New Project Connects History of Racial and Economic Oppression with Vision for System Change

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New Project Connects History of Racial and Economic Oppression with Vision for System Change

From Slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, video addresses economic roots of dehumanization

"African-Americans, going back to before the civil war and the earliest African-American spokespersons and writers and leaders like Frederick Douglass and others argued that the fundamental feature of the American economy was dehumanization," said MIT Professor Phil Thompson. (Image: Screenshot/Youtube/NextSystemProject)

"African-Americans, going back to before the civil war and the earliest African-American spokespersons and writers and leaders like Frederick Douglass and others argued that the fundamental feature of the American economy was dehumanization," said MIT Professor Phil Thompson. (Image: Screenshot/Youtube/NextSystemProject)

From slavery to Jim Crow to the modern era of mass incarceration, racism and economic dehumanization in America have long been intertwined, argues MIT Professor Phil Thompson in a stunning new short video.

The release is the latest installment of The Next System Project, which describes itself as "an ambitious multi-year initiative aimed at thinking boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic challenges the United States faces now and in coming decades." Co-chaired by scholars Gar Alperovitz and Gus Speth, the project takes on issues from climate crisis to poverty to respond to what they illustrate as widespread "hunger for a new way forward."

Alperovitz and Speth wrote that the initiative tackles "important questions that would need to be addressed in any comprehensive proposal for a next system." For example: "How can we account systematically for the need to undo the legacy of harm inflicted historically on communities of color? What are the specific systemic drivers of racialized mass incarceration, and how can these be dismantled?" 

As this latest video shows, racism and economic exploitation—and the way those dynamics have operated throughout U.S. history—are a critical part of the equation.

"African-Americans, going back to before the civil war and the earliest African-American spokespersons and writers and leaders like Frederick Douglass and others argued that the fundamental feature of the American economy was dehumanization," as Professor Thompson explains in the video. "And they also argued you can't have a democratic institution and an economic system that degrades and exploits people."

Praising the new release, actor and director Danny Glover said: "The sad reality is that America became an economic powerhouse through the dehumanization and exploitation of a cheap labor force (slavery, migrant workers, mass incarceration). We must know our history in order to create a better system!"

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