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The Need Of The Moment: Insight and Solidarity

January 15, 2010

There’s a famous haiku by Matsuo Basho that I’ve seen quoted a few times recently.

The old pond.
A frog jumps in:
Plop!

The point of the poem, as Joseph Goldstein explains in The Experience Of Insight, is to illustrate the quality of mind called “bare attention,” which he describes as “the basis and foundation of spiritual discovery”:

Bare attention means observing things as they are, without choosing, without comparing, without evaluating, without laying our projections and expectations on to what is happening; cultivating instead a choiceless and non-interfering awareness . . . No dramatic description of the sunset and the peaceful evening sky over the pond and how beautiful it was.  Just a crystal clear perception of what it was that happened . . . Bare attention: learning to see and observe, with simplicity and directness.  Nothing extraneous.  It is a powerfully penetrating quality of mind.

But even though insight is a practice in choicelessness, it still helps us to make better choices as needs arise.  Kind of like training on a treadmill, going nowhere, in order to run longer distances outdoors.

The power of insight developed through meditation helps us to take action that is informed and intelligent, yet not overthought.  It strengthens the basic clarity of perception that gives rise to truly creative processes.  So when the need of the moment reveals itself, we see it for what it is, rather than immediately forcing it into our own familiar frameworks, categories, and concepts.

Not a bad faculty for allies in political struggle.

Insight, or bare attention, proves useful in many respects when we’re dealing with reality.  (Different from memory, fantasy, imagination, theory, projection, etc.)  One of its handy effects is paring down superfluous names, theorizations, and concepts for actually existing phenomena.

A recent post over on Advance The Struggle illustrates this well.  (Read the whole thing — it’s worth it, I promise.)

As a touchstone for the important, ongoing project of “expanding the theoretical roots of Marxism” to include analysis of racism, AS posted (in its entirety) Adolph Reed Jr.’s essay, “The Limits of Anti-Racism.”  Basically, Reed Jr.’s argument boils down to this.  The concept of anti-racism ain’t doin shit for us.  The ways in which people have deployed anti-racism and its attendant rhetoric in this country, rather than directly impacting the material oppression of people of color, have only diverted attention to secondary issues: like exposing ‘hidden,’ unconscious racism or white privilege.  Anti-racism culture tends to magnify these secondary problems to the point of distortion, and then occupy itself with defining and analyzing them.

What insight helps us to do, on the other hand, is begin with experiential reality itself, rather than concepts or definitions of it.  So instead of going on a hunt for racism, connecting the dots and unearthing it in different case studies, we begin with a real conflict, and then let ourselves become aware of its racialized nature.  Instead of imposing extra concepts, we work primarily with what is.  The pond, the frog, the plop.

An example.  Recently, a bunch of organizing folks and I were flyering in the Mission neighborhood of SF.  (Working to build for statewide March 4th strikes against budget cuts in public education.)  One of the crew noticed that a public transit raid was going down over at 16th and Mission.  Cops were boarding the Muni train (like lightrail basically) and demanding that all the passengers show their transfers (proof of having paid the $2.00 fare).  Anyone who couldn’t produce a valid transfer, or whose transfer had expired during the ride, was taken off the train at the 16th and Mission stops, where two dozen officers were handing out $75.00 fines.

Yep.  Seventy-five dollars.  We won’t even talk about how it’s absurd to pay two dollars for every damn bus ride.

So here we have a concrete conflict, right?  These are government officers taking large amounts of money away from people who didn’t pay the bus fare — which, of course, is most likely people who couldn’t afford to pay it.  Working-class folks.  The state is in a financial pinch, and instead of collecting more from the richest, they take it from the poorest.

And yes, the police action in this case was racist — insofar as it took a disproportionately large toll on people of color.  Even if that was not their intention, and no bigoted malice was driving them, necessarily (and many of the cops were of-color, themselves), it was still the effect.

But it doesn’t matter what we call it, really.  Racist, racialized, classist, Mama Susan.  No difference.  As Reed notes, crucially,

[I]t’s more effective politically to challenge the inequality and injustice directly and bypass the debate over whether it should be called “racism.”

If we fail to do this, then, he writes, considering the systemic injustice and inequality inherent to capitalism, “so long as such dynamics [persist] without challenge, black people and other similarly stigmatized populations [will] be clustered on the bad side of the distribution of costs and benefits.”

Recognizing racism is not a question of playing “gotcha!” with complex unconscious white supremacy.  (And take it from someone who wasted a college thesis writing about whiteness: this game is not fun for very long.)  It’s simply a matter of doing the math.  Seeing the situation for what it is.  Hearing the Plop!

And when we see the situation for what it is, we are best positioned to act.  To do what is called for in the moment, without resistance.

So in the case of these public transit raids, we did a few things.  Passed out flyers, of course, talking to witnesses nearby, chanting/shouting some, and just generally agitating. All well and good: building community around a shared experience. Bearing witness as the state feeds itself through disproportionate financial extraction from working class people of color. (Which, I think, is a roundabout way of creating state-level “surplus labor” — since the 80 bucks inevitably comes out of whatever pittance most of these folks are making at their jobs.) Asking folks who were standing around what they thought, and what we as working people ought to do about it.

And then, even more simply and directly, we took action as a group to lessen the harm occurring: walking to the previous bus stops in both directions and warning passengers, in Spanish and English, to get off if they didn’t have a transfer cuz the police were ticketing.

Were our warnings anti-racist?  Whether or not we apply the label “anti-racist” does not change the nature of the events themselves.  And yet, we don’t have to shy away from language: labels can be useful.  We can call the actions anti-racist.  Not because they followed from some kind of abdication of white supremacist attitudes, but because they straightforwardly mitigated the class-based attack and concomitant racialized “clustering” that was happening in that moment, with a clear-minded understanding of the racial factors at play.

A while back, I made a similar suggestion for rethinking “feminism” as any means of “reducing and ceasing patterns of harm that are based on conventions of sex and gender.”  Deployed in this simple way, feminism can serve as an awareness-based tool that allows us to act with insight and, yes, solidarity.  Responding to the pond, the frog, the sound of water — the rain-weary people and the warm rows of empty pews.  The need of the moment, whatever it is.

And now, my need of the moment is to sleep: it’s after three.  Good night, y’all.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2010 7:13 pm

    Hey Katie! It’s been awhile, no?

    Well, low and behold I stumbled across your blog and I think it’s great! I do, however, disagree with you on one point and want to see what you think of my counterargument.

    In my opinion, your bus example is a perfect example of classism in action. But I don’t think that makes it racist.

    Of course, race and class are certainly correlated. Part of that is history: Minorities were overtly oppressed for hundreds of years (and arguably still are) and historically were pushed into the lower classes of society.

    However, I do believe that a big part of the struggle for minorities to reach equality has been because of the push of classism against them rather than racism. Often, it seems labeling a classist policy as racist is easier and certainly creates a clear opposition. But it’s often misleading.

    And just to clarify, of course racism plays its part and is institutionalized. But if we label every classist policy (policies that promote our unfair system of free-market extremist capitalism) as just a part of racism, our eye is off the ball.

    Just my two cents. I’d like to hear what you think! Hope all is well.

  2. January 22, 2010 8:18 pm

    Hm, I think what we have here is a classic definition problem (and underlying political difference informing those different definitions.)

    Katie defines the racism of the bus fare raid this way: “And yes, the police action in this case was racist — insofar as it took a disproportionately large toll on people of color. Even if that was not their intention, and no bigoted malice was driving them, necessarily (and many of the cops were of-color, themselves), it was still the effect.”

    The raid definitely did have a disproportionate effect on people of color, and is fa sho racist by Katie’s definition.

    What’s yours? I’m not sure if you do, but many folks think things are racist when they are guided by hateful intentions towards people of a specific race. I don’t find that definition very useful because it makes racism a psychological thing at its root, when really I think it’s structural.

    Classism, defined similarly as policies that disproportionately affect working-class people, applies to almost every police enforcement action, the prices of groceries, bombing campaigns, structural readjustment, the closing of women’s shelters, the building of prisons etc. etc. etc. Seems to me to be a basic organizing principle of capitalist society.

    I’m interested in the way that race is class, i.e. the ways in which people’s assigned racial category determines their appropriate place in the international division of labor. In this way I agree with Kipp, that a focus on race alone can obscure the structural aspects of a racialized distribution of labor with people of color always at the bottom.

  3. January 22, 2010 11:06 pm

    Ryan,

    Thanks for the response. You’re right, it pretty much comes down to definition. I don’t agree on what constitutes being racist.

    Racism is definitely systemized. We can all agree on that. But the distinction between classism and racism is clear: If an action discriminates based on class, it’s classist.

    If people in the lower class of our society also happened to wear yellow more often than others, I wouldn’t argue that a classist action is also yellowism (bear with me, haha. Not sure why an analogy is necessary, but why the hell not).

    I would say that it was classist, and that while it did affect a disproportionate amount of people wearing yellow relative to the average, it was not yellowist because it was not directed towards people wearing yellow.

    Yes, people wearing yellow correlate in this case with class. But it wasn’t yellowist, it was classist. And it’s only when we know exactly what type of discrimination we are facing that we can stop it. If we started an uproar against yellowism, it would be misdirected.

    Classism seems to me so obvious that we don’t even recognize it. In San Francisco, considered to be amongst the most liberal cities in the world, I’ll certainly see people of different races walking and chatting it up. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a rich man and poor man having lunch together, unless it was a Boys and Girls Club trip. Whether that’s classism or not, I don’t know, but I do believe that class is the unsung form of stratification and discrimination in this country.

  4. January 26, 2010 10:54 pm

    Kipp, it’s been a while! Hope you’re well. Thanks a lot for your thoughts.

    I definitely agree that classism is way unsung in this country (especially, as you point out, in this often hypocritical liberal city), and that needs major addressing. But while acknowledging the class basis of the bus fare fines, I do think it’s still important to recognize the race relationship at play.

    To use your yellow shirt example, there’s a difference between discrimination by intent and discrimination in effect. A powerful actor could very well oppress a local section of the working class and yellow shirt wearers at the same time. Even if the actor is repeatedly targeting the working class more broadly, that doesn’t make much difference to the yellow shirt folks, who constantly find themselves getting shafted as a group. (In other words, there’s not an even distribution of yellow-clad people among capitalists and workers.) That differentially adverse impact is what makes the action discriminatory; not the motivation behind the it or its impact on a the larger group as a whole.

    Another reason race is important here is because class itself is so racialized in this country. Racial and gender divisions not only serve to divide the working class itself, facilitating their common exploitation, but racial stereotypes are often projected onto the working class as a whole, which helps to justify capitalists’ egregiously oppressive practices.

    For instance, in this bus fare fining example, it’s easier to frame the “enforcement” as “fair and just” if the officers can describe it in terms of catching the cheaters: the thieves whose free-loading robs the good, honest, tax-paying people of San Francisco to the tune of 19 million dollars per year. (According to one of the cops who talked to me.) And a convenient way of painting the working class as cheaters/thieves/deviants/criminals is, of course, to draw on racist stereotypes of illegal Mexicans and shiftless Negroes.

    So even though I’m with you in that we definitely need to talk about class struggle, I don’t want to ignore racism or limit it to an intention-based definition. To me, that doesn’t provide greater focus (put our eye on the ball) — it just obscures a significant dimension of reality.

    Thanks again for writing and responding. It’s cool to reconnect with you in this context. :)

  5. January 27, 2010 1:54 pm

    Hey Katie!

    I think we’re more or less in agreement. Seems like our difference is just semantic. I believe the term discrimination by definition includes intent, and you don’t. Not that important.

    We both agree that minorities are disproportionately affected when classism occurs. But that phenomenon to me doesn’t make the action itself discriminatory based on race, it just makes the discrimination based on class disproportionately affect people based on race.

    Of course, I also agree that class itself is racialized, largely because of history but also because of present-day racism.

    I worked in the multicultural building on campus at Berkeley, and I cringed a bit when students would chant to fight the white power, probably in part because I’m white.

    I, too, was born with the color skin I have. Was I born an oppressor? Is their issue really with me?!

    As far as white privilege, yes I have that advantage. But as an oppressor? I’m far too gentle! I can’t even pass a canvasser without giving them “a word or two”! (Sponsor a kid! http://www.savethechildren.org/)

    Oppress people? Not likely.

    Well, low and behold I talked to the speaker of that rally afterwards and, as expected, he said “Our issue has nothing to do with you. It’s not ALL white people, just white people IN POWER”.

    And I told him exactly! IN POWER. White people are disproportionately in power, but the issues you’re bringing up here are classist issues that do have a common enemy, and it isn’t me! It’s the powers that be.

    And while classism disproportionately helps white people, I wouldn’t say that the white people are discriminating based on race when they

    So I guess my point is just that while classism disproportionately affects people of color, finding who is oppression based on race oftentimes involves finding who is responsible for oppression based on class. Too often, I think the fight gets oversimplified to race and is thereby a disservice both to the fight and to lil’ old me :(.

    Yes, it is cool to reconnect this way! I just might have to continue commenting on your blog. I didn’t realize you were living in SF- Awesome!

  6. January 27, 2010 1:56 pm

    A few typos there… and I don’t even know what happened to one of the paragraphs, haha. Forgive!

  7. January 27, 2010 6:45 pm

    Kipp–I make the distinction that Andy Smith (and the women of Incite! Women of COlor Against Violence) make when discussing “racism”–and that is “white supremacy” versus “whiteness.”

    the US is founded on white supremacy, there is no way to get around that or avoid it. Those who believe in the natural supremacy of white people are in power. And they always have been, and by using white supremacy as the foundation of the US, they have always had the government acting in defense of and in support of white supremacy.

    Those people who believe in that supremacy could be black or brown or any color. But at the core is the belief and/or submission to White supremacist ideology.

    Whiteness definitely includes an element of white supremacy–as white supremacy *defined* whiteness in the construction of the U.S. as a nation. But as with all races–whiteness as a concept shifts and grows and does not remain stable (look at how arab people were “white but not quite pre-9-11 and are now “terrorists” today).

    What people of color, what anti-racists, etc are critiquing is white supremacy more so than whiteness–but whiteness can not just walk away from White Supremacy. The only reason whiteness exists is the same reason “blackness” and “brownness” exists–it was necessary for a capitalistic system that is based on a hierarchy of power to look for ways to “sort” those who will be on the bottom (aka workers or workers “in reserve”) and those who will be on top–the capitalists.

    White Supremacy and capitalism are as such, so intimitaly connected it is near impossible to seperate them into neat little categories (i.e.–this was racism, or, this was classism, etc). Racism NEEDS capitalism (i.e. classism) to exist, and vise versa. And you can say the same about all the different “isms” (capitalism NEEDS sexism, NEEDS homophobia, NEEDS nationalism, etc and vise versa) in order to exist.

    Specifically–how could slavery as an entity exist without racism? But what was the function of slavery except support capitalism? How do you separate the workers from the owner? How do you prevent owner from becoming slave? How do you prevent slave from becoming owner? Classism alone will never be enough to enforce slavery (and it’s essential to note that slavery exists as a world wide response to capitalism, not just in the US back in the olden days). And I think the mistake is to argue that it would. Or that discussions on racism are “simplifying” the more complex discussion of class (in other words, you don’t see chiquita banana blow the brains in of the head of the local Danish Union. And there is a *reason* for that).

  8. January 27, 2010 7:36 pm

    Wow, now this conversation is going places! Awesome haha, I never intended to have such a thorough discussion when I commented, but sweet!

    I agree with the connection between racism and capitalism… but two things: First, I don’t think capitalism needs the isms. Let’s say that we lived in a society of all white males… asexual males. Would that be the downfall of capitalism, then? In my opinion, definitely not. I think that racism and sexism, etc are enablers of capitalism, but I don’t think they’re necessary.

    So the next question is then naturally “how would capitalism stratify? Well, I would think in it’s most bare form: the size of your pockets. “White trash”, incidentally, are often discriminated against and OPENLY discriminated against because ostensibly, we aren’t being racist or sexist, right? Classism at its finest. We aren’t talking about all white people… just the poor ones, which somehow makes it okay because our eye is off the ball: the common threat of classism.

    My other question is about the white supremacy ideology you say all those in power have. I guess my question is if you were elected today to be our next president, would you too accept this doctrine? What I’m really asking is are you suggesting it’s hopelessly embedded into our membranes and institutions or that those in power willingly subscribe to it?

    I more or less get what you’re saying in theory… but can you talk about it applied? As far as your Danish Union comment, I again revert to classism as the driving force of that. I still think this overarchiving supremacy in Washington stems from classism more so than racism.

  9. January 27, 2010 8:13 pm

    I agree with the connection between racism and capitalism… but two things: First, I don’t think capitalism needs the isms. Let’s say that we lived in a society of all white males… asexual males. Would that be the downfall of capitalism, then? In my opinion, definitely not. I think that racism and sexism, etc are enablers of capitalism, but I don’t think they’re necessary.

    this is a false argument as there will never be a world of only asexual white males.

    If you are arguing that everybody becoming “white” would create (or should create) a challenge to capitalism, you only need to look at slaves to see that capitalism has accounted for that (as mentioned earlier, how to prevent the slave from becoming the owner or vise versa). Look at the most famous of multiracial slave people, Sally Hemmings and her life. She was described as extremely light skinned, she and her family were described as carrying strong resemblances to their owners. And yet, they remained slaves–because of that little law that white slave owners put in place that stated black children were defined by their mothers. If their mothers were slaves, they were slaves. No matter how white the child looked or how much like his/her owner s/he looked. (incidentally, there is a reason, again, why you see so many nation/states–from Germany to the US to the nation of islam) claim that the woman’s biggest contribution to the nation/state is to reproduce. The structure that capitalism exists within needs sexism to survive.)

    incidentally, are often discriminated against and OPENLY discriminated against because ostensibly, we aren’t being racist or sexist, right?

    As a chicana who has been called spic to her face and who has had friends attacked for speaking spanish…and who sees her own people called “illegals” every single day in the newspapers, by my senator and my president alike–I would argue that it is good to proceed with caution when making blanket statements about what sort of open hostility and violent discrimination is still acceptable in the US and what isn’t.

  10. January 27, 2010 8:13 pm

    And what of the played-out example of our President? If the white superiority complex was the overarching power in Washington, they really dropped the ball on this one.

    But I can promise that you’ll see a black president that emanates upper or middle class long before you’d see a white guy that exudes lower class as president. No?

  11. January 27, 2010 8:21 pm

    BFP

    You are completely misquoting me on the second part. I was saying that if you are discriminatory against “white trash”, that THAT is not seemingly racist or sexist. I wasn’t making any blanket statements about racism or sexism.

    As far as your first comment, of course that would not exist. Asexual white males making up a society? I was just using it as an analogy to argue that capitalism would continue without the isms, sans classism.

    Of course, your example is clear-cut racism.

    I’m not arguing that racism hasn’t existed in law and I’m DEFINITELY not arguing that it doesn’t exist, nor am I even arguing that it isn’t institutionalized! I’m only saying that today much of what is classist is assumed to be racist and it’s inappropriately labeled.

  12. January 27, 2010 8:29 pm

    And what of the played-out example of our President? If the white superiority complex was the overarching power in Washington, they really dropped the ball on this one.

    as I stated here:

    Those people who believe in that supremacy could be black or brown or any color. But at the core is the belief and/or submission to White supremacist ideology.

    the question is “what is the white supremacist ideology?” people of color are entirely capable and more than willing in thousands of examples to uphold to white supremacist ideology. You see this in the US in the form of alberto gonzales, condi rice, colin powell, etc etc etc. You see this outside the US in the form of dictatorial regimes (i.e. Saddam Hussien) who remain in power as long as they play the game required of them.

    White supremacist ideology is centered on hierarchy and control of resources. It is, of course, incredibly complicated and something scholars have studied for decades–but at the core is hierarchy and control of resources.

    Of course people of color can mae it up the hierarchy and control resources just as easily as Thomas Jefferson could. But it’s going to take a person of color 200+ years before he can access the same space that the core unit of white supremacy has had access to since the beginning.

  13. January 27, 2010 8:37 pm

    To clarify my last paragraph–I was reasserting that there is no inherent “better” attitude towards hierarchy and power in people of color as there is in white people–power is seductive,and it makes sense that humans fight with the desire for it so much.

    So, people of color will willingly go for that golden carrot–just like a white person would–but a core group of white people have ALWAYS had the carrot and have always had control over who is going to get the carrot. And that group will allow a person of color to get the carrot in so far as that person of color is willing to uphold the ideology that keeps hierarchy and a control of resources in place.

  14. January 27, 2010 8:46 pm

    Okay, so this is good ground… in my opinion, I completely agree that there are people who want to control resources, etc. I just don’t get how you’re pulling the term “white” into it.

    Yes, people in power are predominantly white. No question there. But what I’ve been trying to assert this whole comment thread is that it’s not their “whiteness” per se that enables them, but rather their money and power itself.

    Here’s an analogy: During America’s early years, many of those in powerful positions would wear funny wigs. I would argue that calling the powers that be the “white supremacy” would be like wanting to fight off the wig supremacy of early America.

    Yes, those in power often wore wigs. But the wigs obviously aren’t the driving force behind the discrimination: it’s the fact that they have control of the resources itself!

    When you say people of color can move freely through this system, there’s an inherent oxymoron. How can you call it a system of white supremacy if people of color can potentially control any level of it, including the presidency?

    So we completely agree that there are powers that be and that they discriminate. But to me, they are discriminating against the have-nots (made up of a disproportionate amount of minorities), not discriminating primarily based on race.

  15. January 27, 2010 8:49 pm

    You are completely misquoting me on the second part. I was saying that if you are discriminatory against “white trash”, that THAT is not seemingly racist or sexist. I wasn’t making any blanket statements about racism or sexism.

    I’m sorry, I misunderstood what you are saying.

    I must say, however, that although “white trash” is not considered a racist statement, it actually is an indicator of how race is used by white supremacy to sift through the populace. It is an indicator of exactly how intimately race colludes with with the project of capitalism. By creating a “good” white person (i.e. deserving of money, power, ownership) and a “bad” white person (i.e. lazy, trashy, dirty and thus *not* deserving of money, power, ownership), capitalism creates a more defined way for those already in power to more easily horde resources. That is: if all white people are rich (class owner), then no white person is rich.

    whiteness becomes something used against a population–the “white but not quite” phenomenon.

  16. January 27, 2010 8:58 pm

    Okay YES, I completely agree with your last post except for one thing. Great point!

    But you see, that’s not being racist because both the good and bad person are white! Isn’t that true?!

    It is discriminating based on class! The poor person is bad, the good person is deserving, etc… that’s exactly what I’m trying to say!

    This “whiteness” you speak of actually isn’t about being white at all: it’s about class. I think people throw the term “white” into it haphazardly… this isn’t a matter of how “white” you are. We wouldn’t even say the poor guy is “less white”. But we WOULD discriminate against the poor person because he/she’s poor… no?

    And it’s all good. I’m really enjoying this!

  17. January 27, 2010 9:08 pm

    I think people throw the term “white” into it haphazardly… this isn’t a matter of how “white” you are.

    They don’t call poor black people trash, they call them N*ggers. They don’t call poor Mexicans trash, they call them “illegals” or “spics.” etc.

    White trash is very specifically about “whiteness.” It is the white person who “mingles” with the “N*gger.” Because wealthy white people have stricter codes of racial enforcement, they are often kept from “mingling.” A black nanny. A servant. (there is a reason why so many of Thomas Jefferson’s inventions involved the ‘hiding’ and ‘distancing’ of slaves). Out of necessity, poor white people often had no choice but to mingle. They worked along side each other. they lived next door to each other. Women (rather than white male slave owner) gave birth to mulatto babies.

    Race and class are intertwined and dependent upon each other.

  18. January 27, 2010 9:08 pm

    Yes, people in power are predominantly white. No question there. But what I’ve been trying to assert this whole comment thread is that it’s not their “whiteness” per se that enables them, but rather their money and power itself.

    But then this becomes a chicken or egg argument. What did white people get first–their money and power or their whiteness? Did they use their whiteness to get money and power or did they use money and power to “become white.”

    I think that is a false argument. Pilgrims and Puritans did not kill other Pilgrims and Puritans to claim land. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington did not Ok the sale of their mothers. Whiteness as an tool of white supremacy can not be dismissed so easily, IMO.

  19. January 27, 2010 9:16 pm

    BFP,

    I promise you I’m not suggesting race is irrelevant. I swear it.

    ESPECIALLY with regard to our history, I’m not at all saying race was anything but the primary cause of discrimination. This we completely agree on.

    I’m not even concerned about the origins and chicken and egg. It could very well be (and in my opinion IS) that white people gained their power through racial discrimination.

    Please understand that I am not at all suggesting that race is not a means of discrimination.

    What I am pointing out is that while race can be a form of discrimination, often times the real discrimination is based on class, not race.

    As far as when you said this:

    “White trash is very specifically about “whiteness.” It is the white person who “mingles” with the “N*gger.” Because wealthy white people have stricter codes of racial enforcement, they are often kept from “mingling.” A black nanny. A servant. (there is a reason why so many of Thomas Jefferson’s inventions involved the ‘hiding’ and ‘distancing’ of slaves). Out of necessity, poor white people often had no choice but to mingle. They worked along side each other. they lived next door to each other. Women (rather than white male slave owner) gave birth to mulatto babies.”

    I’m not sure I understand your point here. But again, I want to press the point that I am not saying racism isn’t relevant. I live in this world too. I’m saying classism is often mistaken for it.

  20. January 27, 2010 9:17 pm

    Could you address what I said earlier about your white trash example and how I would argue that that is a perfect example of mistaking classism for racism? I want to hear what you think of that.

  21. January 28, 2010 6:55 pm

    Wow, this got deep! I really appreciate and generally agree with BFP’s intervention here, and it’s cool that Kipp is providing the class-reductionist side of the argument (a very popular side!)

    I think what is missing is the way that race IS class, i.e. the way that the working class is stratified racially. It’s like this statement by BFP: “The only reason whiteness exists is the same reason “blackness” and “brownness” exists–it was necessary for a capitalistic system that is based on a hierarchy of power to look for ways to “sort” those who will be on the bottom (aka workers or workers “in reserve”) and those who will be on top–the capitalists.”

    except that I think the primary function of white supremacy, it’s primary benefit to capitalism, has been to make the process of sorting workers into different categories i.e. domestic servant, farmworker, programmer, janitor, worker in a call center. Thus white supremacy is a functioning aspect of capitalist organization, rather than a free-standing structure.

    The dichotomy between classism and racism is false if race is part of where you are placed in the working class and what keeps you there (which it is!)

    Most of what I’ve just said I’ve jacked from this amazing piece by Selma James, genius marxist feminist theoretician:

    http://libcom.org/library/sex-race-class-james-selma

  22. January 29, 2010 12:20 am

    Well, y’all, I’ve been packing for art school and traveling and shit, so I’m sorry I’ve been so silent on this, but thank you for the honest and solid conversation.

    Just now I wrote out this long theoretical comment involving Charles Mills, “The Racial Contract” and the broader biological naturalization of labor relations, including and beyond race. But. Instead what I want to say is that I’m especially interested in hearing more anecdotes and personal/lived examples of the racism/classism question. How we make choices around it on the day-to-day. Since this is ultimately a blog about mundane, lived experience, I’d love to keep things grounded in real examples of what we’re doing and being right now.

    Like your observation, Kipp, about lack of class mixing in SF; bfp’s subjection to racial slurs (concrete and relevant, even if not precisely on-point); and the original story about the bus raids.

    Goodness knows I love me some theory — sometimes too much. Which is why I’m conscious of keeping this blog as reality-balanced and praxis-ful as possible. (Momin, if you’re reading, I know you feel me on this. ;) )

    Plus I am greedy for stories and want to know more about your lives as you know them. (Which is, of course, one of the reasons I love flipfloppingjoy.) How does the frog jump into your old pond?

    No pressure to answer; just something I wanted to ask for the future.

    — — —

    love from snowy vermont,

    katie

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