Could populist crusader Jim Hightower be a racist? Well, it depends on what that word means. I’m using it here a bit generically, so that “race” is a category that some individual person or thing belongs to and “racism” means attributing characteristics to the individuals in a category as a whole.
Given that expansive definition, I’ll assert that Hightower and Phillip Frazer said something racist in the June 2010 issue of their newsletter, “Hightower Lowdown”. They wrote, “Cooperatives … are democratic entities in which decisions are not handed down from the top, but made by the members. As opposed to aloof, absentee, autocratic corporate owners who extract wealth from communities, coops are of, by, and for the community ….”1
What we have here is a statement assigning good and bad properties to entities denoted with “bare plurals”. Speakers of English, in my experience, most commonly interpret such statements as universal generalizations. Statements such as “cooperatives are democratic”, “lawyers are dishonest”, “Norwegians are peace-loving”, and “Jews are stingy” are all racist statements by my definition. Keener observers than I have made that point before.
Statements containing references like “autocratic corporate owners” are formally different, but in them the adjectives are often interpreted as preposed appositives, not as restrictive modifiers, so they get unpacked perceptually as “corporate owners, who, by the way, as we know, are all autocratic”. Knowing that perceptual tendency, a nonracist writer would avoid such constructions.
Jim, you can begin to undo your racism here by adding “most” to your assertion and providing some empirical evidence for it.
Roberto Michels in his classic Political Parties investigated the claim that populistically based organizations are democratic. He concluded from his observations of labor unions and socialist parties that oligarchy emerges and persists in all kinds of organizations, even those nominally dedicated to democratic governance. His work would lead one to predict that a careful inspection of cooperatives will find most of them democratic in name only. I’m familiar with one cooperative whose members mostly appreciate the secretive and high-handed ruling style of its elected officials. When a member demands that freedom-of-information and open-meeting regulations be complied with, other members call him a wrecker.
If I wanted a more egalitarian world (which I do), I wouldn’t be optimistic about getting it after reading such racist rhetoric. It only encourages gullible trust of, and therefore subservience to, oligarchies masquerading as self-governing collectives.
1Thanks to S.M. Colowick for pointing this statement out.