I’ve spent a lot of time on Open Salon and some on Our Salon talking about racism since the failure in Ferguson to indict but especially since the failure to indict in Eric Garner’s killing in Staten Island. There has been an unusual amount of dialogue coming from an unusual number of directions about racism. This may be the best series of discussions on the topic I’ve ever seen on OS, and that includes the discussions following the Trayvon Martin killing.
There are some very different threads. I'm going to post separately on two of them, so in that respect this post is Part Two. My previous post covered Part One.
This second thread is not so extreme in that this one does not deny the existence of racism but instead holds that the best way to address racism is not to address racism directly. For lack of a better name, I’ll call this one the Cynical American. I know a few people who hold this view.
The Cynical American posits that we should not talk about racism because racism doesn’t generalize and that too many people won’t get behind a cause that doesn’t affect them directly. We should instead focus on classism because classism affects most Americans, including a disproportionate number of Black Americans, and we can get allies because more people will support our cause out of self-interest.
There are two big problems with the Cynical American case. One is that too much racism operates independently of classism, so though addressing classism would assist a large part of America’s Black population, it wouldn’t address the specific ills of racism, which are still awfully serious, way too serious to ignore. We still see all sorts of effects of racism in America if we compare people of different races but the same class, so that a lot of racism operates independently of class is easily verifiable statistically.
A second problem with the Cynical American is the assumption that Americans in general are that cynical. We went from slavery to emancipation, limited voting rights to real voting rights, legal discrimination to illegal discrimination, no government assistance for minorities to targeted government assistance for minorities, all with a Black population that wasn’t all that big a percentage of the whole population. There’s a reason most Americans can’t afford to be openly racist any more. There are now arguments about whether racism exists in America, whether the current effects of racism are significant, and especially whether the remedies for the effects of racism are worse than racism itself, but there aren’t really public arguments about whether or not racism is intrinsically a bad thing. That racism is a bad thing is now a general American assumption. The significance of the election and re-election of a Black President of the United States has often been exaggerated to indicate a functional end to racism but, on the other hand, that significance can also be understated. None of this stuff can be achieved by thirteen percent of the population acting alone, and it wasn't.
Have a look at the race arguments taking place on Open Salon lately. How many of us talking about how racism is still a significant problem are Black? Certainly not most of us. Are we White people all supposed to be uninterested in this issue because we’re White? That’s never how American politics has worked and it still isn’t.
This is not to say either that classism isn’t important to work on or that making the case that dealing with racism on the grounds of self-interest doesn’t make sense – I have done plenty of both and I have the posts to prove it. This is just to say that the case that these two tools should be the only two in the toolbox is nonsensical – it goes against American history and goes against current evidence.