Archive for category: #Intersectional
For the first time ever, women CEOs now make up more than 10 percent of Fortune 500 leaders. But that’s hardly a reason to celebrate. On every indicator, white men still dominate the upper rungs of the economy, while women — particularly women of color — continue to be overrepresented in low-paying jobs. And even when women do break through the glass ceiling, they’re still part of a system…
As thousands of workers went on strike this week, evidence continues to build that the labor movement is back on an upswing in America. But how we engage with the details of this development will determine whether the swing remains a momentary uptick, or becomes part of something larger.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of unionized workers in the United States increased by 200,000 from 2021 to 2022. And that growth came entirely from workers of color. There was an increase in 231,000 unionized workers of color last year, while white unionized workers actually decreased by 31,000. Further, of all racial and ethnic groups, Black workers have continued leading unionization rates, at 12.8 percent, higher than the figure of total unionized workers.
While the total share of workers represented by a union still floats at just above 11 percent—much less than where things stood decades ago—union election petitions last year increased by 53 percent, the highest amount since 2016.
According to BLS data, industries that saw the largest increases in unionization were state government; durable goods manufacturing; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and transportation and warehousing. And states with the largest increases in unionization? California, Texas, Ohio, Maryland, and Alabama.
All this to say, monolithic conventions on who constitutes the “working class” need a final upending.
Indeed, the diversity in the movement can be seen in the nature of labor action these past few months. This week, workers at over 100 Starbucks locations nationwide went on strike to protest the company’s alleged union-busting schemes. Another union representing 30,000 Los Angeles school staff workers—including custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, special education assistants, and more—conducted a three-day strike, and the 35,000-strong United Teachers Los Angeles union joined in solidarity. At the beginning of the year, 7,000 nurses went on strike in New York City, protesting poor pay and working conditions brought on by chronic understaffing. All this does not include the some 100,000 rail workers nationwide who almost went on strike last year, until the government itself imposed a contract upon them.
Conservatives—both Republican and Democrat alike—often opine on the need to focus on “kitchen table issues” instead of getting wrapped up in “social” ones. The latter, of course, being another way to say issues surrounding identity and race (much like the term “woke,” but perhaps less likely to incite outrage). But the union data reveals once more that issues of identity and workers’ rights are deeply intertwined. After all, unionization and labor struggles are direct mechanisms to better accomplish racial and social equality; the ability for people to afford to live happy and dignified lives is inherently tied to their ability to enjoy fundamental social and civil rights within those lives, too.
On moral grounds, every politician and journalist should recognize these facts. And for any politico concerned solely with electability, the good news is the results follow the morals anyhow.
In November, several Democrats who refused to pin the economic against the social, even in battleground states, went on to win. That includes people like Governor Josh Shapiro and Senator John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan. And for examples of how these political successes turn to policy successes, look no further than the sacred and often pontificated on Midwest.
In 2018, Governor Whitmer promised to repeal the anti-worker “right-to-work” law. And after voters re-elected her with wide margins—and delivered her majorities in both state chambers for the first time in decades—she delivered on Friday, signing a bill to repeal the anti-union legislation. Just a week earlier, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed a bill that guaranteed free breakfast and lunch for all public school students, geared especially for food insecure families, many of whom are marginalized and people of color (perhaps a more direct connection between social and so-called “kitchen table” issues).
As more people become better acquainted with the contradictions of capitalism—from noxious train derailments, to immediately aided collapsing financial institutions (all of which is borne from corporate-bought deregulation)—we may be at another moment in the long history of labor for which a resurgence is possible. But such a moment will not be helped by a media and political apparatus that seeks to flatten the labor movement, rather than embrace it for the vast and diverse coalition it actually is.
In 2017, I was trying to write How to Be an Antiracist. Words came onto the page slower than ever. On some days, no words came at all. Clearly, I was in crisis.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. When words aren’t flowing onto the page, I know why: I haven’t researched enough, organized the material enough, thought enough to exhume clarity, meticulously outlined my thoughts enough. I haven’t prepared myself to write.
But no matter how much I prepared, I still struggled to convey what my research and reasoning showed. I struggled because I was planning to challenge traditional conceptions of racism, and to defy the multiracial and bipartisan consensus that race neutrality was possible and that “not racist” was a definable identity. And I struggled because I was planning to describe a largely unknown corrective posture—being anti-racist—with long historical roots. These departures from tradition were at the front of my struggling mind. But at the back of my mind was a more existential struggle—a struggle I think is operating at the front of our collective mind today.
[Ibram X. Kendi: The mantra of white supremacy]
It took an existential threat for me to transcend my struggle and finish writing the book. Can we recognize the existential threat we face today, and use it to transcend our struggles?
As I tried to write my book, I struggled over what it means to be an intellectual. Or to be more precise: I struggled because what I wanted to write and the way in which I wanted to write it diverged from traditional notions of what it means to be an intellectual.
The intellectual has been traditionally framed as measured, objective, ideologically neutral, and apolitical, superior to ordinary people who allow emotion, subjectivity, ideology, and their own lived experiences to cloud their reason. Group inequality has traditionally been reasoned to stem from group hierarchy. Those who advance anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, and anti-homophobic ideas have historically been framed as anti-intellectual.
The traditional construct of the intellectual has produced and reinforced bigoted ideas of group hierarchy—the most anti-intellectual constructs existing. But this framing is crumbling, leading to the crisis of the intellectual.
Behind the scenes of the very public anti–critical race theory, anti-woke, and anti–anti-racism campaign waged mostly by Republican politicos is another overlapping and more bipartisan campaign waged mostly by people who think of themselves as intellectuals. Both campaigns emerged in reaction to the demonstrations in the summer of 2020 that carried anti-racist intellectuals to the forefront of public awareness.
These intellectuals not only highlighted the crisis of racism but, in the process, started changing the public conception of the intellectual. Their work was more in line with that of medical researchers seeking a cure to a disease ravaging their community than with philosophers theorizing on a social disease for theory’s sake from a safe remove. We need the model these new intellectuals pursued to save humanity from the existential threats that humans have created, including climate change, global pandemics, bigotry, and war.
But this new conception of the intellectual and those who put it into practice face all sorts of resistance. Opponents denounce the “illiberal” dangers of identity politics and proclaim the limits of “lived experience.” They argue that identity politics makes everything about identity, or spurs a clash of identities. In fact, the term identity politics was coined in the 1970s, a time when Black lesbian women in organizations like Boston’s Combahee River Collective were being implored to focus their activist work on the needs of Black men, in Black power spaces; white women, in feminist areas; and gay men, in gay-liberation struggles—on everyone’s oppression but their own. They were determined to change that. “This focus upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics,” Demita Frazier, Beverly Smith, and Barbara Smith wrote in the 1977 Combahee River Collective statement. It is common sense for people to focus on their own oppression, but these activists did not wish to focus only on their own oppression. The Combahee River Collective was “organizing Black feminists as we continue to do political work in coalition with other groups.”
Forty-six years later, when intellectuals of all races produce work on matters primarily affecting white people, the assumed subject of intellectual pursuits, these thinkers are seldom accused of engaging in identity politics. Their work isn’t considered dangerous. These thinkers are not framed as divisive and political. Instead, they are praised for example, for exposing the opioid crisis in white America, praised for pushing back against blaming the addicted for their addictions, praised for enriching their work with lived experiences, praised for uncovering the corporations behind the crisis, praised for advocating research-based policy solutions, praised for seeking truth based on evidence, praised for being intellectuals. As they all should be. But when anti-racist intellectuals expose the crisis of racism, push back against efforts to problematize people of color in the face of racial inequities, enrich our essays with lived experiences, point to racist power and policies as the problem, and advocate for research-based anti-racist policy solutions, the reactions couldn’t be more different. We are told that “truth seeking” and “activism” don’t mix.
American traditions do not breed intellectuals; they breed propagandists and careerists focusing their gaze on the prominent and privileged and powerful and on whatever challenges are afflicting them. Intellectuals today, when focused on the oppression of our own groups—as embodied in the emergence of Queer Studies, Women’s Studies, African American Studies, Native American Studies, Critical Whiteness Studies, Disability Studies, Latino Studies, Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Asian American Studies—are ridiculed for pursuing fields that lack “educational value,” and our books, courses, programs, and departments are shut down and banned by the action of Republicans and the inaction of Democrats. We are told to research, think, and write about people, meaning not our people. We are told to let our people die. We are told to die.
[Jarvis R. Givens: What’s missing from the discourse about anti-racist teaching]
Think about the gaslighting of it all. We are told that white people are being replaced in society, in their jobs within the “intellectual” class. One of the most successful living authors, James Patterson, claimed that white men are experiencing “another form of racism” as they, according to Patterson, struggle to break through as writers in publishing, theater, TV, and film.
Aggrieved white people and their racist propagandists are offering similarly dangerous replacement theories across the “intellectual” class. If white people are being replaced by Black and Latino people, then why are Black and Latino people still underrepresented across many sectors of the “intellectual” class—among authors, in publishing, among full-time faculty, in newsrooms? (Such evidence likely compelled James Patterson to backtrack and apologize.) With all of this evidence, other commentators have focused on the extent of “self-censorship” or “cancel culture” affecting white people (as if people of color aren’t self-censoring or being canceled at least as often). Worst of all, the racist perpetrators of these theories, like Donald Trump, frame themselves as the victims. When Scott Adams has his comic dropped after he called Black people a “hate group” and told his white listeners “to get the hell away from Black people,” they claim that the real problem is anti-whiteness.
And then, when anti-racist intellectuals historicize these white-supremacist talking points about anti-racism being anti-white and give evidence of their long and deep and violent history, when we historicize disparities like the racial wealth gap that are as much the product of the past as the present, when new research and thinking allow us to revise present understandings of the past, when we use the past to better understand the present and the future, we are told to keep the past in the past. We are told not to change the inequitable present, and not to expect anything to change in the future. We are told to look away as the past rains down furiously on the present. Or we are told that intellectuals should focus only on how society has progressed, a suicidal and illogical act when a tornado is ravaging your community. Yet again, we are told to let our people die. We are told to die.
“Above all, historians should make us understand the ways in which the past was distinct,” the New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote. When we are told that historical writings should be irrelevant to our contemporary debates, it is not hard to figure out why. History, when taught truthfully, reveals the bigotry in our contemporary debates. Which is why the conservators of bigotry don’t want history taught in schools. It has nothing to do with the discomfort of children. It is uncomfortable for the opponents of truthful history to have the rest of us see them, to have their kids to see them. They don’t want anyone to clearly see how closely they replicate colonizers, land stealers, human traders, enslavers, Klansmen, lynchers, anti-suffragists, robber barons, Nazis, and Jim Crow segregationists who attacked democracy, allowed mass killings, bound people in freedom’s name, ridiculed truth tellers and immigrants, lied for sport, banned books, strove to control women’s reproduction, blamed the poor for their poverty, bashed unions, and engaged in political violence. Historical amnesia is vital to the conservation of their bigotry. Because historical amnesia suppresses our resistance to their bigotry.
Or, for others, it is about conserving tradition. James Sweet, while serving as the American Historical Association president last year, challenged what he calls “presentism” in the profession. He recently clarified that his target was the “professional historians who believe that social justice should be their first port of entry, which is not the way that we’ve traditionally done history.” And yet, throughout most of the history of history as a discipline, historians have centered Europe, white people, men, and the wealthy in their accounts and composed tales of their superiority. That is the way historians have traditionally done history until recent decades, all of this social injustice entering our collective consciousness clothed in neutrality and objectivity. So now, abolishing the master’s narrative and emancipating the truth must be one of our first ports of entry. To be an intellectual is to know that the truth will set humanity free to gain the power to make humanity free.
Maybe I did have writer’s block when I started composing How to Be an Antiracist back in 2017. I did not suffer from that sort of blockage when writing Stamped From the Beginning, several years earlier. Writing that book was like writing in a cave, to the cave. I didn’t think many people would read the book, let alone think of me as an intellectual. All I cared about was writing history.
But when Stamped From the Beginning won a National Book Award, I began to think about my standing as an intellectual. Suddenly, I was writing in the public square, to the public square. The traditional strictures kept blocking the writing. Be objective. Be apolitical. Be balanced. Be measured. Your primary audience should be others in your field. Keep them in mind. Do not defy the orthodoxy they created. Reinforce it. Satisfy them to advance your career. I faced a blockade of old and fraught traditions regarding what it means to be an intellectual that had nothing to do with the process of truth finding and telling.
[Ibram X. Kendi: The double terror of being Black in America]
Traditional notions of the intellectual were never meant to include people who looked like me or who had a background like mine, who came from a non-elite academic pedigree, emerged proudly from a historically Black university, earned a doctorate in African American Studies. Traditional notions of the intellectual were never meant to include people who researched like me, thought like me, wrote like me—or who researched, thought, or wrote for people like me. Traditional notions of the intellectual were never meant to include people who are not ranking groups of people in the face of inequity and injustice. Traditional notions of the intellectual were never meant to include those of us who are fixated and focused wholly and totally on uncovering and clarifying complex truths that can radically improve the human condition. Traditional notions of the intellectual were never meant to include our conception of the intellectual.
I knew this. I knew about the equation of the Enlightenment and “reason” and “objectivity” and “empiricism” with whiteness and Western Europe and masculinity and the bourgeoisie. I knew that Francis Bacon, the father of “empiricism” in the sciences, held anti-Black racist ideas, and that his work became the basis for “empirical” quests among eugenicists to assert natural human hierarchy that climaxed in the mass sterilization of Black and Latina and disabled and low-income women in the United States and in the Holocaust of Jews and other “undesirables” in Nazi Germany. I knew that the originator of “objectivity” in history, Leopold von Ranke, believed that the “world divinely ordered” meant Europeans, Christians, and the wealthy at the top. I knew that bigoted academics, who obscured their bigotry behind their objectivity, founded almost every academic discipline in the United States. I knew that objectivity and the construct of “balance” migrated from the U.S. academy to U.S. journalism as professional ideals after World War I, when a wave of newspaper mergers and closings compelled reporters to appeal to wide swaths of the public. (Sound familiar?) I knew that the Hutchins Commission, organized in 1947 to report on the proper function of the media, had warned against objective and balanced reporting that was “factually correct but substantially untrue.” I knew that traditional conceptions of the intellectual serve the status quo of injustice.
Intellectuals who are people of color, women, non-Christian, LGBTQ, or working class—indeed intellectuals of all identities who have challenged the status quo, especially traditional and bigoted conventions—have historically been cast aside as nonintellectuals. Commentators lambasted the investigative journalist and educator Ida B. Wells as “partisan” and “a licentious defamer” for the “obscene filth that flows from her pen”—all for finding and telling the hard truths about lynchings. Scholars described W. E. B. Du Bois, a pioneering historian, sociologist, and editor, as “bitter” after he wrote The Souls of Black Folk and his magnum opus, Black Reconstruction. In his landmark book, An American Dilemma, the Swedish Nobel laureate and economist Gunnar Myrdal dismissed the work of Carter G. Woodson—the father of Black History Month—and other Black scholars studying “Negro history and culture” as “basically an expression of the Negro protest,” in spite of its “scholarly pretenses and accomplishments.”
Gay professors were among those harassed and arrested by the U.S. Park Police’s “Pervert Elimination” campaign in Washington, D.C., in 1947—just as LGBTQ teachers are being harassed and censored today. Spelman College fired the Jewish professor Howard Zinn in 1963 for “radicalizing” Black women students by telling them the truth about U.S. history—and firings or threats of firing continue today at other schools and colleges. In 2021, the University of North Carolina’s board of trustees denied tenure to the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones over “politics.”
When the traditionalists today disagree with the evidence-based findings of intellectuals—or envy the prominence of our work—too often they do not contest our findings with their own evidence. They do not usually engage in intellectual activity. They misrepresent our work. They play up minor typos or small miscues to take down major theses. They call us names they never define, like “leftist” or “Marxist” or “woke” or “socialist” or “prophet” or “grifter” or “political” or “racist.” All to attack our credibility as intellectuals—to reassert their own credibility. In politics, they say, when you can’t win on policy, you smear the candidate. In intellectualism, when you can’t win on evidence, you smear the intellectual.
I knew the smears were coming, because I knew history. What blocked my writing bound my intellectualism. What finally set me free to be an intellectual was the face of death, a face I still stare at to amass the courage to be an intellectual.
It took me all of 2017 to write six chapters of How to Be an Antiracist. A slog. But when doctors diagnosed me with Stage 4 colon cancer in January 2018, when I figured I probably wouldn’t survive a disease that kills 86 percent of people in five years, when I decided that this book would be my last major will and testament to the world, everything that blocked my writing wilted away, along with my prospects for living. I no longer cared about those traditional conceptions of the intellectual—just like I no longer cared about the orthodoxy of racial thinking. I no longer cared about the backlash that was likely to come. All I cared about was telling the truth through the lens of research and evidence, reaction be damned. And just like that, between chemotherapy treatments, the words started flowing, furiously: 13 chapters in a few months.
Since I wasn’t going to live, I wanted to write a book that could help prevent our people from dying at the hands of racism. Yes, I was told I would die, but I wanted to tell my people to live. Like an intellectual.
The post Corporate America Is No Longer Pretending to Care About Diversity appeared first on The Nation.
Sudip Bhattacharya analyzes the multiracial voting bloc that has coalesced behind the Democratic Party under the umbrella term ‘People of Color,’ arguing that this coalition, rather than organically producing a socialist politics, must be actively courted by socialists from these communities.
Participants at the 1969 Denver Chicano Youth Liberation Conference (Photo by Karl Kernberger)
In his bid for the governorship of California in the late ‘60s, Ronald Wilson Reagan (6-6-6), the godfather of Trumpism, gathered significant support from Mexican Americans, as well as some Asian Americans, across parts of the state. Of course, the major base of his constituency were paranoid whites and those who had become part of the “middle class,” but according to historian Mark Brilliant, Reagan managed to win just enough votes from Latinx and Asian Americans to land him the coveted governor position of one of the most important states in the country, providing him with a launching-pad for national stardom and notoriety.
Reagan, unlike some other conservatives, accurately recognized some of the simmering tensions and differences among and between various groups of color, especially Latinx and Asian.
“They’re Republicans, they just don’t know it yet,” he would later say once in the White House, regarding Latino voters.
At the time, there were a number of Latinxs migrating to the U.S., or who had been in the country for decades (for some, multiple generations) who did associate success with achieving the American Dream. Some, as would be the case up until the 2000s, believed that hard work led to material successes. Some would flee parts of Latin America, areas twisted into dysfunction by U.S. support for coup governments and right-wing demagogues. For many, all they saw was the promise of America versus the “corruption” at home.
For some Asian Americans, it was anti-communism that drove them into the arms of Uncle Sam. For others, it was their own class interests and aspirations that had them convinced that what impacted African Americans and some Latinxs would not affect them as much. In a few instances, this was to be the case, as some Asians would find it somewhat easier to climb up the ranks of the economically mobile and privileged versus the shut doors that more African Americans would come across in their own attempts at maintaining some financial security in the midst of neoliberal decay and Reaganism.
This dynamic has changed significantly in the past ten to fifteen years. For a decade or so, especially since Obama, a majority of Asians, Latinx, and African Americans now align on partisanship and some social issues. In the 2020 presidential election, over 60 percent of Latinos and Asian Americans, according to a Vox poll, along with 90 percent of African Americans voted for Scranton Joe and the Democrats, a party to the left of white nationalism and extremist capitalist hubris (low bar but nevertheless…).
With the explicit racist nature of the GOP and modern conservatism, included in this dynamic are Confederates and those who believe whites are being “replaced” (the irony considering the history of colonialism), it’s understandable how a growing number of Asian and Latinx Americans have joined African Americans under the Democratic Party’s umbrella. The extremism of the right wing and their failed economic policies have also made it far more stark in terms of what people lack and need in modern U.S. society, such as universal healthcare.
It’s clear something has been going on in terms of groups who would be defined as “people of color” or as “non-white” that could possibly shift U.S. politics significantly. Some, liberals and leftists alike, such as popular writer Steve Philips, have argued that this new emergency-based non-white alignment suggests a new coalition is on its way, and with the white population declining, exemplifies a more progressive trend. This is true to some extent, given that most “people of color” share similar experiences which would leave them more open to discussions regarding systemic injustices. But as much as various segments of various groups now find themselves under the Democrat party umbrella, it’s also true that this new potential “realignment” has some serious limitations.
After all, Trump is no longer in office. Bidenism instead has been dominant, encouraging people to not think beyond preserving our capitalist institutions, perhaps “reforming” them along the way. Indeed, there have been some types of “improvement” within the machinations of the machine, such as a more favorable National Relations Labor Board. Overall, the frustrations that existed prior to Biden’s run persist, the contradictory nature of being a working class person of color, someone who no longer needs to fear the explicitness of a leader such as Trump, all the while still finding themselves working two jobs to maintain a shitty apartment in a suburban outskirt.
Accordingly, you now have Asian American and Latinx voters once more slipping away from politics entirely, or expressing support for conservative candidates in major cities and towns. Even among African Americans, there is volatility and schisms. For instance, while most African Americans desire a change to our so-called justice system (a Biden campaign promise), many have also expressed support for police funding to stay the same, or to even be increased.
Kiana Nox and Khadijah Edwards write, “Similar shares of Black Democrats and Republicans say that funding should increase (36% and 37%, respectively), stay the same (40% each) or decrease (24% and 21%).”
Eric Adams, the “centrist” Democrat mayor of New York City, won his race by gaining the support of working class black and brown voters with pro-”law and order” rhetoric.
Clearly, some things have changed, but it is presumptuous to suggest that Asian Americans, Latinxs, and African Americans now constitute a pro-socialist constituency. If anything, a conservative or anti-socialist Democrat politics may be on the horizon instead, unless of course, we, especially as socialists of color, take the role of leadership more seriously and contend with ideas spewed out from Democratic Party members and their so-called “friends” in the communities we’re in.
Whither The “Person of Color”?
Efren Perez, political scientist at the University of California, has focused his research on the topic of “poc” and potential coalitional politics among segments of Asian Americans, Latinxs, and African Americans. Through in-depth interviews and surveys of various groups in the Los Angeles area, Perez has noted that most Asians, Latinxs (nearly sixty percent each), and African Americans (ninety percent) identify with the label of being a “person of color.”
Those who identify with the label cited the increasing prejudice and explicit racism exemplified in modern U.S. politics as a major reason for why.
“In other words, in the presence of prejudice or discrimination toward one’s racial in-group, Blacks become more pro-Black, Latinos become more pro-Latino, and Asians becoming more pro-Asian—not, as my intuition about PoC ID implies, more favorably disposed toward people of color writ large” Perez states in Diversity’s Child: People of Color and the Politics of Identity (26).
Characters like Reagan were racist themselves, personally and through policy. However, much of the focus on distracting white voters with paranoia over the Other would be targeted at African Americans, and done so sometimes in a thinly veiled manner. For instance, Reagan, without ever stating he was pro-segregation, still managed to get his message across to white voters in the south that he did believe in an old way of living and controlling people by visiting areas like Philadelphia, Mississippi, and speaking on “states’ rights.” At the same time, he did expand on some forms of amnesty for immigrants, Asian and Latinx, all the while funding right-wing regimes and terrorists that would destabilize the regions such groups heralded from.
George W. Bush himself spoke of “compassionate conservatism” and immigration reform. His bastardized Spanish, however cringe-inducing, was an appeal to Latinx voters at least. Again, the policies these two put forward were destructive, and one could argue far more destructive than Trump to a degree. After all, Bush and his acolytes invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, leading to decades of bloodshed and a collapse of government institutions and resources. To this day, many Iraqis are left to fend for themselves, while private contractors reap profits, and Iraqi politicians bloviate.
However, those same extreme reactionary elements, the Pat Buchanans and the like, those who speak of a “civilizational war” on the whites and a “southern invasion,” have become far more emboldened within the GOP and mainstream politics. The explicit racist rhetoric has become far more “accepted” and spread, in the dungeons of Congress and in the green rooms of Fox News. A rabid constituency now rears its head, chomping at the bit, eager to push forward candidates like a Trump, who would find it natural to refer to Covid-19 as the “China virus,” to suggest that all Mexicans are “foreign” and “rapists,” and who, even while seeking to attract a more diverse voting base, consistently referred to African Americans as “the blacks” and still believed Frederick Douglas was still around (if only).
Such rhetoric and buffoonery has pushed Asian and Latinx populations, or at least in certain corners of the country, to align more so with African Americans. This includes not only aligning at the ballot box, but also, when it’s in terms of thinking about coalitional politics and the need for it.
“I think saying a person of color is a bit more empowering compared to the term minority just because I think minority seems very isolating…I feel like person of color, you imagine more groups with you,” an Asian American respondent explained to Perez.
I’ve experienced this shift too, when speaking to family and friends. It was 9/11 and its aftermath that would reinforce among South Asians and some Arabs I knew personally that our fates were intertwined with other groups, especially African Americans. Indeed, South Asians, Indian Americans in particular, would prove to be a major constituency supporting Obama in his two terms in office.
During the Floyd uprisings, it was noted by various outlets the cross-racial support the unrest and resistance against police brutality did receive. This did include some whites, as well as Latinxs and Asians. In talking to friends of mine, all of us could connect our own experiences as non-black POC to the broader feelings of being marginalized or oppressed. The protests represented a broader resistance against Trumpism and reactionary elements.
The “poc” identity, therefore, reflects a positive direction toward groups identifying a shared set of issues and enemies.
Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. Du Bois, even prior to his political evolution as a communist, spoke of a global “color line,” in which Chinese, Indians, Africans and African Americans were united in their need to overthrow European and later, U.S. hegemony. Similarly, despite being maligned (by people who don’t read him accurately) as somehow parochial, Malcolm X had always been a proponent of various groups of nonwhite people, or colonized peoples, to see themselves in the others’ struggles. In fact, Malcolm X would consistently refer to the successes of colonized peoples abroad, such as the Viet Minh against the French, as examples to follow for African Americans. He would correlate French power to white supremacy in the U.S.
“Up in French Indochina, those little peasants, rice-growers, took on the might of the French army and ran all the Frenchmen, you remember Dien Bien Phu!” he exclaimed in his “Ballot or the Bullet” speech, adding, “The same thing happened in Algeria, in Africa.”
What’s different now is that some of this truth, this objective reality of people of color or non-Anglo people sharing some common issues and opposition, has become more accepted, or known. The Trump administration revealed how many explicitly white supremacists and racist forces do exist, despite the thin veneer of “civility” that emerged in the 1990s and stayed with us up until Obama’s final term in the White House. When you have men and women in the streets, waving Confederate flags, and a man with immense power calling countries in the Global South “shithole” countries, and suggesting that border police shoot immigrants along the U.S.-Mexican border in the legs, it’s difficult to ignore. For many Asians, the anti-Asian hate wave, precipitated by Trump’s rhetoric, had created an atmosphere of angst and anxiety, provoking many to vote for the first time, desperate for “stability.” It was the same for Muslims broadly and other groups who had been an explicit target of Trump’s racist drama.
Still, the “poc” identification, as much as it’s been a sign of people realizing some form of commonality, is also very much tied to partisanship rather than principles or values regarding how society should look like. For some, including those interviewed by Perez, many viewed being authentically “poc” as people who vote Democrat. Now, what that means is up for debate.
So far, we’ve seen various groups in various regions pick and choose different types of Democrat, from conservative to progressive, from those who’ve been in power for decades now, to others who are more upstart and challenging. The “poc” label is a sign that people are open to engaging with others, are open to solidarity and other forms of broader struggle. Yet, it is also not a substitute for building a pro-socialist constituency, which is still necessary if we are to win power and win a society that’s beneficial for most people of color existing within it.
In a sense, the alignment has been mostly restricted to voting Democrat nationally or to vote against the most extreme totems of Republican governance. Beyond this, political coherence and solidarity is still something that needs to be analyzed and developed with intention and drive by socialist organizations and leadership.
The Nonwhite Coalition Is Nigh
Over the past several decades, opposition to injustice has often been channeled through the Democratic Party. Opposition to explicit forms of racism to vague notions of fairness and inclusion have become intertwined with Democratic Party branding, or the very least, dissociated from the Grand Old Party and its various shades of old cranky white men and white women.
As co-founder of the Black Agenda Report and one of the few prominent voices on the left warning against the rise of Obama early on, Glen Ford had accurately presented the political capture of African American politics to the Democratic party establishment.
African Americans have been, for the majority of U.S. history, one of the more progressive forces in the country, especially when compared to their white counterparts. However, following the crushing of the New Left and the missteps of labor unions (which included conservative leadership AND membership purging left-wing organizers), a void had opened up by the late 1970s, right around the time of Reagan’s rise.
The Democrats too were now sliding away from New Deal and Great Society programs, producing a cynical brew of kinder and gentler forms of capitalist interest-groups as well as beaten down and sometimes, delusional labor leaders. Eventually, this too would uplift candidates such as Bill Clinton, who would appeal to some black voters all the while proving his bona fides as a “new” type of Democratic politician, one who had no problem scapegoating poor and working class people of color like his predecessors had done, and someone eager for such things as “welfare reform”, which really ended up being tossing poor people aside, compelling them to work for less than minimum wage to receive paltry social benefits.
“Democratic Party politics kills Black politics”, Glen Ford would state, time and again. Inevitably, seeing no alternative, many African Americans who are registered would vote Democrat, despite an economic agenda pushed by Clinton, Gore, and later, Obama, that cut against their collective economic interests.
Over time, a network of pro-Democrat community organizations and leaders would spread instead, reinforcing the idea that a politics of liberation and improvement could indeed take place through reforms and electing figures such as Obama, and now, Biden.
Ford himself explained:
The Democratic Party is hegemonic in Black America. I’m not just talking about the fact that Black elected officials are overwhelmingly Democratic. The mainline Black civic organizations—the NAACP, the Urban League, and the rest—are annexes of the Democratic Party. So are most Black churches. The party’s tentacles even reach down to the Black sororities and fraternities.
Some of this is also being generated across Latinx and Asian American communities, especially since Obama’s time in office. Once again, for many, there’s a stark choice between electing someone antagonistic to immigrants of color and to anyone who isn’t a particular brand of race and religion, and picking someone who is somewhat less destructive and can at least, exemplify some notion of astute leadership. Indeed, when we look at the 2020 presidential election, and in states like Georgia, where senate seats were up for grabs, it would be Asian Americans and sometimes, Latinxs that swung the election in favor of Democrats even in areas that are seen as typically Republican.
In my home state of New Jersey, you have emergent South Asian American lawmakers and organizations that throw their support behind the Democratic Party. Once more, this is understandable given the existing alternatives. However, as I’ve also seen, the state Democratic Party is very much centered around maintaining a pro-business ecosystem. Sometimes, this may lead to some wage increases, albeit incremental. Yet, overall, as the Democratic Party is currently conceived, there will not be progressive, and certainly no socialist policies being pushed. In the end, the party attracts people of color, and develops relationships with members of the Desi community who have the ability to fund their campaigns.
Yet, the need for socialism, for an economy run for the interests of most working people, has only become increasingly necessary. Clintonite half-measures, if you call them such, are no longer able to justify themselves, nor meet even the basic needs of people of color who’ve climbed their way into the vaunted “middle class.” The grand bargain that was made, implicitly like the rest of liberal social contract history, whereby some working people, including people of color, were fine with living and working in white-collar professions, with some form of pension, higher pay, and lush green lawns to gush over with friends, in exchange for navigating a social world where unions don’t exist, where healthcare and housing remain privatized. Now, it’s been forty plus years of neoliberal “reform,” of gutting the social welfare net and shaping society for the wellbeing and self esteem of major corporations, and society overall is now facing internal cleavages, and erosion.
For most people of color who work for a living, whether behind a desk all day or standing on their feet and smiling for consumers buying another six pack and some garam masala, society under capitalism is untenable. Not only were Great Society programs stripped away, we now have less social mobility than in decades past, along with increasing costs of living eating away at whatever minimal financial progress one could try to make.
“Despite working more on average than whites, Latinx families have far less household wealth,” Danyelle Solomon, senior director of Race and Ethnicity Policy at the Center for American Progress, stated in a recent report focused on Latinx American issues and economic status.
Asian Americans, currently, have the widest gap in terms of wealth/income within the group, a direct product of neoliberalism as well as Asians arriving to the states with not much at their disposal. Overall, in many cities, including New York City, Asians constitute a high percentage of those languishing in poverty, not to mention all those who hover above said poverty line while working multiple low-wage jobs.
In my building, with the Philadelphia skyline beyond the trees nearby, you have Indian Americans, African Americans, Latinxs, and some East Asian, alongside some whites, who either wait together for the shuttle, wearing their wrinkled dress shirts, or you have many commuting, their name tags glinting under the sun. Most of the apartments here are still relatively cheaper than what you find in the city or in the surrounding areas, and yet, they’re also extremely cramped spaces.
Clearly, people here would benefit from a society where labor is done for public welfare, and where people are promised somewhere nice to live, good food, and healthcare. Right now, when I myself take the elevator, or pass people by, or speak with my neighbors, many of whom are older and African American, I can see the dark rings around peoples’ eyes. They grumble about the pests, the cracks in the hallway letting in rain, the rents increasing. Peoples’ anxieties seep through the walls, sometimes the yelling and slamming of doors jolting me out of bed.
The economic deprivation and loss of economic power can only be resolved through the anchoring of a socialist society and this cannot and will not be achieved through the paradigm we’re trapped in now, which is to keep voting for Democrats and disappearing until the next time a Biden style politician claims to be for “defund” or for “racial progress.”
Yet, to win that society, it requires commitment, passion, and solidarity that is deeper than just voting every few years, if that. Various groups of color must see one another as not just fellow Democratic Party voters but as people worth fighting for, people to trust in times of political disorder or calamity, or during times when repression cracks down over our heads and consciousness.
In political science, there has been a growing body of work having to do with how people of color view one another, politically and socially, which matters to this idea of bridging solidarity, of having people see one another as comrades. Overall, the research has been mixed in its conclusions. According to national survey work conducted by Natalie Masuoka and Jane Junn, various groups of color have internalized racist ideas about each other, ideas that can be exploited by anti-solidaristic political actors. Among some Asian Americans, for instance, the stereotypical beliefs about African Americans, beliefs rooted in white supremacist thinking, are also accepted. Conversely, when it comes to Asians, they are also perceived by African Americans and some Latinxs in an extremely reductive manner, very much seen as “model minorities,” somehow transcending the other problems that other groups face, including economic.
Betina Cutaia Wilkinson, another political scientist who focuses on the relations between African Americans and Latinxs, warned that economic crises can cause groups to battle one another for what they feel are limited resources. They state, “blacks and Latinos who reside in weak economic and political environments are often less prone to feel close to another minority group and are more likely to regard the other minority group as competitors.”
In my own research and organizing, I’ve come across people from various groups of color, including those who are workers, who express some sense of solidarity with others, albeit limited. Some express skepticism. Others feel obliged to say they believe in solidarity but when the topic is explored further, the concept feels vague. For the most part, I do feel most people of color who are workers are interested in improving their working and living conditions, and to do so with others who may not look like them, etc. but this feeling can be fleeting, and will never be strong enough on its own to push a majority to do that work themselves, of bridging divides, of going to a community with different groups of color and conversing.
Overall, there are other competing factors too, even when we focus on working class people of color, however exploited or burdened they may feel. Religion, region, gender (among Asian and Latino men, support for “poc” is lower compared to their female counterparts), and social position (how working people are arranged on the socioeconomic ladder, such as some being “white collar”) matter significantly. In certain parts of the country, like the south, voters of color might feel more eager to throw their support behind Democrats, and restrict themselves in that way politically. In terms of religion, you can find segments of Asians and Latinxs, evangelical for example, who might vote Democrat sometimes, but overall, express a very conservative point of view on numerous topics and issues that affect other working people of color. Age is another important factor as we’ve seen older voters of color believing in the Democratic Party more wholeheartedly, while younger people, at least for millennials, skew increasingly left.
But overall, the cohesion and coherence that’s necessary is still missing and will remain an abstract idea for years to come. How can it not be, considering the lack of robust left-wing alternatives and the continued strength of Democrat establishment politics, as well as the fear (justifiably so) and panic over a resurgent right wing dragging into the public square ghosts of our past, from eugenics to paramilitary groups.
As of right now, the political landscape is ripe for those with explicit class and political interests among our communities to also take advantage and lead us down a cul-de-sac when it comes to political mobilization and action.
Achieving Clarity Against The Tide of Uncertainty
A time period similar to our own is the post-war era following the end of WWII, as a new middle class among some sections of people of color was growing, while most were still trapped in low-wage work and marginalized positions in society generally. In cities like New York, African Americans and Puerto Ricans, two of the major oppressed groups, were very much politically and economically marginalized. The New Deal had done some work in raising up the standard of living and later on, so would Great Society programs, but overall, more had to be done in terms of greatly improving the material conditions of most African Americans and Puerto Ricans, who had now been migrating at greater numbers to major U.S. cities, mainly across the northeast.
Historian Sonia Song-Ha Lee explores this time period in Building A Latino Civil Rights Movement, which examines the political coalitions that were finally forged between both communities in the city.
Initially, despite economic disarray and precarity, many in each group were skeptical of the other. Many African Americans suggested that Puerto Ricans were more privileged and could not be trusted. The irony, of course, is the fact that since Puerto Ricans were relatively newer to the city, the group overall had a far more difficult time accessing stable work, and many more found themselves in poverty. However, many Puerto Ricans expressed their desire, a desire reinforced in them by so-called “community leaders,” to “assimilate” and view their pathway toward greater acceptance as following the experience of European immigrants such as Italians. Basically, the game plan was to bide their time and “prove themselves” to white New Yorkers.
“What Diaz [a Puerto Rican leader] found was a fear among Puerto Ricans that they might become, like African Americans, a people considered to be ‘naturally’ poor and dependent on aid,” Lee writes.
Once again, economic precarity did not naturally lead to solidarity between these groups. Some were seeing more clearly their shared interests, but these people realized too that organizations and institutions had to be developed for most people to finally achieve a similar level of political clarity. Such individuals, as Lee explains, learned the importance and the type of solidarity necessary by cutting their teeth on labor, tenants’ rights issues, and finally, with some having attended major events like the March on Washington, and having ties with figures like Bayard Rustin.
Left-wing Puerto Rican nationalists, like the Young Lords, took direct inspiration from the Black Panther Party, who were also very much driven by an analysis of how various groups of color (even poor whites) are tied politically in terms of their fates, and of course, their need for socialism instead of New Deal and Great Society liberalism. The YL branch in NYC incorporated African Americans into their leadership and organizing, and sought to work with other groups to bring people together from both communities, to have them strategize together, and develop clarity with one another.
“Far from ‘balkanizing’ blacks and Puerto Ricans into isolated, alienated fringe groups, nationalist movements brought them closer together,” Lee states. Over time, this approach did compel enough African Americans and Puerto Ricans to ally together on various campaigns, such as the campaign to diversify education and to have their local schools become more responsive to community needs.
The coalition would break down by the early 1970s for a multitude of reasons. One being the YL moving to Puerto Rico, leaving behind a political void for other types of anti-Marxist nationalist groups or “moderate” elements to fill. There were Puerto Ricans who advocated for shifting away from their alliances with African Americans and toward becoming part of a new Hispanic constituency instead. There were black nationalist groups that once again perpetuated the idea that Puerto Ricans couldn’t be trusted. Finally, a rising middle class of black and brown people meant a new constituency open to more conservative/”moderate” Democratic Party politics as well, such as the mayoralty of Ed Koch, a “law and order” sycophant who pitted group against group, class against class for a right-wing populist vision.
Socialists must lead. There is a growing number of people of color who have shown an interest in broader solidarity efforts. However, this feeling must be further developed into a pro-socialist ethos and anti-colonial struggle. Chaos, crises, precarity will not do the job for us. People will either be compelled to view oppositional politics as voting against the GOP, or for some, leaning on conservative Democrats, or, for some to advocate for such things as petty bourgeoisie forms of so-called economic “autonomy,” as in buying from black-owned, Asian-owned, or Hispanic-owned businesses. More important, or disturbingly so, questions surrounding U.S. imperialism, which affects us as well, will continue to be ignored for the most part, even among sections of people of color who consider themselves progressive-minded.
Currently, socialist groups like the DSA, according to some numbers from the last convention, remain extremely white (85%), with black membership hovering at an embarrassing level (4%). Socialist groups like the DSA clearly lack the presence in communities of color, including lower income. This will lead to other forces swooping in, cultivating relationships for groups to vote against their long term interests, and most of all, to not develop deep political relationships (or even social ones) between segments of Asians, Latinx and African Americans.
Perhaps DSA will not be the vehicle for our communities to win critical demands. Perhaps DSA will be someday replaced with another organization more serious about influencing and organizing black and brown people for a socialist agenda. Regardless, whatever group claims to be the next DSA, or to have the same level of membership (as opposed to what some socialist groups are, which are glorified reading groups still), that organization will need to find ways to intervene, to bring people closer, to educate and develop ties and leaders as did the YL and BPP and others had tried to do in the past, before their own political missteps.
The post Race and Socialism: ‘People of Color’ and a ‘New’ Political Re-Alignment appeared first on Cosmonaut.
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