As a former core organizer of the Los Angeles chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), I was dismayed to read that the New York chapter of DSA cancelled a talk by Adolph Reed, concerned that his inclusion of class analysis would dilute the ability to seize the present moment and overturn systemic racism.
The faction within DSA that scuttled his appearance phrased their opposition, “We cannot be afraid to discuss race and racism because it could get mishandled by racists. That’s cowardly and cedes power to the racial capitalists.” [“A Black Marxist Scholar Wanted to Talk About Race. It Ignited a Fury.” ]
Shutting down a strategy discussion about race because you “…cannot be afraid to discuss race” is an exercise of doublethink unworthy of DSA, obscuring the fear what Reed had to share might possibly have made some sense. Whether it would have or not we are not allowed know; shutting down discussion of the issue seems the more cowardly act.
Elsewhere in the New York Times article, Princeton professor of African American studies Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is quoted: “Adolph Reed and his ilk believe that if we talk about race too much we will alienate too many, and that will keep us from building a movement. We don’t want that — we want to win white people to an understanding of how their racism has fundamentally distorted the lives of Black people.”
How we talk about race, matters. The paradigm of race presents everyone in our culture with challenges, psychological as well as societal.
In the face of this I would argue what will also keep us from building a movement capable of catalyzing true change is the failure to recognize and acknowledge ‘the other’ more broadly—in this case, how belief about race fundamentally distorts the thinking of ‘white’ people, and ‘Black’ people, as well. How we talk about race, matters. The paradigm of race presents everyone in our culture with challenges, psychological as well as societal.
Judging from the number of people of all colors in the streets right now, they at least recognize how racism distorts Black people’s lives, and don’t need winning over. Browbeating liberal guilt to sympathetic ears may seem satisfying, but changes nothing. To move beyond the choir and reach those who don’t believe they are racist or who revel in it requires exposing how fallacies underpinning the concept of race distort all our lives.
This relates to class, but is deeper than that construct as well. Expose the fallacious roots of the race construct and you invite a person into a more fundamental self that will automatically find unity with others; expansive, both internally and externally.
It is tempting to shame others for beliefs we find shameful, but this is counterproductive. We need them. Why? Recent events make clear Trump is perfectly willing to discard 60% of the country (along with the Constitution) if he can use the 40% with the most guns to subdue the rest, in order to stay in power.
Confronting whites who deny their racism or revel in it without first offering a more substantive identity forces them to dig in their heels. They end up defending belief in their own victimhood instead of acknowledging the greater reality of the black experience, and how the paradigm of race short changes both. While the fraudulent nature of the Trump-led belief system will eventually fail, it is poised to take humanity down with it.
DSA holds a responsible position as vanguard, dragging the Democratic Party to places established placeholders thought impossible a few years ago. While I confess to being an aging scientifically trained working class white cisgender male, I confess it irks me when I see arguments for gender or racial equality devoid of environmental and class analysis— as though having a fair portion of a self-destructive pie will be enough of a solution— let capitalists of all races and genders unite in the spoils from wanton destruction of the planet— no, that doesn’t work, either.
We are staring down the barrel of climate change that dictates an expiration date to these shenanigans. Moreover the consequences fall first and hardest on the poor and people of color. Identity politics has uses, but also inherent limitations. It will not lead us to a more perfect union until we prove capable of moving beyond it, acknowledging our co-destructive/co-creative position in the web of life. To that end it is imperative we rid ourselves of the disease we would like to eradicate in others, if we want to attract them to causes of expanding democratic justice, survival of our democracy, and human survival, period.
Skin color is skin deep. The meanings assigned to this difference are culturally specific, culturally derived. Cultural deficiencies can be replaced with the same energy with which they are exposed when we acknowledge our deeper identity in common, making us more capable of building something different. Failing this we will perpetuate inherently destructive tendencies.
Along with other fallacies about our circumstance as humans in the twenty-first century, the affects of racism fall heavily on all of us, limiting our perception of who we are. This must be acknowledged to move forward together.