Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Charlie Pierce believes America can never fully overcome its racial animosities:
The honest conclusion to be drawn from what is going on in Missouri now is that we may have reached the limits of the American idea, of the American dream, of the American experiment. This country, it is fair to conclude, cannot exist without some manifestation of its fundamental racial divide. Slavery, followed by Reconstruction, followed by American apartheid, followed by the Civil Rights movement, followed by Wallace and white backlash, followed by the election of Barack Obama followed by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, followed by the acquittal of George Zimmerman, followed by the strangulation of Eric Garner -- where'd he go, by the way? -- and the shooting of Michael Brown. Maybe we should admit it to ourselves, we of the dwindling white majority, that the racial divide is something essential to holding our idea of the country together. It may be that we cannot unify ourselves without fashioning every 50 years or so, a new suit of clothes for old Jim Crow. White people will be a minority in this country, and very soon. Maybe the racial divide is all we have left.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinks the real problem is class:
This fist-shaking of everyone's racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

And that's how the status quo wants it.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it's crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.
I see an interaction between race and class. My Italian ancestors, and Charlie Pierce's Irish ancestors, were despised in this country, too, but the majority culture eventually embraced us. I think in large part it's because white ethnics reached for a piece of the pie at a time when America was making more pies, and sharing them broadly. White skin helped, too, obviously -- but we benefited from some decades of economic expansion before the Depression hit.

By contrast, blacks were excluded from full participation in the larger economy for a century after the Civil War. When did the door opened a crack? Just before the economic turmoil of the 1970s -- which was the beginning of a period when overall inequality began to increase. The wealth of the middle class hasn't expanded much since the Nixon years, so white America feels it has no extra pie to go around. The rich, as Abdul-Jabbar says, just keep baking more and more pie. But they're not sharing -- and they're taking more and more pie from middle-class whites. Therefore, middle-class whites resent demands for pie from anyone else.

It's probably more than that. We may never be capable of color-blindness, as Pierce says. But it would be nice to have an economy that's expanding for everyone, in order to know for sure. Or just for its own sake.


aimai said...

I agree with your conclusion--its obviously both race and class and the reason why the barbarian hordes (the jews, the irish, the italians) were able to rise up was that whiteness for wealthy people came to eclipse ethnicity. I'm reading "Whiteness of another Color" right now and this is, among other things, its topic.

In mono ethnic areas where the police force is paid for by the upper classes the other markers of caste/class matter as much as race do elsewhere where they are used as proxies for each other. I'm thinking about Maine, where French Catholics have been a despised group because of their poverty and their linguistic isolation. Or the permanent town/gown battles around places like Harvard which are battles between local ethnic whites and upper class outsiders.

But I also agree that the pie was growing for much of the twentieth century--and when it wasn't you saw actual liasons and connections made between the working classes of all races (plus the force applied by fear of communism). One of the hidden injuries of Ferguson and communities like that is that the police and fire services are no longer funded by property taxes alone but largely by fines levied by the Police through ticketing people for driving offenses, jaywalking, etc...In other words from the perspective of the municipalities around st. louis its not possible to run the city without ripping off the poor.

Unknown said...

Thus, the police are agents of economic exploitation through arrests and fines, which is very different from "serve" and "protect."

So it makes sense to avoid calling the police as they are not on the poor public's side.