Yesterday, an article in the Wall Street Journal featured a conversation about investment strategies surrounding bitcoin. This digital currency has gained popularity and “market value” over recent years, but this form of money is just as much of an abstraction as its material form. To exchange this currency is, in one way or another, to participate in a fantasy.
The social construct of currency has been one of the primary drivers of creating some of the worse forms of hierarchy in society. Money itself as an idea has no negative connotation to it; it is the social constructions that accompany it that creates versions of systems that manipulate group differences in the search for Capital. The two systems of social construction include Race and Class.
To say that race is a social construct is one thing, but to specify that one of the main benefits of its creation was the accumulation of wealth in America is another. This search for “constructed” Capital began during the 17th century, with the formation of chattel slavery. The New York Times 1619 project documents this history quite well in an excerpt, “Slavery was undeniably a font of phenomenal wealth. By the eve of the Civil War, the Mississippi Valley was home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the United States. Cotton grown and picked by enslaved workers was the nation’s most valuable export. The combined value of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation,” (Desmond, 2019). What has to be said, was that the use of this brutality came with the creation of a “colored” race. With this accumulation of Capital, came the construction of a racial caste system in the form of slavery and eventually Jim Crow. What slavery created in American is essentially America itself. The endless supply of both land and labor turned the adolescent nation into a super nation of riches.
Interestingly, the social construction of race has the ability to mold itself to whatever majority group it more closely resembles. This is apparent in the divide during the slave era of “light skin” slaves and “dark skinned” slaves. The light skinned slaves were usually reserved for labor in the house and were sometimes treated better than the darker skin slaves spending hours in the fields. This manipulation of color showed that the colorization of those in the outgroup had mixed with their labor search for capital. Obviously, the start of slavery was at its heart a deeply racist agenda, but as the slave owners saw the lighter hue in certain slaves at the auction block, the assumptions were that those were better than the darker skinned ones. This further manipulation of the racial construct continued to lead to disparity, even within the own outgroup as skin color has been a tool of color separation in the black community for decades.
The accumulation of this wealth in one particular ingroup eventually lead to the next social hierarchy system, Class. This structure began during the slave era but reinforced his hierarchal dominance during the Reconstruction era. This led to the formation of major industries, the first monopolies and the eventual creation of the world’s first billionaire (John Rockefeller). The search for constructed Capital has created long withstanding income inequality between the middle/working/impoverished classes and the wealthy 1%. Class conflict has continuously been waged against those less fortunate by the owing class, and the search for more and more hoarding of currency leads to many being disempowered. This disempowerment comes from many being seen as lazy or incompetent if those in the lower classes are not at least in the middle class, and you always want to strive to be wealthy in America, so this disempowerment comes from most in society as well. The poor themselves may be so used to seeing this type of manipulation so they begin to see themselves as unworthy. The formation of this capital enterprise created strict divisions related to both race and economic class, and at the same time, the increased production of this capital would not have been possible without these divisions.