Question concerning race and class

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at
Thu Jul 2 11:19:43 PDT 1998

Hello everyone,

Doyle Nice to hear your voice Wojtek. A good query, I appreciate the opportunity to try to express my understanding to you.

Wojtek's queries on ending Racism
> When it comes to
the proposition "End racism," however, I am at utter loss.
> What the f**k are we supposed to do (individually or collectively) to
> achieve that end?

X’s reply So am I as a matter of fact. So are the various lefts in the United States. So are most blacks. That is why we do not, at the present time, have "A Left" in this country. And that is why I proclaimed in a very brief post a week or so ago that the BRC *might* just be the trigger to the reinvigoration of a leftist movement.

The (academic) woods are full of people (some white, some black) who have various individualist routes to fighting racism, which I have never taken much interest in. There is also no particular point in blaming individuals, even aggressively racist individuals. And one does not, incidentally, "end racism" (though that is acceptable as an agitational slogan), for racism is not a thing or a set of ideas but an ideology, an ideology continually recreated by and making sense of (that, after all, is the purpose of ideologies) the material conditions of U.S. life. One tries to work out ways to organize to destroy those conditions.

Doyle I thought the reply from X above was a good summary of how an individual might approach the question of ending racism. It is approximately how I understand things in my personal daily life. To me this is a moral description of the process with the flavor of humbleness that one ought to bring to individual understanding. In another case Michael Eisenscher says something similar, but asserts much more overtly that the answer is a moral answer. That I don’t agree with. Reliance upon moral systems is an old method of describing how the brain comes to "understandings" of everyday life. Of course practically speaking individuals do not have the resources to "rationally" figure everything out, so moral systems short cut the rational process to make instant judgements. Moral systems then often arise out of a relatively uninformed knowledge to quickly make decisions of "good" and "bad", right and wrong. Wojtek wrote recently about cognitive lenses, and to me moral systems fit the example of cognitive lenses if I take Wojtek’s meaning correctly.

Doyle Going beyond the individual level to institutional structures, one of the central issues of class divisions, and a primary way of asserting racists divisions is language. I’ll give an example from discrimination against the disabled which shows how deeply difficult the issues are, and are well beyond a simple moral calculus. Western writing systems, the alphabet, causes learning disorders. For instance 20% (by some estimates) of the U.S. population experiences dyslexia with respect to reading and writing. Whatever the level of the disability in the U.S. the Japanese writing system is reported to have very little dyslexia barrier to it. The numbers of dyslexics in Japan are very low, and possibly there are none aside from persons who have had brain traumas due to injury, or stroke. To seriously dismantle the discrimination that dyslexics face in the alphabetic writing system is a vast and difficult scientific project which requires virtually global methods to resolve in my opinion. English culture dyslexia is an outrageous example of bigotry blaming some disabled people for the sins of the systemic barriers itself. If I might assert a moral stance right here.

Doyle To me ending racism goes beyond the personal accountability of the moral position, to the structural nature of the mass movements that we need to end racism. Primarily the main prop of racism is cognitive divisions amongst working people. The most obvious examples of cognitive variations are languages (but as X says above even aggressively racist individuals live themselves in a moral regime within their brains which does not change quickly any more than adults who must accommodate to English as a second language learn overnight or lose their accents). We need a mass working class movement willing to take on the racist attitudes toward the mainly mixed "race" (like myself in the sense I’m mixed race) Hispanic peoples because of language differences. I see this as mainly concerned with forcing the Anglo language culture upon those lower working class Hispanic people to impede their social progress as much as possible. I focus upon language oppression because much of racism seems to me to arise from the cognitive barriers which are thrown up by elites, and the privileges of their central "cognitive lenses" as a means to restrict and hobble workers, so that they can’t have material equality or justice.

Doyle In addition language and cultural differences seem to me to show how gaining national power can hinder rather than advance the fight against racism. Wherever a "particular" single unified group with some sort of cognitive unity achieves power as a nation, and they seek to use that power to enhance their national chauvinism of their cognitive history as privilege against another distinct cognitive regime, they show how little real good nationalism is to the working class. In other words national projects which seek to advance one cognitive regime over another are the primary sources of racism. We need extra national forces to stop such schemes.

Doyle Sometimes some Marxist use the term ideology in a way like I’m using cognitive regime here. Ideology is the "logical" structure of understanding within to use Wojtek’s phrase the "cognitive lens", whereas the cognitive regime is more like the labor process to arrive at human understanding.

Doyle By the way another finely written bit of history from Louis Proyect. Thanks for the contribution to the on-going understanding of Tibet we ought to be engaging in.

Doyle Saylor

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list