Culturalism of the 'Culture of Poverty' Discourse (was Re:

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Fri Jul 3 08:44:14 PDT 1998

Wojtek wrote on lbo-talk:
>To summarize, my main problem with cryining 'racism' is the culruralist and
>psychological connotations it evokes.

Wojtek, you aren't listening to a significan proportion of the posts on this general issue, but replying selectively, and in part to arguments that exist only in your own head. This Platonism is unlike you. I despise psychological explanations of *anything* as much as you do, and in this particular context I am not very interested in culture either: in any case, it is obscurantist to link psychology and culture as you do here.

>If racism means only economic
>exploitation then fighting racism is synnymous with fighting capitalism.

You keep throwing in "if...then" propositions in which the if part (usually empirical, sometimes definitonal) simply does not hold water. It is perhaps simply tautological that "Fighting A [any injustice] is fighting capitalism," but that by itself hardly bears on anything. Racism does *not* simply equal economic exploitation, for a huge number of reasons, but one reason is that "racism" is an ideology and not as such the cause of anything, while as we all know on this list economic exploitation is a social relation at the core of capitalism. But we also know that despite the fundamental bourgeois premise that "economics" is a realm separated from the rest of life, subject to so-called laws of its own, that economic issues are in fact politically embedded. Hence to speak in the abstract of fighting capitalism (or exploitation) has no grip on capitalist reality.

>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.

Nonsense! Racism only has those culturalist and psychological connotations in the speech, writing, or behavior of those who (whatever their claimed premises) actually see racism as a platonic form with a life of its own rather than the ideological expression of real material relations. (This can be sloganized as "Racism does *not* cause slavery; slavery causes racism," with various other forms of oppressive and repressive patterns substituting for "slavery" here.) An eternity of focusing on personal prejudice or bigotry, on racism as having psychological causes and subject to psychological remedies--such as (e.g.) individual forswearing of white skin privilege or race treason or education--will have no effect on racism whatsoever. We need to attack, and attack directly, those social relations which provide the material basis of racism--for example, police brutality (a cliche which tends to radical reduction of the real horrors it names). And of course poor people, white or black, are subject to police brutality, but it is totally obscurantist not to recognize the special nature, extent and intensity of police treatment of blacks. An economistic explanation of repression cannot even begin to explain these facts.

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.

Absolutely true. And you and others are doing Clinton's work for him when you refuse to investigate and come to an understanding of the real and horrible *political* repression of blacks *AS A COLLECTIVE*. Whether the best name for that repression is the original Comintern one (picked up by the new communist formations of the 1970s) is correct or incorrect, *any* explanation which does not recognize the political conditions that a national explanation offers is simply empty.

As I've said before, there is a huge (and conflicting) literature on this complex of issues, a literature which I myself have only partly explored, and which in any case could not be summarized in one or 20 posts. But before trying to reduce black oppression to a few tautologies, or brush it off as a psychological or phenomenon, without honoring the existence of that huge literature, and the even huger historical facts with which it grapples, is an empty (and I think non-marxist) gesture.


P.S. For over 20 years I was one of those who scoffed at the idea of a black nation, and for nearly 10 years I was a member of a small group which put forward the slogan "Fight Racism" in explicit denial of the "national question" theory. But I have been gradually for the last 10 or 12 years been coming to the conviction that if definitions of "nation" (or "national minority") do not fit the condition of African Americans then those definitions need to be changed to fit historical and empirical reality.

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