Question concerning race and class

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at
Thu Jul 2 10:00:05 PDT 1998

Thanks to all who replied to my posting on the subject. Beacuse of the posting limitation, I will answer in one 'piece,' so to speak.

I do recognize that racism exists in the US and it was not my intention to deny it. But in my posting I asked a very simple question, what are we supposed to DO to end it? I did NOT ask what are we supposed to THINK, or what ATTITUDE are we supposed to express to end it. I do not belive that thinking or talking equals doing. If it did, we would not have the First Amendment.

I am well aware of the fact that many whites have quite negative attitudes toward blacks simply because of their skin color. I also know that many blacks have negative attitudes toward whites. I may also add that similar prejudices exist against virtually any group, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Eastern or Southern Europeans, Irish, you name it.

I also think that the world would be a better place if people did not have such attitudes. However, I think that we have more urgent problems to solve than changing people's attitudes - like eliminating gross economic inequality.

To be frank, I do not mind people cracking Polack- or Kike- jokes (although I still think cracking ethnic jokes is rude) as long as I can get employment at places like Johns Hopkins. In the same vein, sexist attitudes toward women are certainly deplorable, but instead of changing the locker-room manners, a much more fruitful strategy is to enforce the equal pay for equal work rule, or equal employment opportunity. Ditto for racist attitudes.

As I see it, a political struggle must focus on a goal that is unambiguous, attainable and has a matrial effect. Focusing on psychological phenomena, such as racist attitudes, appears to me like a terrible waste of energy, almost like substituting the ideal for the real - which is how religion copes with miserable living conditions.

I may also add that crying 'racism' is a convenient diversion that blames individual attitudes for the structural failures of the capitalist system. Claims that Blacks are poor because all or most Whites are racists only helps to reinforce the myth that if only Whites changed their attitude, the market system would be just fine. That is bullshit, plain and simple. Blacks are poor not because Whites hate them, but because the market system by its very nature FAILS to 'lift all the boats' - even the Chicago-school types talk about market failures.

Therefore, the poor (Black or otherwise) are poor not because other people hate them, but because the system by which economic decisions are made by design ignores people with little or no resources. In other words, the profit-seeking market system will fail to help the poor of any skin color, regardless of the attitudes of the rich toward them.

Thus, a racist government bueraucrat administering a program designed to mend the "market failures" does more to help the poor Blacks than a pc-liberal who sends charitable donations to fight the Klan, but supports the free market system.

To summarize, my main problem with cryining 'racism' is the culruralist and psychological connotations it evokes. If racism means only economic exploitation then fighting racism is synnymous with fighting capitalism. However, racism is a very poorly defined concept. It has a host of other cultutralist and psychologiocal connotations that tend to to obscure the economic inequality. And I think that because of those connotations, the ruling class and its agents, like Clinton, use racism as a stock phrase. It is precisely because they hope to direct public iattention toward those culturalist and psychological aspects while obscuring the systemic roots of poverty in this country.

On the top of it, there is a host of moral entrepreneurs, symbol manipulators, academics, reverends, politicians, literary critics etc. who see it as an opportunity to either sell their cultural commodity or to spring themsleves to leadership positions. They might not be conscious collaborators, but their talk about 'racism' dove-tails with the ruling class efforts of blaming the psychological phenomena instead of blaming the system.

Paraphrasing Marx: religion, culture and pop-psychology are the opiates of the people. They distract our attention away from the material world, and stymie social change.



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