Saturday, October 22, 2011

racial democracy vs. social democracy

I just reread Adolph Reed's essay on the limits of anti-racism, and this struck me:
...what the political scientist Preston Smith calls “racial democracy” came gradually to replace social democracy as a political goal—the redress of grievances that could be construed as specifically racial took precedence over the redistribution of wealth, and an individualized psychology replaced notions of reworking the material sphere. This dynamic intensified with the combination of popular demobilization in black politics and emergence of the post-segregation black political class in the 1970s and 1980s.

We live under a regime now that is capable simultaneously of including black people and Latinos, even celebrating that inclusion as a fulfillment of democracy, while excluding poor people without a whimper of opposition. Of course, those most visible in the excluded class are disproportionately black and Latino, and that fact gives the lie to the celebration. Or does it really? From the standpoint of a neoliberal ideal of equality, in which classification by race, gender, sexual orientation or any other recognized ascriptive status (that is, status based on what one allegedly is rather than what one does) does not impose explicit, intrinsic or necessary limitations on one’s participation and aspirations in the society, this celebration of inclusion of blacks, Latinos and others is warranted.
Googling for more about Smith and racial democracy, I found this, from '“The House I Line In”: Race, Class, and African American Suburban Dreams in the Postwar United States' by Andrew Wiese:
By emphasizing their rights as citizens and their membership in a particular socioeconomic class, middle-class black suburbanites articulated a vision of racial identity that largely ignored or evaded class inequalities. Political scientist Preston Smith points out that most approached the problem of race with a class bias, defending a brand of “racial democracy” in which “affluent blacks should have access to the same housing as affluent whites. Likewise working-class and poor blacks would have the same quality of housing as working-class and poor whites.” Hence, open-housing advocates such as Carl Fuqua, the executive secretary of the Chicago NAACP, could argue that “the goal is to let a man live where he wants to live, if he can assume the proper responsibilities.” In Smith’s view, “embracing racial democracy meant black civic elites accepted class privileges and the distribution of social goods according to conventional political economy.”
On the list of reasons I love Occupy Wall Street: It's about social democracy. That troubles some people who are used to thinking in terms of racial democracy. It should.