Ta-Nehisi Coates has written brilliantly about the dangers to black bodies of police murder in Between the World and Me. His words give the deepest sense of why Black Lives Matter is the most important movement from below of our time (many chicanos are also part of this). Led by young black women, this movement from the bottom up has exposed racist police shootings and brought to life on campuses from Missouri to Princeton, challenges to the fundamental racism on campus. Black Lives Matter intends to lift the long heritage of racism, for example, for the Klan-loving, lynching advocate, resegregating the civil service Woodrow Wilson. See here.
In Denver, Black Lives Matter 5280 transformed the large Marade, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, into a protest against city racism, not just a celebration of corporate donors (the State Farm martin luther king day – what it has been). See here and here.
Coates also took on Bernie Sanders’ rejection of reparations (similar to Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s). This was in the context of the New York Times‘s continuing campaigning for Hillary, even in its “reporting” and inviting every op-ed writer – Paul Krugman and David Brooks the silliest – to back Hillary’s campaign to “get things done,” i.e. less than Obama.
Where Bernie speaks forthrightly to ordinary people as Nina Turner, Killer Mike, Cornell West and many others have underlined, Hillary is herself, so to speak, a large corporation – she is not bought off venally; it is who she has chosen to be or hang out with in her long career. She does not generally reach out or listen to ordinary people even on her listening tour in Iowa (she is, commendably, campaigning with Geneva Reed-Veal, Sandra Bland’s mother, in Chicago next week but she listens to and what she proposes is sharply curbed by the elite…).
Coates’s son, however, pushed him to speak out for Sanders and on Democracy Now, he recently came out for Sanders (see the second article below). But he has rightly major reservations about whether any President does this (he says this of FDR and LBJ, but even Barack’s programs – Barack has done better helping the very poor and is increasingly raising the issue of racism, the breathtaking eulogy at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston being a striking example – often are defended “for the middle class.”
In “The Enduring Solidarity of Whiteness” from the Atlanticbelow, Coates makes the important point that black suffering and oppression is much worse than white (and worse also than Chicano – it is of course second to that of indigenous people…). He takes apart the sometimes foolish argument of Cedric Johnson. In addition, Ta-Nehisi has suggested rightly that Bernie Sanders is not on top of the abyss between how blacks are treated in this society and even poor whites. Sanders does get the enormous oppression of blacks (cf. Killer Mike’s remarks in Atlanta), has taken on a spokesperson from Black Lives Matter, and is reaching out to young people and others sympathetic to this movement (it is one of the best features of the campaign that he has forced Hillary Clinton to try to recruit black voters by saying some important truths about racism, as in the debate last night).
But what Sanders misses is that racism is not “an aspect” of class oppression; instead, divide and rule and the genocides against blacks and indigenous people are at the heart of American capitalism. As H. Rap Brown put it once upon a time, “racism is as American as cherry pie.”
The way Karl Marx got this, in theoretical and political/strategic terms, is worth taking in, is “labor cannot be free in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”(see the last page of ch. 10 of volume 1 of Capitalon “The Working Day”). Poor whites in the North and South could not be free if blacks were enslaved. Whatever allegiance some whites show to racists, most ordinary people have no interest in racism, no moral interest – if you are a racist, you become a monster – and no economic and political/democratic interest. As Marx suggested, with the death of slavery, a new movement for the 8 hour day, lasting 30 years emerged. The Haymarket massacre – the police threw a bomb at a big demonstration in Chicago – and lynching of 4 anarchist organizers (including Albert Parsons, the white husband of the great black abolitionist Lucy Parsons) was a temporary defeat for the movement, but one that underlines the importance of multiracial unity, anti-racist solidarity in eventually winning the goal (and the Second International of socialist parties made the struggle for a normal working day of 8 hours worldwide, based on this American movement).
In 1984, Michael Reich, an economist at Berkeley, published the magnificent, still unrefuted though ignored by social “scientists” who are sorely afflicted by racism, Racial Inequality: a Political-Economic Analysis at Princeton University Press (the leading academic press). He showed for every “standard metropolitan statistical area” in the United States, where black workers have the worst incomes and social services, there white workers also have relatively the worst (among whites), and the income differential between most people and the top 1% is at its greatest.
Divide and rule is, politically and economically, the name of capitalism.
Now Bernie agrees with this point in formulating the democratic coming together of a political revolution against the billionaire class (he could follow King more in seeing the need for mass militant nonviolent protest…; surely, however, a political revolution through the ballot would be better. and if this movement from below is stopped by the elite/Clinton, there will be mass militant resistance…). His words are refreshing, often moving, and true.
But Bernie does not quite see that fighting racism is the secret of class unity, of benefiting everyone, and that no movement which obscures or fails to take up fighting racism as its fundamental purpose can actually be a good class movement. So even though he makes many points in favor of black workers – a $15 minimum wage rather than Hillary’s tone-deaf “$12 over 5 years – he does not speak sharply enough – across the board – to the interconnection of these issues. He would do better, including as a debater (he is, nonetheless, very good), if he figured this out.
Nonetheless, as Coates too will cast his vote, Bernie’s election would make a big difference. He is the only candidate who listens to black protestors, notably the two women who shut down a speech of his – and responds vigorously and graciously. But Ta-Nehisi’s point, that Bernie does not spell out enough – except on the issue of mass incarceration – the depth of racism is true. Bernie’s “class” analysis is not quite right.
Yet, Ta-Nehisi also overestimates – understandably but mistakenly, and to negative political effect – “the enduring solidarity of whiteness.” At Selma, as we saw again in the Ada Duvernay’s wonderful movie about King, when the marchers were viciously attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, many whites came to march with blacks from the North. See here. Reverend Jonathan Daniels, too, was murdered there by the Klan (as my friend Andy Goodman was murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi along with James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner).
In American history which Ta-Nehisi also rightly emphasizes, there have been many large multiracial movements from below. Whites in Tennessee fought for the North in the Civil War. The Southern Tenants Alliance and the early Populist movement in the 1880s and 1890s were multiracial; in the early 1900s, the IWW organized 1200 lumber workers in Georgia and South Carolina and Mississippi, and the three states murdered 600 of them to prevent the Jim Crow system from being torn down; Communists and others in the CIO organized multiracial unions, including in the South…
At Yale and Princeton, many white students have joined black protests against racism. Many whites now abhor the shooting of innocents which is characteristic of American police misconduct (in contrast to other countries – see here and here).
That “whiteness” is disgusting is true (look at the Southern “picnics” organized by the elite at lynchings, and the great work of Bryan Stephenson and the Equal Justice Initiative and what it means to be or make monsters – as racists are and attempt to do with their children – will come home to you fully.
But that “whiteness” is “solidarity” rather than multiracial unity against the elite is false and in practice, vicious. Now Ta-Nehisi and other black commentators often feel that white “solidarity” is hopeless. But, again, this is not true (consider, also, all the white women who supported the bus boycott in Montgomery). And it is like the feeling of black women, particularly queer black women, sometimes toward black men and heterosexuals. All men are not fools…
But these very women started Black Lives Matter with all its immense consequences in solidarity and accomplishment – including its real support even in the white community. It is time to see clearly – all of us – why the destructive way capitalism works makes democratic solidarity from below the only answer. And one aspect of that solidarity is to be part of a movement to elect Bernie Sanders, to make as the two protestors did at Bernie’s rally an understanding of racism central in and outside of it, and to fight for as many of Bernie’s proposals as we can.
The Enduring Solidarity of Whiteness By Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
Black poverty is fundamentally distinct from white poverty—and so cannot be addressed without grappling with racism.
Coates’s sweeping mischaracterization diminishes the actual impact that social-democratic and socialist governments have historically had in improving the labor conditions and daily lives of working people, in Europe, the United States, and for a time, across parts of the Third World.
….racial differences in neighborhood exposure to poverty are so strong that even high-income blacks are exposed to greater neighborhood poverty than low-income whites. For example, nonpoor blacks in Chicago live in neighborhoods that are nearly 30 percent in poverty—traditionally the definition of “concentrated poverty” areas—whereas poor whites lives in neighborhoods with 15 percent poverty, about the national average.*
Neighborhood poverty alone, accounts for a greater portion of the black-white downward mobility gap than the effects of parental education, occupation, labor force participation, and a range of other family characteristics combined.
…Coates’s latest attack on Sanders, and willingness to join the chorus of red-baiters, has convinced me that his particular brand of antiracism does more political harm than good, further mystifying the actual forces at play and the real battle lines that divide our world.
Social exclusion and labor exploitation are different problems, but they are never disconnected under capitalism. And both processes work to the advantage of capital. Segmented labor markets, ethnic rivalry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and informalization all work against solidarity. Whether we are talking about antebellum slaves, immigrant strikebreakers, or undocumented migrant workers, it is clear that exclusion is often deployed to advance exploitation on terms that are most favorable to investor class interests.