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Capitalism and Racial Reconciliation

We recognize that our use of the phrase ‘plantation system economics’ to underscore the universality of exploitation evokes America’s painful race relations history, and that race relations in America remain sorely in need of a partnership approach. Especially during 2020 that pain was renewed and on display in events across our country. From peaceful protests to violent riots to racially tinged immigration policies to Native American neglect to heated BlackLivesMatter debates to race-based COVID-19 fearmongering, the giant soul of our nation was clearly agitated.

In our view, the pain we all experience in regard to race is tied to the economic disparity of plantation systems—not just literal plantations in the early American South but also far more widespread and still ongoing practices of exploiting rather than partnering. Until the related issue of economic exploitation is substantially addressed, our nation will not be able to overcome the racial infighting we all regularly witness play out from sea to shining sea. While the focus of our book Better Capitalism and our platform is on economic matters, this focus and work is with the hopeful expectation that value is also added to interrelated areas of need, including race relations.

Photo Credit: Desmond Tutu Peace Lab at Butler University |

In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu shares his insights from the fight to overthrow apartheid in South Africa (the epitome of plantation system economics) and his work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the last chapter of Forgiveness he makes an observation about the fragility of reconciliation. We point to his insight because it’s critically informative about how America must adapt if we are to reconcile our race relations. Tutu writes:

In South Africa the whole process of reconciliation has been placed in very considerable jeopardy by the enormous disparities between the rich, mainly the whites, and the poor, mainly the blacks. The huge gap between the haves and the have-nots, which was largely created and maintained by racism and apartheid, poses the greatest threat to reconciliation and stability in our country. The rich provided the class from which the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of apartheid came and the poor produced the bulk of the victims. This is why I have exhorted whites to support transformation taking place in the lot of blacks.

For unless houses replace the hovels and shacks in which most blacks live, unless blacks gain access to clean water, electricity, affordable health care, decent education, good jobs, and a safe environment—things which the vast majority of whites have taken for granted for so long—we can just as well kiss reconciliation goodbye.

(Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness. Doubleday, 1999, 273-74)

Archbishop Tutu plainly and pointedly speaks to better economics as a necessary precondition of successful reconciliation, which we seek to address with a constructive Partnership Economic Ethic.

Race relations are also valuable to keep in view as we consider Partnership Economics because they provide examples of positive change being possible even in the face of powerful, seemingly impossible opposition. As with race, simply wanting things to be better economically doesn’t make them better. A better way must be conceptualized and implemented. Tutu’s work in South Africa, and in the United States that of Martin Luther King Jr., have demonstrated that even deeply entrenched social problems can be changed for the better. And part of the change that King envisioned, or famously had “a dream” for, was economic. That dream remains collectively ours to materialize!

What would it look like for your organization to make meaningful strides around economic and racial reconciliation among its members? We invite you to contact us to learn how we can help make that kind of partnership ethic and culture change in your organization.

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