Saturday, October 10, 2009

how liberals and socialists see race and class, plus MetaFilter

Note: This was going to be a short post focusing on MetaFilter. It, uh, grew.

I may return to MetaFilter when I finish a draft of the current book, and I'll definitely keep reading the front page, and I may lurk on a few discussions, because I like MeFites. They're generally smart, literate, snarky, and capable of great kindness and cruelty with astonishing speed. The stupidities of the world frustrate them enormously, and, because they tend to be liberals, they're sure that an ameliorated form of capitalism is the solution. Twenty years ago, I fit the demographic perfectly. That I don't fit perfectly now isn't a comment on them or me. For better or worse, I've become a red.

Perhaps the greatest difference between liberals and socialists is that liberals suffer from liberal guilt, and socialists don't. Liberals want to make the class system that benefits them more just, but at some level, they know that under any class system, minorities will suffer disproportionately, so they feel guilty. Socialists want to chuck the class system—we've got zip to feel guilty about.

This makes discussion of race and class painful for liberals, which may be why they hate trying to consider both at the same time. They'll make token comments like "I do think class is a significant axis of oppression separate from but interacting with race and gender," but they quickly move the conversation away from class to more comfortable topics like race and gender.

Their discomfort may be why when I say class is more significant than race, they often hear "Racism doesn't exist." The idea that class oppression might not be "separate from" but intertwined with racism is simply too painful for some to conceive. Others will acknowledge that class and race are intertwined—and then they'll keep talking about racism as a spherical cow.

For years, I've been flipflopping on whether Malcolm X was right when he said, "You can't have capitalism without racism." Liberals and conservatives are working hard to create post-racial capitalism. Sometimes I've thought they might succeed. But I'm back to thinking Malcolm X is right. Here's why:

First, the racial mix of the USA:
Asian alone: 4.4% (13.1 million)
Black or African American alone: 13.4% (40.9 million)
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, of any race: 14.8% (about 44.3 million)
White (not including White Hispanic and Latino Americans): 66% (198.1 million)
Some other race alone: 6.5% (19 million)
Two or more races: 2.0% (6.1 million)
American Indian or Alaska Native alone: 0.68% (2.0 million)
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander alone: (0.14%) 0.43 million
Now, the racial mix of US poverty:
Asian persons in poverty: 2.92% (992,856)
Black or African American persons in poverty: 25.17% (8,549,879)
Hispanic or Latino persons in poverty: 22.68% (7,703,925)
non-Hispanic Whites persons in poverty: 49.23% (16,723,778)
The only way liberals could hope to make the class system racially proportionate would be to give enough wealth to minorities that their percentages throughout the class system would be the same.

Which, I'd like to think, even liberals would agree is a stupid idea, for all that freed slaves should've gotten at least forty acres and a mule. Do you also compensate the heirs of black slaveowners? What about poor whites still suffering in generational poverty because their ancestors came to this continent as prisoners or indentured servants and never had the chance to acquire wealth? What about the native peoples who were dispossessed?

The simple fact that liberals are, perhaps, ideologically incapable of seeing is that so long as the rich won't share wealth, wealth distribution will be racially disproportionate. It's a Catch-22.

One thing I like about conservatives is they just don't care about inequality. So long as wealth keeps flowing to the folks at the top, they don't care if it's going to Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates. In 2001, the distribution of wealth in the US looked like this:
1% had 38.1% of the wealth
4% had 21.3%
5% had 11.5%
10% had 12.5%
20% had 11.9%
20% had 4.5%
40% had .2%
That wealth gap continues to grow.

Googling for information for this post, I came across a conservative blog with two things that struck me:

1. This quote: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent vice of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." —Winston Churchill

It reminded me of a saying I prefer: "Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow."

2. This cartoon:

I think it'd be more accurately titled, "Capitalism illustrated...": The rich take from those who have less to give a pittance to those who have nothing.


  1. Yeah, I like your title better. Quite fitting.

  2. Aw, thanks for the link, Will! :)

    You know I don't agree with your politics, but I have to say that you are articulate and make some good points (especially mine, but you put a good spin on them).

    I have another post that might be of interest to you about liberal capitalists who espouse equality and socialist principles while stashing away mounds of cash (like Oprah and Michael Moore). The hypocrisy is disgusting to me, so no, they are not "one of us."

  3. Fuzzy, I don't like the Fabian version of socialism either. I cut Moore some slack because he gets people talking about things the media hides, but I would like him better if he decided to live on something like the nation's median income.