Thursday, September 29, 2005

On Race and Class in America

This morning Kate mentioned she had been sent in an e-mail the video "George Bush Doesn't care about Black People". This got me thinking about race and class in America. We of course aren't supposed to need to think about race and class as Americans. Race an class are supposed to be accidents that are incidental to the place one takes in our society. Any one with a keen sense of observation knows thisis not true. I do not intend to deny by this that our society allows for social mobility, but that social mobility itself assumes a class system. We also believe Racism is about hate and ultimately genocide. This is also not true. In claiming this I do not intend to deny that Racism can lead to hatred or genocide (indeed Racism has and does lead to these things), but that Racism is not defined by hate and violence. We do not think clearly in the US about race and class because we believe false things about them and thus believe false things about our system.
In reality the American system is obsessed with calcification. Racism like classism is a means of categorizing and controlling the world through said classification. Wealth and power in our society (as in all societies) is distributed along lines of the classification system it uses. I contend that Racism and classism does not disappear merely because the racist and classis society allows a certain fluidity and shares power and wealth between classes/races. What the Civil Rights movement achieved for Blacksand other "minorities" was to bring an end to the tolerance of various forms of segregation in the public sphere. It did not bring an end to racism and it did not transform American culture and society from a racist one to a non-racist society. In other words the Civil Rights movement was not a revolution but a reform movement. The evidence for this is the proliferation of classes that now exist in terms of what is called 'ethnicity". Currently wealth and ethnicpower is distributed along the lines of race and ethnicity for the purposes of rectifying the inherent discriminationof the system, but one is supposed to advance through the social and political spheres as a particular race or ethnicity. If our system was not racist the classifications would be meaningless in the social and political spheres, power would not be distributed through ones identification with a particular race or ethnicity. I would never be asked on any form my race or ethnicity, for in a non-racist society (i.e.a society that did not classify and distribute power and wealth along said classification such markers would be either irrelevant or merely a personal choice like joining a "sub-culture" like being Goth, the Government would care less.)
Now I do not intend to by saying this say that the remedies put into place should be done away with because they are racist. As long as we live in a racist society the only way to reform said society is along racist lines. I would advocate Revolution except that there have been no successful revolutions. That is a revolution in fact simply revolves the classification system, so that those who were in power become the powerless and the powerless gain power, but the same injustice and discrepancy between the powerful and the powerless remain. This is true not only politically but economically but then economy and political and social power go hand in hand. It is why now that de facto and de jure segregation is largely frowned upon and in many cases illegal, race and class often become conflated. That is being poor and black or poor and a minority is as likely to be the case as being white and middle class and wealthy tendto be the case. Not that there aren't middle class and wealthy Blacks, or that there aren't poor whites, but that the fact that poor and white and middle class and wealthy and black become noteworthy associations simply tells us how race and class still belong together. But how could this be anything other than true. American Racism has always been about economy. Slavery is an economic choice and reality, it is a means of abundant readily available cheep labor. It isn't the only means to provide such labor (In California it is migrant workers, an equally economic and racist economic system as slavery and with its own injustices). My point is that America chose to be Racist when it chose to allow slavery. But it did so for economy and peace. AT the time of the American Revolution (so called though hardly a true revolution, the British actually have it right calling it the American Rebellion). We continue to pretend that America owes its wealth and power in large part due to its use of slavery. Slavery was finallyoutlawed when it became clear that except in very rare instances slavery simply wasn't economical in an industrialized society where machines could work more consistently and efficiently with less cost than owning slaves. Plus through immigration one could have a good supply of cheep labor to run the machines. Of course the Labor movement and union brought an endto that so now Corporations look for cheap labor outside of the US among poor(non-white) nations. Racism still is at work.
Do note that none of this has anything to do with hate, but classification and a sense that one group (the one with the wealth and power) deserves to be wealthy and powerful and an other group (or groups) must live with that fact (or deserve to be less powerful and less wealthy and should be grateful for the life the powerful and wealthy provide for them. Slaves were to be grateful for their masters, workers were supposed to be grateful to owners of companies for the jobs they provided even if they worked long hours in horrid conditions, and now the Third World is to be grateful that corporations have shops in which they can work. Things have changed yet the realities remain the same. The injustices become more distant and less stark, but remain.