Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the curious class logic of a race maximalist, Tim Wise

At first, I was tempted to ignore Tim Wise's With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left because it's mostly talking-point arguments interrupted by pauses to pimp his books. But his points about class are so bizarre that I'll address a few:

He says, "...the biggest reason why there is so little working class consciousness and unity in the Untied States (and thus, why class-based programs to uplift all in need are so much weaker here than in the rest of the industrialized world), is precisely because of racism and the way that white racism has been deliberately inculcated among white working folks. Only by confronting that directly (rather than sidestepping it as class reductionists seek to do) can we ever hope to build cross-racial, class based coalitions. In other words, for the policies favored by the class reductionist to work — be they social democrats or Marxists — or even to come into being, racism and white supremacy must be challenged directly."

What he seems to want is for the white working class to indulge in mea culpas for the culture created by the ruling class. What he misses is that "white supremacy" is actually "upper class supremacy."

His label of "class reductionist" will undoubtedly appear again. What it fails to acknowledge is that no socialist thinks "racism is over." But to a race maximalist, anything that doesn't emphasize the importance of race must diminish it.

He says, " refusing to openly engage racism, progressive activists forfeited the opportunity to build coalitions across lines of race and class: coalitions that may have proven empowering in years to come."

That's his attempt to sidestep the failure of identity politics in the last decades. He clings to an old concept and insists the failure was because too few people joined the crusade.

He says, "...lower income whites are more likely to own their own home than middle class blacks." I don't doubt that's true. What he doesn't point out is that lower income whites tend to be rural, so the homes they've inherited or bought are cheap. Middle class blacks tend to be urban, so they do what other urban middle class folks tend to do—they rent.

Most of the rest of his list of things he thinks are purely racial come from a failure to understand the history of race and class. Just as he misses the difference between rural and urban poverty, he misses the most basic fact of all: Historically, racism is the reason the US class system is racially disproportionate, but it's not the reason the class system continues to be racially disproportionate. It continues to be racially disproportionate because there's little class mobility here. The only way to create a racially proportionate distribution of wealth in the US is to end capitalism and redistribute wealth.

But Wise has no interest in a classless society.

He says, "In other words, unless all of our organizing becomes antiracist in terms of outreach, messaging, strategizing, and implementation, whatever work we’re doing, around whatever important issue, will be for naught."

Or, in other words, buy his books.

What he misses is that decades of antiracism theory have been for naught. Progressive organizing should focus on the shared goals of people of all hues: better work, housing, education, and health care.

He says, "The other side has proven itself ready and willing to use racism to divide us. In response, we must commit to using antiracism as a force to unite."

But antiracism theory isn't about uniting. It's about validating and perpetuating racial division while capitalists keep their eyes on the prize: controlling the wealth of the world.


Bonus content: Leslie Ambedian sent me a link to YouTube -

At the risk of being too serious about a song being performed by Bill Shatner: My first adult romance was with a woman who was remarkably like the subject of this song. She wanted to understand how the other 99% lived, but she always had someone to fall back on. There are things you just can't understand unless you've lost them or never had them.

ETA: Possibly of interest: Anti-racism Theory: No facts needed if you have faith.