Saturday, September 15, 2012

Walter Benn Michaels on anti-racism and diversity

From The Trouble With Diversity:
We would much rather get rid of racism than get rid of poverty. And we would much rather celebrate cultural diversity than seek to establish economic equality. 
Indeed, diversity has become virtually a sacred concept in American life today. No one's really against it; people tend instead to differ only in their degrees of enthusiasm for it and their ingenuity in pursuing it.
From The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality:
There’s no reason why people with a certain set of genes ought to be reading a certain set of books and thinking of those books as part of their heritage, or why, when they read some other set of books, they should think of them as part of someone else’s heritage. There are just the things we learn and the things we don’t learn, the things we do and the things we don’t do.
From a pay-to-read site, The Chronicle of Higher Education:
The argument is that anti-racism today performs at least one of the same functions that racism used to — it gives us a vision of our society as organized racially instead of economically — while adding another function — it insists that racism is the great enemy to be overcome. But all the anti-racism in the world won't take any money away from the rich and won't give any of it to the poor. a time when class difference in the US is as high as it’s been in the last hundred years, we’re being urged not to talk about what we never talk about (the inequalities produced by capitalism) and to talk lots more about what we always talk about (the inequalities produced by racism). Why?
From What Matters:
In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4. And while this inequality is both raced and gendered, it’s less so than you might think. White people, for example, make up about 70 per cent of the US population, and 62 per cent of those in the bottom quintile. Progress in fighting racism hasn’t done them any good; it hasn’t even been designed to do them any good. More generally, even if we succeeded completely in eliminating the effects of racism and sexism, we would not thereby have made any progress towards economic equality. A society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.
The emphasis is mine; that's a statistic I plan to memorize.

From Identity Politics: A Zero-Sum Game:
About three quarters of the job losers in the current recession have been men, which means that the numbers of men and women in the workforce are now roughly equal. So, from the standpoint of gender equity, the recession has actually been a good thing. It's as if, unable to create more jobs for women, we'd hit upon the strategy of eliminating lots of the jobs for men—another victory for feminism and for anti-discrimination since, from the standpoint of anti-discrimination, the question of how many people are unemployed is completely irrelevant. What matters is only that, however many there are, their unemployment is properly proportioned.

This is, in part, a logical point: there's no contradiction between inequality of class and equality of race and gender. It is also, however, a political point.
although real progress in the direction of greater economic equality would be more beneficial to poor blacks and Hispanics than would complete economic parity with white people, the goal of economic parity with whites works a lot better for black and Hispanic elites. Indeed it works pretty well for white elites too: which would you rather do—welcome some women and minorities to your board of directors, or not have a board of directors at all?
From Neoliberalism: Diversity and Inequality:
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.
 From Let Them Eat Diversity:
Major social changes have taken place in the past 40 years with remarkable rapidity, but not any in any sense inimical to capitalism. people get more wealthy they tend to become less committed to the redistribution of wealth but there are lots of ways in which they become “more liberal”—with respect to gay rights, antiracism, with respect to all the so-called “social issues,” as long as these social issues are defined in such a way that they have nothing to do with decreasing the increased inequalities brought about by capitalism, which is to say, taking away rich liberals’ money.

...people in the Tea Party movement have a problem that is realer than “White male status anxiety,” ... my point isn’t really to deny the phenomenon of status anxiety, it’s just to point out the extraordinaire eagerness of American liberals to identify racism as the problem, so that anti-racism (rather than anti-capitalism) can be the solution. has been very comforting to discover over the past five or six years that there are plenty of people who have views similar to mine and who are actually better at expressing them.

...Victimization that does not take place through discrimination is invisible and that’s why it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of poor people in the country are White. After all, the country is about 70 percent White and if you look at the bottom quintile of income it’s about 61 percent White, so it’s an absolute majority.

...Today we’re living in a deeply anti-racist society ... officially committed to anti-racism ... which you can tell when Glenn Beck thinks it’s a good idea to couch his criticism of Obama by calling Obama a “racist.” It’s the killing word to say to anyone. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still racism, it means that there is an important sense in which anti-racism is absolutely the official ideology because no one can imagine themselves to be committed to racism. It’s become a kind of moral imperative rather than a political position, deployed by the Right as well as the Left.

...To be poor in America today, or to be anything but in the top 20 percent in America today, is to be victimized in important ways and in so far as we’re appreciating the characteristic products of victimization, we are not actually dealing with exploitation, but rather enshrining victimization, treating it as if it had value and therefore ought to be preserved. And that’s obviously reactionary.
Interviewer: Like the Richard Geres of the world viewing Tibetan poverty as a commendable stand against materialism.
WBM: Completely.

...You know you live in a world that loves neoliberalism when having some people of color who are rich is supposed to count as good news for all the people of color who are poor. The argument for Obama is he’s there, so I can be there too, but all the white male presidents we’ve had haven’t done much good for poor Whites, and in a country where there’s now declining social mobility (less than in Western Europe), it’s hard to take even the traditional solace in the fact that the empty claim that anyone can grow up to become President now includes Black people. None of this will make any difference unless we start thinking about the politically relevant question, eliminating the gap between the rich and the poor.