Hello, internet. I’m Jackie Fox, and today we’re talking about a topic that can be considered “class reductionism”. If you’re someone who uses this term as a pejorative, let me start by assuring you: I understand why. If your only concern is class – with no awareness of racial, LGBT, or other forms of minority struggle – it’s probably because you’ve oversimplified the world to a point that’s unhelpful and absurd.
In this video, I plan to do the opposite: I will be looking a bit more deeply for answers, but first, let me explain how this idea formed in my head in such a way that I realized I had a solid video idea.
I’m taking a course right now on building tiny houses, and the first week was focused on the concept of soft skills (the interpersonal attributes that determine how you work with and relate to others). For this, I had an excellent teacher, a black woman who has worked most of her life as either an HR rep or a social worker, so she’s perfectly suited for this. As she talks about how to get along with coworkers and build a personal brand, I can’t help but notice that she’s socially liberal but not in the least critical of capitalism (in fact, she really seemed to idolize Jeff Bezos – ugh). This wasn’t overt for the most part, though; in fact, she seemed to clearly be avoiding political topics to keep the peace.
Now, I interpret many things politically. I have become accustomed to looking for understated political messages, so often my mind would take a relatively neutral thing she’d say and extrapolate it onto my knowledge of politics, and this led me to very interesting thoughts.
First was a focus on looking for problems instead of problematic symptoms. This will be important later, so keep it in mind. That may seem obvious; however, it’s a more common problem-solving mistake than you might think. The second was an idea that brought to mind the election. To quote her presentation as closely as I can, “people have a problem with romanticizing the past, this is known as the ‘good old days syndrome’.
We have to accept that we can’t turn back the clock and return to a previous point in history. We only have two real choices: we can make things better, or we can make them worse. The reason just going back isn’t feasible is because changes don’t come easy; so if something has changed, it took a lot of people to change it, and there was a reason that they were motivated to do so.
This reminded me of the pitch for both Trump 2016 and Biden 2020 and it got me thinking. The first of these thoughts is the usual “just another reason that Biden is blue MAGA” but the second idea is what I wanted to explain in this here.
It starts with one question: Is socialism the solution to an epidemic of white supremacy?
Before I can begin to answer, we have to figure out the problem we face here. (clip from how Trump answers a question.) To do that, we have to figure out why so many people were so willing to join a movement and a president who has some blatant white supremacist messaging.
Because I really believe that only a minority of Trump’s supporters are die-hard racists or fascists, I need to find the reason a lot of generally decent white folks decided that these racist issues weren’t a dealbreaker. I don’t want to demonize them, I want to try to understand them because otherwise, I don’t believe we can craft any solution to this problem that will work in the long term.
It’s my belief that this issue is deeply rooted in the class struggle that divides the poor rural whites in the areas of the country that came out in force for Trump in 2016. This wasn’t the only reason for Trump’s election, since a great many wealthy Americans voted for him as well because of the promise of lower taxes and deregulation; but I have little hope we can change their minds. Many of these poor voters weren’t the people who would typically vote, which I find interesting as well.
My hypothesis is that many of these voters are sick of the systemic poverty they are made to endure, but don’t know where to point the finger of blame since they lack an understanding of class analysis. Because of this, they’re ready and willing to accept a scapegoat, and Trump was more than willing to give them one. The simple power of this was demonstrated in Weimar era Germany after their economy collapsed following post-WWI sanctions. The people sought out a scapegoat to explain their plight, and the Nazi party gave them one. This isn’t dissimilar to the way Trump used race in 2016 and beyond.
To these poor white Americans stuck in generational poverty, the phrase “white privilege” makes absolutely no sense; after all, they don’t feel privileged. When your life and your family’s lives begin and end in poverty, with no wealth being accrued for the next generation, what do they have to feel privileged for? It’s not like there are often many minorities in sight to use as a basis of comparison, but instead, they imagine chaos across the country in a faraway city like Chicago.
As I said before, many of these people don’t vote and generally view all politicians as equally corrupt, since nothing that they do ever seems to benefit their lives. With America’s first 43 presidents being white men, they could identify easily with their oppressors, but the election of Obama may have changed things. Their symbolic oppressor was now no longer white, like them. Now, they not only felt oppressed and poor, but they began talking more openly about white genocide, ethnocentrism, and generally adopting the language victimization.
What to them had been bearable under a series of white men who they could imagine themselves becoming now felt intolerable under Obama. He didn’t have to do anything any worse than other American presidents for them to feel this way. I believe it arose from their continued and perilous economic insecurity.
To be clear, I’m not saying poverty equals racism, though at least an anecdotal correlation exists; what I am saying is that if you’re poor, no matter what you do, you are far more likely to look for an explanation outside of yourself. This creates a fertile ground for racist ideas to incubate and spread – though, there must be a vector – and that vector is the ideologically motivated racist. Let’s call them “true racists”, and the larger mass of people simply “racist sympathizers”.
When I say racist sympathizer, I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not downplaying the negative effects that these people have on society. The rise of far-right propaganda in the age of Trump has led to a significant increase in hate crimes all over the country. People have died.
Recently, in my hometown, Trump-supporting protesters brandished “crack lives matter” signs. Even if you could consider the phrase “white lives matter” to be a (perhaps intentional) misunderstanding of the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” there is absolutely no excuse for this sentiment. It is racist, it is deeply dehumanizing, and it will hurt people. It will lead people to more quickly pull the trigger when a black life is on the other end.
This is all without mentioning the way that this support of racism has massive systemic effects that make black lives so much harder. It’s also worth pointing out that while I’m focusing on the black community with this particular essay that the same could be said for many marginalized communities. We are committing human rights abuses against Hispanic immigrants. There’s also a strong link between these sentiments and a willingness to accept anti-Semitism, and history has shown us just how dangerous that can be for the Jewish community.
While it may be accurate to attribute their motivation to their own economic problems, it does not excuse their willingness to commit these atrocities in pursuit of a misguided attempt to better themselves.
True Racists have a deep connection to racism and they actively identify with it. They are on some level proud of being a racist, and often racism is a tradition that has been passed down to them culturally and traditionally. I depart from the class reductionism here. I do not believe that economic equality will rid us of True Racists. True Racists will seek systemic power to shape the world to fit their awful views. What I do believe, however, is that it would do a lot to reduce the number of potential Racist Sympathizers at any given time, and these True Racists wouldn’t have much luck gaining ground with their misinformation and carefully crafted propaganda if there wasn’t a fertile new crop of Sympathizers for them to herd behind them, giving them the political power to enforce their beliefs systemically.
Here again, I must depart from the oversimplifications of class reductionism. This change to a socialist model won’t just solve racism outright. That said, it will greatly reduce the resistance to the progress we must make in eliminating racism from our world; because without Sympathizers to rally behind them True Racists would lose the power with which they have historically been able to oppose anti-racist movements and to reinstitute newer and more covert forms of systemic racism every time we’re able to claw back a bit of freedom from our oppressive systems.
There’s another question that we must tackle: why does racism exist on a systemic level to begin with? In answering this question we have to go back at least as far as the times of slavery. For a while, white slaves were kept alongside black slaves, and their masters were in constant fear of revolt.
These two groups of slaves had the common interest of escaping their bondage, and sometimes they came together to do just that. Their owners, who had outsized power in government (after all, this was an era in which only the white landowning males of America had the power to vote at all) began to codify laws that granted whites unique privileges not shared by their black counterparts. As black slaves began to be seen as more economical than white slaves as the Atlantic slave trade accelerated, plantation owners began to promote white slaves in to positions of authority over blacks slaves.
They told them they were better than their black brothers and sisters, and that because of those differences they deserved those privileges. While the children of white slaves were born free, the children of black slaves – often forced to breed or raped – were a free asset to their owners.
Though slavery may have eventually ended, at least, outside of prisons, the dynamics established here continue to provide the same benefits, and what has really changed? We’re still working for most of our lives in servitude to landowners, be they landlords or company owners, in hopes of earning enough to buy our freedom.
In this way, racism remains a beneficial tool to the wealthy elites because if the working class is divided against itself it’s less likely to realize that that real divide is defined by class. Unable to ally with what they consider an other, or if they do achieve class consciousness, the lower class still has a major roadblock to unifying against their collective masters. This leads to the impotent wail, “I’m just a poor white trash motherfucker, nobody cares about me,” and “people like me have no power in the government.”
This can then be further exploited through anti-government propaganda written by the elites to keep the poor for leveraging the one source of power they have that could challenge the wealthy owners of the means of production.
To roughly quote something I recently heard Carlos Maza say in a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8ba5umiqHY), “Everything that anti-government propaganda says about the government is also true of private companies. While it is true that a government can be tyrannical, that is its flaw. But it can also be democratic. Private companies are tyrannical by design. There is no chance of democracy within private ownership. In this respect, the private company is defined by this flaw.”
With this in mind, we can see that racism is simply a tool which the bourgeoisie uses to keep the workers from uniting in class consciousness and rising up against them, just like it always was.
It’s not a story you’d often hear about him because his legacy has been whitewashed and clean of reference to class in our history books, but Martin Luther King Jr. once said the following within a speech, “You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because, through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you’re so poor you can’t send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.”
Right now, white nationalism is an epidemic that’s slowly becoming a pandemic as it takes hold in country after country. I don’t propose a socialist distribution of wealth and resources as a way of curing this disease; instead it’s more like a mask. It serves to help us get the spread under control so that we can work on ridding the populace of it. I would hope that we can also see that socialism is the only movement which addresses our true racists, the wealthy elites. In attacking this problem from both sides we have a chance to truly eradicate the causes of racism within our society, instead of just chasing after the symptoms and forcing the disease itself to come up with new ways to make the working class hate one another to benefit their economic security.
What’s more, I think that eliminating this feeling of insecurity gives us a better ground on which to begin to do the work of weeding out these racist ideas. Right now, for the poor white Americans, poverty is an open wound; naturally, this makes them feel as though they’ve been cornered and must be defensive. As I said before, under these conditions hearing phrases like “white privilege” or “sensitivity training” will be met with mocking laughter at best, and anger and derision at worst. Actually, the worst that could happen is for them to hear the words “white privilege” and say to themselves, “sounds good, how do I get some of that?” This could even lead them to feel as though systemic racism is done for their benefit; despite the implication of the phraseology, though, it isn’t.
In a 1981 interview, Republican strategist Lee Atwater said “…you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…” when describing how he used benign political strategy to institute a new wave of covert systemic racism following the anti-racist victories of the Civil Rights movement. In the words “blacks get hurt worse than whites” he admits two things. First is the racism inherent to the way Republicans redefined their party in response to the Civil Rights movement. He’s also admitting that the very instruments he’d use to hurt black Americans would also hurt the whites – just not as much. Therefore, the only real white privilege to systemic racism is that they don’t get hurt as bad, not that they aren’t affected, much less affected positively.
Perhaps this is something we could explain to them as a form of deprogramming generations of racist thought, but a core idea of persuasion is that you cannot easily persuade someone who has become defensive. Eliminating income inequality would ease the motivation of this defensiveness, or as they explained it when I was working for a multilevel marketing company, it allows us to break down their barriers.
Even better, creating greater income equality effectively undoes and rebalances many of the economic changes that people like Lee Atwater advocated for. This helps undo some of the systemic racism that’s been established in the last few decades; however, we must recognize that we’re fighting a system that’s been building its power for centuries, not simply decades; and that we will have a long fight ahead. Still, it likely wouldn’t be the uphill battle against the recurring enemy of white supremacy that we’ve sadly gotten used to facing every few generations.