Question concerning race and class

Ingrid Multhopp zippycat at
Thu Jul 2 12:34:07 PDT 1998

Alex Lantsberg wrote:

> Our first matter of course is to not think of racism as something that
> happens in the South or in some backward community, but something that
> occurs on a daily basis everywhere in this country. Land use decisions that
> place toxics in low-income neighborhoods are racist in nature,

Well, yes and no. Plenty of toxic dumps get placed in poor white neighborhoods as well. I think we all recognize on this list that issues of racism and classism (and the inability to build a "class-based politics") are perniciously and inexorably interwoven. But I don't understand why it's necessarily more fruitful to view issues such as toxic waste-dumping land-use decisions as being race- rather than class-based, even though of course these issues disproportionately impact minority populations. Which is why I'm probably more sympathetic to class dogmatists such as Wotjek than are others on this list.

> our
> sketchiness when we see a group of young Black men is racism,

Again I differ somewhat. I mean, studies have shown that older blacks in high-crime neighborhoods are at least as likely to cross the street to avoid groups of black youths as are whites (although the racial paranoia of whites who avoid passing lone black men along the sidewalk is truly inexcusable and, I'm sure, quite enraging). These older blacks, however, quite rightly recognize the potential for violence to erupt among groups of youths who are utterly hopeless about their own futures. I totally disagree with the stupid saying that "A conservative is just a liberal who's been mugged"--in fact, being mugged or worse can often radicalize a person who spends any time thinking about the brutalizing and dehumanizing conditions that encourage such activity. But still I think you have to distinguish between justified caution and racism.

> and our
> insistence on incarceration instead of education is racist.

Yes, the insistence is racist, but who do you mean when you say "our"? Certainly not anyone on this list, and I'm not even sure that this insistence holds among the majority of whites in this country, although unfortunately it holds well enough among those who bother to vote. And so yes, we should be screaming our asses off about the underfunding of (primarily) minority school districts, the codified racism of our "war on drugs", etc., etc.

BTW, speaking of the underfunding of schools, another listee has reminded me that many on this list wouldn't be caught dead reading the "New Yorker"--in which case you will have missed this entertaining piece on the author John Irving and his fight over school (under)funding:

"Talk of the Town" July 6

"The week that John Irving's now novel, "A Widow for One Year," hit no. 1 on the Times best-seller list, the author was a little preoccupied. The former prep-school wrestling coach was busy picking a fight with the state of Vermont, where he has lived for more than twenty-five years. The feud erupted over Act 60, a new bill that requires equity of funding in school districts across the state. Under the law, so-called gold towns, like Dorset, where Irving lives with his wife/agent and their kindergarten-age son, must share their property tax revenue with two hundred and eleven poorer towns. In Irving's case, the tax on his $1.4 million home will go up almost five thousand dollars.

"A self-described 'notorious' liberal, Irving has gone on record calling Act 60 'Marxist' and has threatened to leave the state if it stands. 'My response is as brutally upper class as I can make it,' he told 'Time'. 'I'm not putting my child in an underfunded public school system.' Well out of reach of his Random House publicists, Irving added that he avoided speaking to the Vermont press, 'because I don't want to make my child a target of trailer park envy.' As if to prove his point, Irving elaborated on his remarks to a Vermont reporter the day the magazine hit the newsstands. 'I deeply resent being resented by people who think that I'm ignorant, insensitive, and lazy because I've made a lot of money,' he said.

"The result was an outpouring of editorial bile. 'Poor John Irving, cried the Rutland Herald, which called the author a laughingstock, with a 'Marie Antoinette-like detachment from real life.' 'A prayer of Owen Mean,' trumpeted the Burlington Free )Press. Irving had embarrassed himself twice, the paper said, 'first with the boorish and unprovoked attack on low-income Vermonters who live in mobile homes and then with the aristocrat-under-glass yammering about Vermont's prosecution of the rich.' As for his threat to leave the state, the paper observed, "Volunteers are lining up to pack his home gym.

"Irving responded to the flogging by sending a lengthy letter to editors across Vermont. Insisting he doesn't mind paying more taxes, he complained that Act 60 isn't about education but about redistribution of wealth. 'Rich people are everybody's targeted minority,' he wrote. 'I know--and not only because I am now, by popular definition, rich.' Before the publication of his 1978 novel, The World According to Garp, he went on, 'I routinely envied, mocked and whined about rich people, too.'

"Just as Irving threaten to self-destruct, along came the voices of the trailer parks. Letters-to-the-editor pages were full of retorts, claiming that Irving was 'red-baiting', desperate for publicity, and besmirching the name of Abe Lincoln, who, after all, was born in a house that lacked indoor plumbing. A member of the Mobile Home Park Project, in Wilmington, wrote, 'I thought he knew the difference between character and setting.'

"Finally, one Warren Morse, of Brattleboro, took up the case of the beleaguered author. 'We all know about those trailer park people,' he wrote. "When they are not conjuring up tornados, they go around saying mean things about the rich and famous. And they have the nerve to want their children to have the same quality of education as the rich kids have. 'What's next? Caviar on their hot dogs?

--Bruce Feiler"

> Regards,


> Lets be frank with ourselves, whether we are left, right or center.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-lbo-talk at [mailto:owner-lbo-talk at]
> On Behalf Of Wojtek Sokolowski
> Sent: Wednesday, July 01, 1998 7:44 AM
> To: lbo-talk at
> Subject: Question concerning race and class
> I've been watching the debate about racism/nationalism silently, mainly
> because I have little to add to what Max Sawicky and Jim heartfield have
> already said on the subject. I have, however, one question.
> The proposition "End capitalist oppression!" entails a set of programs
> that, if implemented, are likely to achieve an empirically observable set
> of objectives stipulated by that proposition. Those programs may or may
> not get support of various interests groups, and thus may or may not be
> attainable under particular political-historical circumstances. But there
> is little doubt that the implementation of a program that, say, curtails
> private property rights will reduce the capacity of the "haves" to
> economically exploit the "have-nots," and will produce a more equitable
> distribution of economic resources.
> 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?
> I hope nobody on this list seriously believes that schmoozing, throwing
> epithets at real or perceived enemies, "town meetings," street rallies or
> supporting a political campaign will have any measurable effect on "race
> relations" other than propelling a few entrepreneuring individulas to
> leadership positions.
> So what a person like myself (an Eastern European immigrant of leftist
> persuasion) is supposed to do to 'end racism?' And while we are at that,
> can anyone describe to me how exactly the 'end of racism' looks like, so I
> can tell (instead of being told!) whether we have one or not?
> Best regards,
> Wojtek Sokolowski

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list