Charisse Burden-Stelly, Black Scare/Red Scare: Theorizing Capitalist Racism in the United States – University of Chicago Press, November 2023
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.