchers and scholars are devoting time, effort, and resources into re-examining our histories reveals that we are moving toward a more inclusive world.

Works Cited

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. In My Father’s Eyes. New York: Oxford University Press,


Foner, Eric. The New American History. Temple University Press.

Marx, Karl. Capital, the Communist Manifesto and Other Writings. Ed. Max Eastman.

New York: Modern Library, 1959. Questia. Web. 12 May 2010.

Marx, Karl. Letters to Dr. Kugelmann. New York: International Publishers, 1934.

Questia. Web. 12 May 2010.

Scott, Joan W. Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis. 12 May 2010.

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