Friday, July 15, 2011

how to read like a red

If you want to read like a red, it should be easy: Look for clues about the way class affects what you're reading.

But, to my amazement, there are people who say they're socialists who think of class in capitalist relationships as an independent factor rather than an underlying one. I first noticed this about Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb, but I hadn't gotten a handle on it until I had a discussion with Nick Mamatas. I offered him a quote from Three Tremés by Adolph Reed Jr. that included this:
...blacks were displaced by the flood at only a slightly higher rate than whites. And it was poor people of every race who were disproportionately stranded on overpasses and at the Superdome or convention center and who have had greatest difficulty in returning to the city, restoring losses and reconstructing a normal life.
In reaction, Nick cited Race, socioeconomic status, and return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, an excellent analysis. Nick only quoted this: residents returned to the city at a much slower pace than white residents even after controlling for socioeconomic status and demographic characteristics.
Since he didn't mention the title of the article and only quoted a bit that was all about race, I asked, "what kind of leftie are you when you look at racial stats and ignore class stats?"

Then I went and read the article.

And found this in the very first paragraph:
...the racial disparity disappears after controlling for housing damage. We conclude that blacks tended to live in areas that experienced greater flooding and hence suffered more severe housing damage which, in turn, led to their delayed return to the city.
Why did Nick offer the description of the situation and ignore the analysis? When I quoted that to him, he said,
Why did blacks have homes and apartments with more damage? Two hints: 1. I already explained why and 2. it's also in the article.

Or shorter: segregation. Remember that word from when you were a kid? Blacks were in largely segregated neighborhoods with poor housing stock and in lowlands.
I answered,
Are you the worst leftie ever?

Yes, poverty is disproportional because of the US's history of racism. If you want to make poverty proportional, congratulations, you're no different than most capitalists.

Now, if you want to end the class system, you gotta look a bit more analytically at class.
Nick came back with:
...blacks were treated differently by the political economy of the city--differently and worse than even whites of the same income levels, educational attainment, etc.--their outcomes were worse. Worse even than whites who were just as poor as they.

Reed doesn't tangle with that. In fact, he ignores it.
Earlier, we had mentioned Reed's other New Orleans article, New Orleans - Undone by Neoliberalism. So I said,
Bullshit. Poor whites were in the exact same shit. From Reed's earlier article: "A critique that focuses just on race misses how the deeper structures of neoliberal practice and ideology underlie the travesty in New Orleans, as well as in the other devastated areas of the Gulf Coast. (Adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard Parish, nearly 90 percent white, working class and reliably Republican, was virtually wiped off the face of the earth. Most of the parish's housing was destroyed. No hospitals or public libraries have reopened, and only 20 percent of its schools are operating.)"
I'm grateful to Nick for this part of our exchange. I may write someday about what I saw then: What you believe limits what you can grasp. Identitarians get so hung up on the ways things became what they are that they can't see that what matters most is how they are now. In the US, poor folks of all hues were shafted for different reasons, but they were still all shafted. The solution for all of them is what socialists have wanted since long before Marx and Engels: better schools, better health care, the opportunity for everyone to have a safe job under good conditions, and, most importantly of all, a fair share of the world's wealth.