Thursday, November 24, 2016

No, identity politics is not civil rights

I left this comment at Stop Calling It Identity Politics — Its Civil Rights:
It’s sad that you’ve appropriated King to argue that identitarianism is civil rights. Two things he said may illustrate the problem:

“In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.” — Martin Luther King

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” — Martin Luther King

Left-identitarians prefer the King of 1963 to the later King who spoke more bluntly about justice. They fail to note that the 1963 Dream speech was given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, not the March on Washington for Racial Respect. To democratic socialists like King and Bayard Rustin, fighting racism and sexism were just part of what socialists do. That’s no different for the most famous democratic socialist in the US today, Bernie Sanders.

King’s unfinished project, the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, was not the Black People’s Campaign. He wanted poor people of all hues to march together and call for Basic Income to end poverty for everyone.

But left identitarians only want to fight racism and sexism. If you doubt this, notice how many of them denigrate the white working class. 
And if you ask for specifics about how they can fight racism and sexism alone, their solutions are vague. They have to be vague because wealth in the US will always be disproportionately distributed without a solution like Basic Income. Which is why Malcolm X was right when he said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism”.

The history of left identitarianism in the US begins after King died. Privileged black academics in the Ivy League under the guidance of Derrick Bell developed Critical Race Theory as an alternative to King’s universalism. One of Bell’s students, Kimberle Crenshaw, coined “intersectionality”, but her intersection was only about race and gender — the black bourgeoisie is no more interested in the working class than the white bourgeoisie. Later thinkers have tried to add class to the identitarian intersection, but the problem is class is not a social identity. It’s an economic identity, and very few poor people want to preserve their identity as poor people.

On Facebook,David Hajicek said,
Will, I don't quite get the second paragraph. I can see that capitalism is good at creating poor people. And as you noted, poverty is not unique to blacks. So why, “You can’t have capitalism without racism”?
I answered,
Because generational poverty from our history of chattel slavery and wage slavery means the class system will look much like it does today without a huge change in the way we distribute wealth: disproportionately black, Hispanic, and American Indian at the bottom, with large groups of poor whites in places like Appalachia and the Dakotas, and disproportionately Jewish and Asian at the top, with large groups of rich whites in the places where the rich gather.

Interestingly (to me, at least), the distribution of white people in general is not as disproportionate as anti-racists think. A while back, Walter Benn Michaels noted, "White people, for example, make up about 70 per cent of the US population, and 62 per cent of those in the bottom quintile."
David said,
Or is it because racism is a useful too to get poor whites to accept their unfair circumstances?
I said,
It is, but I think most capitalists really would like to see an end to racism so they could feel that capitalism was fair. They just don't want to redistribute the wealth to do that, so we're stuck in this situation where capitalists talk endlessly about diversity and never offer anything that will actually help the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Marcus H. Johnson, the author of the piece that inspired this post, responded to my comment with
There are plenty of socialist countries where Black people are at the bottom of society with the least money, the fewest resources, and the least power. Socialism =\\= antiracism. Not even close.
I replied,
I notice that you don’t name any examples of those countries, but I agree that many countries still have a problem with racism.

A few relevant facts:

During the height of Jim Crow, the Communist Party USA took up one of the most famous court cases of the day when they defended the Scottsboro Boys from charges of raping two white women. CPUSA also ran black candidates for office when segregation was the law of the land—James W. Ford was their candidate for Vice President three times.

W.E.B. Du Bois, who first wrote about white skin privilege, was a member of the Communist Party. He said in the foreword to the 50th anniversary edition of Souls of Black Folk, “I still think today as yesterday that the color line is a great problem of this century. But today I see more clearly than yesterday that back of the problem of race and color, lies a greater problem which both obscures and implements it: and that is the fact that so many civilized persons are willing to live in comfort even if the price of this is poverty, ignorance, and disease of the majority of their fellowmen; that to maintain this privilege men have waged war until today war tends to become universal and continuous, and the excuse for this war continues largely to be color and race.”

Famous black people who didn’t join a communist party but worked with communists and attended some of their meetings include Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson.

That said, I agree that socialism =/= anti-racism. Derrick Bell had no interest in socialism; he liked being at the top of the US’s class system. So he took a different path than King and Rustin and Malcolm X and Rosa Parks did when he began developing Critical Race Theory.