When a progressive colleague referred to “identity politics” in a recent piece about the need to revamp our banking system, I asked for an explanation. The colleague responded that although gay rights and black and minority rights are important, they cannot replace our efforts to end corruption in government and Wall Street.
This explanation seemed to suggest that it is possible to successfully extract corruption from within the government and Wall Street without first addressing the “isms” particularly racism.
In one respect, we agree. Corruption in government and Wall Street creates an existential crisis, both here in the U.S. and globally. We can't simply recover from this brokenness. The only solution is fundamental change.
This notion, that all we have to do is tweak a few policies and switch out one set of politicians for another set of politicians consistently fails to get us the outcomes we need. Progressives are not looking for a kinder less racist way to maintain the status quo. Progressives are looking for fundamental change.
Where I disagree with this colleague is in the order in which this fundamental change must begin -- We must address the bedrock of our brokenness before we can even think of fundamental change. It is our brokenness that produces “broken systems”. Like kicking over an anthill will only result in a brand new anthill within hours -- we continue to reconstitute unjust systems because we rarely go to the source -- the motherlode.
But first let me point out that our systems are only "broken" from the standpoint of the 99%. The systems (economic, political, etc.) work perfectly well for the moneyed class. This will be the case, as long as we lack sufficient class solidarity to keep their greed for power and money in check.
A core problem is that our racial illiteracy causes us to say and do things that get in the way of establishing lasting cross racial / cross ethnic coalitions.
While it is obvious that greed will always be with us in one form or another, it is unchecked greed for power and money that will ultimately destroy us. In “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”, UCLA professor Jarod Diamond documents the common traits failed states exhibit before they collapse. One that consistently shows up is unchecked power – the ruling elite are consistently buffered from the consequences of their decisions.
Progressives have been unable to mount a successful campaign that would check the unrelenting greed of the 1%. A core problem is that our racial illiteracy causes us to say and do things that get in the way of establishing lasting cross racial / cross ethnic coalitions. These coalitions could provide the foundation for establishing lasting class solidarity but we lack the know-how to reach across these divides.
We can see the fissures over the progressive landscape. The racial and ethnic divides are impossible not to see. I’ve decided to stop calling it a “progressive community” because it’s anything but—it's more like a group of islands.
Progressives who’ve looked at this nation’s history understand that divisions, particularly across racial lines—have historically benefited the moneyed class. The construction of race, as a meaningful way to classify people was, itself, a highly effective mechanism of social control.
Other devices have been and still are used around the globe. They keep the labor class in check while the wealth their labor generates flows to the top. Given that the United States is home to the largest concentration of billionaires – it’s not unreasonable to conclude that this racism thing is working quite well for somebody - hint, it isn’t the 99%. But give it time. If we keep going in the direction we’re heading, the 1% will hurt too. Jarod Diamond’s research bears this out.
We could start building coalitions but they won't last if we continue to minimize or outright ignore the necessity of having a common racial and ethnic analysis and framework that leads to a deeper understanding of class and caste. The progressive islands present a pretty good picture of the racial and ethnic caste system that enables the 1%.
This persistent lack of understanding of the central role race and ethnicity play in driving a wedge between natural allies serves to render us powerless against forces that can ultimately push us to the brink extinction. This is not hyperbole, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, sea ice declined by an average of 44,800 square miles per day last month and the polar ice caps are melting six times faster today than in the 1990s. We need the masses to come together on this but they won't, not as long as we're all on our separate islands fighting our separate issues, separately.
The Covid-19 virus has put a spotlight on our connectedness. We are all in this together and together is the only way we'll find a way out. I found a great discussion with Chris Hedges that addresses this topic. It's titled, "Want to Build Class Solidarity? Learn to Talk About Race." It is embedded below. Enjoy.