In yesterday's (and I suppose today's) brouhaha,* I got engaged in a heated discussion about racism (and sexism and other forms of bigotry.) The spark came from this line in the the original post:
If you think fighting racism, sexism and homophobia are "centrist or right-center" issues, and you are "leftier" than the rest of us...I wonder why you bother to hang around, carp and be divisive.I think I get what the author was getting at, but believe that the idea was poorly expressed. And I can understand why, it's a hot button issue for the author and for me. Indeed, because of the visceral response we may share about the subject, I too found that I was ungenerous and not particularly articulate in explaining what bothers me about, for lack of a better shorthand, the idea of dealing with "racism in context."
I'll try to describe the argument fairly as I perceived it - "racism (or sexism or bigotry) can not be understood or addressed without considering the economic context." Here is how I read that - you can't talk about racism and bigotry unless you take into account economic considerations.
I do object to this construct. One of the primary reasons is that it does smack, to me at least, of arguments used against such policies as affirmative action or concerns about say, sexism in executive offices (yes, the famous glass ceiling.)
Second, I think it also misunderstands the fundamental impulses of racism and bigotry - which in many respects are not deliberately about economic dominance and exploitation, even though it does manifest itself in this way. It deemphasizes, in a wrongheaded way, imo, the social nature and motivation behind racism and bigotry.
Which is to say that the refusal to give significance, on its own terms, to the social aspect of racism and bigotry is to misunderstand it, and in political terms, to trivialize it. This is no small thing, especially for a progressive movement that aspires to the spreading of progressive populism. For populism does not come without dangers. I'l discuss this and more on the other side.
*FTR, I disagreed with the idea that harsh, even wrongheaded criticism from segments of our community should be shunned. Certainly express disagreement with those ideas if you disagree, but I'm for a critical Left Flank. But such a segment has to accept they are not beyond criticism either.
In The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Richard Hofstadter wrote:
In the history of the United States one finds [the Paranoid Style], for example, in the anti-Masonic movement, the nativist and anti-Catholic movement, in certain spokesmen of abolitionism who regarded the United States as being in the grip of a slaveholders’ conspiracy, in many alarmists about the Mormons, in some Greenback and Populist writers who constructed a great conspiracy of international bankers, in the exposure of a munitions makers’ conspiracy of World War I, in the popular left-wing press, in the contemporary American right wing, and on both sides of the race controversy today, among White Citizens’ Councils and Black Muslims. I do not propose to try to trace the variations of the paranoid style that can be found in all these movements, but will confine myself to a few leading episodes in our past history in which the style emerged in full and archetypal splendor.I in no way mean to compare today's drive for an economic populism with some of the nativist and bigoted manifestations of a populist paranoid style of the past, but I do warn against inveighing against those who, like me I suppose, see the problems of racism, sexism and bigotry still present and who cherish and will defend the advances that have been made in this area (and who demand even more.)
It does bother me that in the discussion of the value of the Democratic Party (the strain of Democrats and Republicans are the same type of thinking), the huge differences on the issues of racism, sexism, and bigotry are deemphasized. ('The we agree on 20% doesn't matter' idea.) Even if we accept the erroneous assertion, the value of the "20% difference" is immense, certainly to people of color and women who now stand pretty firmly in the Democratic coalition because of it. Minimizing the importance of these differences between the parties does offend me I must admit.
The well meaning, but in my view, wrongheaded, insistence that racism, sexism and bigotry can only be properly understood and fought against through an economic view, and that in that realm, there's not much to choose from between the GOP and the Dems, is hurtful and also harmful to the cause of economic progressivism. At least for me, it seems to couch the fight against racism, sexism and bigtory as in competition for attention with economic progressivism.
The fight against a "corporatist" Democratic Party does not, should not, can not, trivialize the important achievements of the Democratic Party against racism, sexism and bigotry and the stark differences between the parties on these issues.
If the argument is "yes, the Democratic Party has done good things on these issues and has the much better views on these issues as compared to Republicans, but it needs to do much more - particularly with regard to addressing economic fairness," then say that. Do not say "on racism, sexism and bigotry, the Dems are no different than the Republicans because they don't fight hard enough for economic fairness." Because there is a difference, a huge difference, between the parties on this.
If for no other reason than, I believe, you will get a more sympathetic hearing from POC and other groups that suffer from bigotry. But also because it is right.
Racism, sexism and bigotry exist, and not just in economic and power contexts.
The President of the United States is the most powerful person on Earth. He is also black. He suffers from racism.
The former Secretary of State may become the next president. She is very powerful, and may become the most powerful person on Earth. She suffers from sexism.
They are not likely to suffer in economic terms, but the racism, sexism and bigotry they suffer from permeates all strata of our society. And failure to fight against it wherever we see it invites its existence against those less powerful and less fortunate.
Minimizing its importance on any level is not something I can or will abide. I will speak against that. Always.