Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Racism Is Anchored in More Than Bad Ideas

Note from CarlD: An old friend on mine, who blogs at, recently criticized me for being 'confused' about racism, not understanding that conditions had changed for Black Americans and that racism, primarily as attitudes held by whites, was receding, and that I was missing the importance of class. You can read his argument on his blog, but here is one of my replies:


George, I assure you, I don't find anything about a people of a society 'immutable.' Everything changes in time, including people, although as Mao Zedong once put it, rather than change, 'some people die first.'

And as someone who marched 250 miles through Mississippi in 1966, I'm quite aware of the changes that have been wrought even there, especially by harsh and bitter struggles.

But one thing still in need of change is that the 'equality' won in our society still has a white top and a Black bottom, and a white blindspot persists in a large majority of our population in their inability to see it, or if they do, commit themselves to do something about it. Visit any prison or jail, and it will hit you in the face.

I base my views not only on history books, but my social practice today. I live in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, in Western PA. In 1960, it was the most proletarian county in the whole country, and I grew up here, and know more than a little about class. Most of my relatives worked in the mills, and a few of them died there.

Raccoon is 99 percent white, and even the one percent isn't Black. It's more than 90 cent 'white' workers, and I worked this area in the election. When I set up a PDA voter registration table at the township fair, complete with Obama literature, the first message I got an elderly woman was that I was a disgrace, a 'traitor to my race'. Views were more mixed after that, especially among the young. In the end, we got a large minority of voters for Obama, 48 percent, mainly because of the newer and younger workers.

So yes, racism as personal 'attitude' can change. When we went door to door and confronted it, we took the union's line and told people if they had racist fears to 'sit on them, vote your interests, not your prejudices.' It worked fairly well, but not well enough with a good number.

They continue to cling to these 'attitudes' for a reason, namely because there is a social basis for them, which is a Marxist way to look at ideas and attitudes, and this is the heart of my argument with you. As low-income and distressed as workers are in my township, every one of them knows that if they go into Aliquippa, where only Blacks live now, the conditions are far worse. And the Blacks in Aliquippa know, even if they could afford the mortgage on a very modest old house in Raccoon, of which there are plenty of empty ones, and that housing discrimination is illegal, they would look elsewhere rather than put up with the grief they would suffer from those who want to cling to segregated conclaves, however modest they many be.

Is this special status or privilege or inequality or whatever you want to call it in the class interest of my working-class neighbors in Raccoon? No it is not. Not any more than a worm on a hook is in the interests of a fish.

But it is the anchor for their self-defeating 'attitudes' and the secret of the bourgeoisie's rule over them. White identity politics is what imprisons them from seeing their own class interests and the need for solidarity with all the exploited and oppressed. And challenging the structures and policies that identity or 'system of attitudes' rests upon, however difficult, is the key element of our eventual victory.

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