Archive for class
Cord Jefferson has an interesting title and short article at gawker on “House Republicans Meet at a Former Slave Plantation to Practice Talking to Black People.” The House Republicans are meeting for a winter retreat in the old colonial and slavery oriented town of Williamsburg, Virginia. To talk about guns, the debt, and government spending. He notes that irony indeed of meeting in a room named for a place of racial oppression — for a session about reaching to minorities and women, and more:
And what better place to talk about making inroads with oppressed groups than in a room named after a famous Williamsburg plantation, located in the tony Kingsmill Resort, which itself is on the site of another plantation? The GOP has heard your complaints, blacks and Latinos and women, and they’re going to try to suss it out while sitting atop dead slave bones.
Yet more evidence that the Republican Party is now substantially, and often unreflectively, the “white party” of the United States?
Thinking not only of the reaction to President Obama’s recent debate performances, but also of the manner in which he has been graded and depicted by political pundits, so called newscasters, and the general public on idiot blogs over the past four years, reminds me of a conversation my mother and I had when I was in the seventh grade. It occurred after I was publicly humiliated at school once my name and others were called, announcing our honor roll placement for the semester over the school PA system. I told her of my feelings associated with the backhanded compliments from unsupportive white peers and ridicule from a segment of my own racial group. I felt isolated and alone.
This especially held true because I was one of just two Blacks announced. This alone carried many issues and concerns. Nevertheless, my mother simply said, “Sometimes being a person of color is like walking a tight rope above folks waiting to see the blood spew from your fall.” She told me that on one side, non-Blacks will think you are still beneath them and cannot wait for your fall. On the other side were some of my own who hate that I was in a position they are not. For those reasons, they will at times subconsciously wish for your demise. This introduced me to the idea of division among Black America–a subject discussed at great lengths within Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America, by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson. Today, we can witness an increasing division among Blacks due to socioeconomic status.
Regardless, to me, the jeering and division seems to become louder and wider as one begins to occupy spaces that have traditionally been denied due to skin tone. When one is seen as a rarity, “the oddity,” the air of subjugation, fear, and at times hatred becomes thicker and forces the lungs to work harder in order to endure. Many times the pressure is so unbearable, that psychological stressors can occur and affect the emotional and physical statuses of individuals. It can create strife within the formation of an identity.
I have witnessed how the president has been depicted. I have seen in print and within the context of news stories within the 24-hour news cycle that have painted him as “too Black.” On the other hand, was it that he has forgotten Blacks and their plight? People who I admire, such as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, have been seen trailing this particular bandwagon. I have seen others note that the president is not aggressive enough and not acting like a “stereotypical scary black man.” During the second presidential debate, I received an automatic shock to my brain every time someone coined his approach to his political appointment as, “angry.” Whites have often deemed him as an illegal alien, monkey, Hitler, and other derogatory figures.
In the end, I feel we as a nation have for four years viciously watched in excitement a political tragedy. The essence of racism, as seen during Jackie Robinson’s rise, is still prevalent as the president continues to move along the racial tightrope. The effects on race are truly boundless. The Kool-Aid has been drunk by not only by those seen as oppressors, but also by those seen as oppressed. In fact, the thought that race within this presidential election is absent, is credulous at best.
Happy May Day, the workers of the world day!
In the past (for example, 2010) we have had major marches on this day in support of undocumented workers, and today we have had numerous marches in support of the “Occupy” causes by an array of workers, students, and others, as well as many other marches in support of unions and workers’ rights and causes.
The Industrial Workers of the World’s website points out that the country that founded May Day (May 1) seems to have forgotten it:
Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.
Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.
In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860′s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880′s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.
Unions and other worker organizations have brought much in the way of better lives for many Americans and others across the globe. And most of the world’s workers are workers of color–-often working ultimately for white-controlled western corporations. They still need much new organization to end various types of class and racial oppression that they face. Many of these workers of color turned out today to protest for better working conditions.
Coming decades will doubtless see important and organized worker challenges to the domination of the mostly white-run corporations (executives) that increasingly control larger workplaces in a great many countries, if only because their most workers (of color) do not share their high-profit interests and often western racialized interests. The US intellectual and critical thinker Noam Chomsky has an interesting recent commentary on the relationship of democratic reforms to more extensive democratic revolutions–which sometimes come from sustained workers movements.
Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s governor, is interviewed in the conservative Weekly Standard and his remarks there reveal much about how white racism operates. The profile and interview with Barbour is long, and there’s a lot to take objection to in there.
Perhaps the one thing that people are pulling out as most offensive is Barbour’s defense of the segregationist era Conservative Citizens’ Council (the CCC instead of the KKK, get it?) and his description of how it operated in his hometown of Yazoo City, MS. Here’s the passage that’s lighting up the blogosophere and the mainstream news outlets:
…Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.
“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens’ Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
Most of the reactions from bloggers calls out Barbour for defending white supremacists (e.g., the CCC) and they’re right. But, this analysis of Barbour’s remarks misses part of how white racism works. In fact, the Citizens’ Council did see themselves as ‘better than’ the KKK. While Barbour’s absolutely wrong that the Citizens’ Council was just “an organization of town leaders,” in fact, they were as committed to racial inequality as any robe-wearing Klansman. What’s true is that there were divisions among whites during the civil rights struggle. Barbour reveals more here about his class standing that perhaps he intends to, but it the Citizens’ Council was the refuge of upper-middle class racists while the KKK drew more from the working class. This move – distinguishing the ‘good (supposedly) non-racist whites’ from the ‘bad (obviously) racist ones’ is always the way that upper-middle class whites let themselves off the hook when it comes to racism. It was true in 1954, and it’s true today. (This good whites vs. bad whites game is something sociologist Matthew Hughey has documented in his research and written about here.)
The fact that upper-middle class whites like Barbour thought the KKK was unseemly in their overt displays of racism doesn’t mean that the Citizens’ Council embraced the end of segregation. This is clear in another part of the Weekly Standard profile. When recalling a visit to Yazoo City by Dr. Martin Luther King, Barbour offers this account:
“I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.” [...] I don’t really remember. The truth is, we couldn’t hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. “We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King,” he added.
Barbour gives us another textbook example of how white racism works. First, it’s clear from this anecdote that Barbour didn’t see the speech by King as any that was interesting or relevant to his life. And, second, there’s the positive view of himself in the rear view mirror. Barbour’s patting himself on the back here for even attending this speech, while at the same time minimizing the importance of King, his words, and the civil rights movement as a whole. And, you know, throwing in a little gratuitous sexism just for fun. This sort of positive, retrospective labeling of white involvement in the civil rights movement is a key feature of the white racial frame in the post-civil rights era. For a glimpse of this in popular culture, take a look at the Gene Hackman and Wilem Dafoe roles of white FBI agents in the Hollywood film, “Mississippi Burning.” Uhm, it didn’t happen like that (e.g., SL Brinson, “The Myth of White Superiority in Mississippi Burning,” Southern Communication Journal, 1995). When whites – especially upper middle class whites – look back on the civil rights era (or, slavery, or the Holocaust) they like to imagine themselves as the hero in that story. I’m sorry white people, but you just do not look good in the story of the civil rights movement, or lynching, or slavery, no matter how much you try to re-imagine history. That goes for you, too, Haley Barbour.
Barbour offers us yet another lesson on how white racism works. When recalling the atrocities of white people do all you can to minimize. Here’s Barbour on how he recalls the civil rights struggle in Yazoo City:
“I just don’t remember it as being that bad.”
Yeah, well, you wouldn’t. This is classic white racism. Horrible years of grueling oppression? Ah, get over it. One of the white supremacist sites I looked at in Cyber Racism makes a similar argument about slavery – a supposedly ‘humane institution’ that slaves ‘loved and wanted to return to’ after emancipation.
This would be comical (on a par with Privilege Denying Dude) if it weren’t for the fact that Barbour is a governor with aspirations for high office. We don’t need someone like this leading the country, but he does offer a good object lesson in white racism, upper-middle class flavored.
April 4, 1968, about 6:01pm. We should always remember that time. It has now been 42 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was moving conceptually and in his actions in a more radical direction combining antiracist, broader anticlass, and antiwar efforts—which efforts likely had much to do with his assassination. (Photo: Wiki-images)
I remember the day vividly, like it was yesterday, and can still remember the time of day when one of my students at the University of California called me to tell of the terrible event, and I can still remember well my and his distressed emotions as we talked about the shooting. (We did not know Dr. King had died at that time.) He was one of the few African American students then at that university and as one would expect was devastated by the event, as I was too.
The events leading up to Dr. King’s assassination need to be taught everywhere. In late March 1968 Dr. King and other civil rights leaders participated in and supported the local Memphis sanitary works employees, black and white, who were striking for better wages and working condition.
Conditions in Memphis, as elsewhere, were very oppressive for workers, in both racial and class terms, as this wikipedia summary makes clear:
In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.
King gave his last (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”) speech at a rally for the workers at the Mason Temple in Memphis.
This is the famous section near the end of his prophetic speech, where he reflects on death threats he had often received:
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.
Let us remember him well, and especially his prophetic antiracist, anti-capitalistic, and antiwar messages, on this Easter day, 2010.
The recent Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission, which essentially forbids any restrictions on corporate financing of political candidates, has garnered much media attention this past week. Ostensibly, the ruling extends ridiculous precedents granting corporations status as persons and endowing them with accordant rights. Liberal commentators and politicians have rightly expressed outrage at the serious threat Citizens United poses to the last vestiges of American democracy. Most of the outrage has been on one or more of several grounds: Marxist/class-based, partisan, and/or politico-structural (i.e. how laws and the structure of federal and state governments will change as a consequence of corporate influence). Too little analysis has focused explicitly on the racial causes and implications of the ruling.
I believe the timing of this ruling is an intentional effort by white [male] elites to restore whites’ structural political advantages. For whites, Obama’s election and Latinos’ increased voting power threaten whites’ historical dominance. The ruling is designed to immediately weaken the currently ascendant political coalition of people of color and liberal whites. It is also sets the social, political, and economic conditions for whites to continue racial domination after they cease to be the numerical and electoral majority in the United States.
MSNBC noted the irony of the Supreme Courts’ ruling, which greatly empowers banks and other large financial institutions, coming down within hours of President Obama announcing proposals to reestablish limits on the nation’s largest banks. On its face, the timing of events appears to be either oddly coincidental or, more likely, the first shots in a war between two ruling sectors in the United States—the state and the capital class. But from a critical racial perspective, the Supreme Court ruling smacks of racism. Over the past three years, much was made about Obama’s ability to raise money through non-corporate vehicles. To be sure, he received much corporate support, but the rhetoric surrounding his campaign was a populist one, and the campaign greatly benefitted from “small” contributions from “regular people.” For the first time in many cycles, the Democratic candidate had a significant financial advantage over his Republican rivals. Obama effectively used that financial advantage to exhaust the resources of the McCain campaign. The Democrats held vulnerable territories without much challenge (e.g. Michigan) and won Republican-trending states (e.g. North Carolina and Virginia) via sustained (and expensive) media and grassroots efforts. This change in presidential campaign norms was all the more stunning given that it was done by the first Black candidate to lead the ticket of a major party.
Sociological research indicates that dominant groups (e.g. white policy-makers and Supreme Court justices) respond to threats (i.e. a Black man becoming chief executive) by using state institutions to weaken the threat and strengthen the dominant group. (See the introduction to the second edition of McAdam’s Political Process and the Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, for one of many examples.) The research seems to be especially applicable in this case. If Obama’s political strength comes, at least in part, from his advantage in non-corporate funding, allowing corporations to spend infinite dollars in support of oppositional candidates diffuses Obama as a political threat and greatly strengthens his opposition.
The racial elements are clear. Most obviously, as the first Black president, Obama represents a racialized threat to white power generally. (See Harvey-Winfield and Feagin 2009 for whites’ fears that Obama would serve Blacks’ economic and political interests.) Secondly, the Republican Party, which is the only electorally significant opposition to Obama and the Democrats, is increasingly a white, male party. Empowering corporations to financially prop up the shrinking party of, for, and by white men is an attempt to counter emerging electoral trends (e.g. the majority of each minority group voting for Obama and Democrats; the shrinking percentage of the voting population that is white and male) and promote white privilege. As the only branch of the federal government currently under direct control of white men, the Supreme Court is the best, if not only, tool available to immediately effect whites’ racial politics. That Republicans and big business have long been bed fellows only makes the Supreme Court’s strategy of “freeing” corporate funds a more certain path for achieving white elites’ racist goals. The potential of a split in the capitalist class (i.e. capitalists funding both parties equally) is precluded by the strong overlaps between whiteness, corporate leadership, and the Republican Party.
In short, the timing of the ruling seems to be obviously racially motivated. Democrats have ruled before, but the combination of Black and Brown leadership, increased Black and Brown voting activity, decreased white voting potential, and sufficient non-corporate funding pools for campaigns was a new threat to which whites were compelled to respond immediately. Whites’ desperation and determination to act now are revealed in their naked over-reaching in the case at hand. Section I of the official “syllabus” (i.e. summary of the case, written by the Reporter of Decisions) of United Citizens details the convoluted logic the Court used to justify both acting immediately and overreaching. The Court is explicit in arguing that they wanted to remove the restrictions on corporate funding before upcoming elections and that they wanted to ensure national impact. In the Syllabus, the Court’s political agenda is in the guise of protection of the First Amendment, but I have articulated reasons to believe the agenda is largely racial.
In my view, the Court’s ruling sets the stage for whites to continue their racist dominance after they lose majority status. Whites’ unjust enrichment (Feagin 2000) gives them a host of weapons with which to oppress people of color. Among the most potent of those weapons is liquid cash. Since Watergate, campaign laws have restricted corporate funding of candidates. Consequently, one of whites’ primary weapons was limited. The limitation was not crucial at the moment because 90 percent of the electorate was white (as of 1980). Therefore, whites’ control of government was unthreatened. However, the decrease in whites’ percentage of the electorate (now under 70%) places their continued electoral dominance in question.
The writing is on the wall for whites’ numerical majority. By and large, most Americans assume a one-to-one relationship between racial demographics and politico-economic dominance. I am constantly impressed by the consistency of undergraduates’ responses to demographic data. Often Latinos are encouraged and empowered by the data. In each of my research projects interviewing Latino students, almost all view their racial/ethnic group as the future dominant group in the U.S. In their version of the cohort effect, racism will “die out” as Latinos replace whites at the heads of major political and economic institutions. Whites usually respond with similar assumptions that their racial and social dominance depends entirely on their numbers. As their relative population falls, so too will their power (and vulnerability to charges of racism). Scholars vary on their takes, but some have adopted a tripartite model in which whites will continue to dominate by extending whiteness to include more groups and bestowing “honorary whiteness” on other groups. These two groups would then derive privileges by oppressing “collective Blacks” (e.g. African-descended peoples, Native Americans, and Southeast Asians).
I respond to all of these assumptions with my own prediction that whites’ primary strategy will be oligarchic in nature. Whites’ dominance of political, social, and economic institutions will far outlast their numerical majority. Whites will use their current majority to construct institutions in a way that ensures they can keep control even without majority status. From these powerful social locations, whites can continue to generate and reproduce a racial structure very similar to the contemporary one. White school boards and a disproportionately white academy will still control the content of education; white executives will still use formal and informal methods to reproduce economic inequality; whites will still have vested interests in segregated neighborhoods; whites will still use wars and other coercive tactics to exploit people of color’s land and labor. Just as the 13th amendment did not end slavery in practice, whites’ fall to plurality status will not change the racial status quo. Demographic majority status is not the basis of racial domination. Access to institutional power, material resources, and control of discourse are. Unleashing white executives to spend corporate dollars as they choose only serves to cement white people and white ideology at the levers of power in America.
So then, the Supreme Court’s decision has clear structural impacts that promote white supremacy for the foreseeable future. White executives will use corporate dollars to put in place laws, ideologies, and individuals to sustain the white supremacist status quo. These structural moves, however, will still take place in public arenas (e.g. elections, mass media). Consequently, whites will need justifications for taking their actions. They will have to convince the public to vote for their candidates and accept occasional visible legal changes. With these goals, white corporate executives will buy lots of ads and command much attention. What worries me is the probable content of those ads. American history teaches us that whites often use African Americans and other people of color as threats and scapegoats to justify oppression. Recently, the “welfare queen,” “crack baby,” and “Latin drug lord” were powerful images in the 1980s and 1990s that whites used to dismantle the social safety net for everyone. Whites have used images of hypersexual people of color (of all stripes) to justify everything from segregating “dangerous” Asian “sexual predators” to castrating and sterilizing Black men and women involuntarily (see Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body). Each of these projects, and innumerable others, served white elites’ corporate interests and were popularized via corporate actions and financial contributions. Whites are not finished with this type of business. Corporations will undoubtedly turn up the heat again and aggressively use racist imagery to motivate [white] masses to support corporate ends.
As people interested in racial justice, we must quickly consider how we can act now to address the serious racial threats white elites launched via the Supreme Court. Despite the electoral successes of 2008 and people of color’s growing electoral strength, we may currently be at the peak of our power to resist. With each passing day, whites are plotting ways to mobilize and use their considerable economic resources to reshape the government, influence our views, and frustrate all organized resistance efforts. Very soon, they will begin implementing those plans in earnest. Then we will have a very tough fight on our hands, indeed!