Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Race and the Occupation

The Occupation movement spreading across America is inviting the 99% to join together to defeat the power of the 1% and to make a better world. They envision a world without inequality, which would mean (as many are coming to see) without the capitalist system that is based upon, and promotes, inequality.

In the General Assemblies there are discussions of race, and how that relates to the movement for a better world. In this discussion I believe it is important to keep two facts in mind.

#1. In American society life is harder, on average, for working class blacks and Hispanics than for working class whites.

#2. In American society life is hard and getting harder for all working class people, regardless of race.

Some people focus on fact #1 and say that whites are privileged. Some on the Left, for example, talk about "White skin privilege." But "privilege" is the wrong word. The reason is this. The ruling class uses racial discrimination not to improve the lives of whites, which is what "privilege" implies, but to weaken the working class with divide-and-rule in order to more effectively oppress and exploit all working people, including whites--fact #2.

It doesn't make sense to refer to this racial discrimination as a "privilege" for the whites when it is being used to oppress and exploit whites as well as non-whites. Using the word "privilege" obscures the role of racial discrimination as an instrument for oppressing all races.

Furthermore, using the word "privilege" and the phrase "white skin privilege" tends, naturally, to promote among whites the wrong emotional response. We want all working class people, including whites, to feel righteous anger, not guilt: anger at the ruling class, not guilt from seeing themselves as unfairly "privileged." Angry people overthrow their oppressors. People who think they are guilty of enjoying privileges given to them by the ruling class don't.

In fact, we want whites to feel anger at the ruling class for using racial discrimination to divide-and-rule working class people. This is how racial unity against racial discrimination and ruling class oppression is built.

Please, let's drop the "white privilege" vocabulary. Let's talk about racial discrimination as a ruling class weapon that hurts us all. Let's reach out to people of all races on the basis of fighting our common enemy for shared goals, for equality. We will be a lot stronger if we do this.

The ruling class's purpose in using racial discrimination is to foment distrust between people of different races. Decades of slavery followed by Jim Crow followed by much higher than average unemployment and exclusion from higher-status jobs and positions in society and disproportionately greater imprisonment of black people was intended to make white people view blacks as intellectually and morally inferior to whites. It was also intended to make black people view whites, whether rich or poor, as the oppressor of blacks. It is an unfortunate fact that the ruling class has had some success with its divide and rule strategy: what people of different races think about each other, unconsciously if not consciously, has been negatively affected by decades of living in a society shaped by a ruling class determined to foment distrust between different races. Given this effort by the ruling class to divide and rule, what is significant about race in the U.S. today is not that there exists some distrust between the races, but that so many people nonetheless try so hard to build trusting relations of solidarity between the races.

The existing negative ideas and attitudes about race, however, do need to be identified and refuted, especially when they affect how we behave towards each other. To succeed in building a movement that can defeat the ruling class and create a better world, we need to keep in mind that good people can have bad ideas, that criticizing a person's bad idea or attitude about race is different from denouncing the person as a bad person as if they were trying, like the ruling class, to oppress people. We need to practice friendly criticism among ourselves, to root out the ideas and practices that the ruling class  encourages among us to weaken us all.

2 Comments:

At 9:30 PM, October 06, 2011, Anonymous Bob Cable said...

In this world of 7 billion people there is an enormous amount of RELATIVE "privilege" due to the accident of birth. This should not provoke either envy or guilt. In any case, sharing of one's wealth, whatever it may be (as "poor" people so often do), or sharing another's experience of poverty, as "advantaged" people sometimes do, is a powerful gesture that affirms a common humanity and warms the hearts of both parties. Extended and long-term sharing in this way would constitute a very different world, much closer to the one we want.
Solidarity can exist across any perceived or imposed barrier to human unity. WE ARE THE 99% ! And, who knows...we could become the 100%.

 
At 9:48 PM, October 06, 2011, Anonymous Bob Cable said...

In this world of 7 billion people there is an enormous amount of RELATIVE privilege; but this should not provoke either envy or guilt because almost everyone is simultaneously "advantaged" and "disadvantaged," depending upon the comparison. Persons can transcend their "station" and affirm their common humanity when they share with each other, even short-term or briefly. Shared conversation, conviviality, cultural events, and political actions are steps down the road of equality and common humanity.

 

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