Sunday, December 5, 2010

Neoliberalism: Diversity and Inequality

Neoliberalism: Diversity and Inequality by Walter Benn Michaels has several nice bits, including this:
Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther movement in 1966, warned his comrades: “Those who want to obscure the struggle with ethnic differences are the ones who are aiding and maintaining the exploitation of the masses of the people: poor whites, poor blacks, browns, red Indians, poor Chinese and Japanese... We do not fight exploitative capitalism with black capitalism. We fight capitalism with basic socialism.” Now, with the rise of Obama, we still don’t fight capitalism with black capitalism, we try to save capitalism with black capitalism.

Not content with pretending that our real problem is cultural difference rather than economic difference, we have even begun to treat economic difference as though it were a form of cultural difference. What is expected of the upper middle class today is that we show ourselves to be more respectful of the poor, and that we stop acting as if things like our superior educations really make us superior.

And once we succeed in convincing ourselves that the poor are people who need our respect more than they need our money, our own attitude towards them becomes the problem to be solved, and not their poverty. We can now devote our reforms not to removing class but to eliminating what we Americans call “classism.” The trick is to analyse inequality as a consequence of our prejudices rather than of our social system, and thus replace the pain of giving up some of our money with the comparative pleasure of giving up (along with our classism) our racism, sexism, and homophobia.