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The Trouble with Disparity

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/08/15/trouble-disparity

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Which is to say that the original thesis of the BLM movement and many of those other issues that were subsequently highlighted are being used as a head fake (by the one percent) in the class war to detract from how the one percent are still going to take it all to the bank. Thery’e busy effectively lobbying congress, no one else is, white or black.

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Bang on ! Great article - all totally true.

Having highlighted the false narrative, however, leaves us with the real question - how to reduce inequality massively, for everyone ?

One always hears about the information age, the financial sector, the investor class. Hmm ??

It’s always been about food, water, shelter and families - always and forever.

We have lost focus - pretty much all of us.

Climb in the Rockies - find a fresh spring of water - that’s real gold. Or a Saskatoon bush laden with delicious berries - not a preservative in sight. And the scenery - WoW - and the feeling of being alive and well - bigger WoW.

Seems simplistic ?

Well - look around and see if you like what you see.

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Organizing unions across the country, setting pay, benefits and work rules from coast-to-coast and setting a national living wage with real enforcement teeth, would be a good start.
Teachers, professors, para-medics, nurses, etc… should be paid on a national pay scale with a model that’s a floor, not a ceiling.
Just sayin’.

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Beautiful piece, and I will look for the longer article.

Let’s not take this to suggest that the racism is not a problem nor the protest against it unwarranted. It adjusts the understanding of the mechanisms of oppression for a more inclusive focus and the potential for more extensive change. It is not as though the imposition of poverty were not central to the enforcement of racism.

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I appreciate Adolph Reid (and co-author, Walter Benn Michaels) continuing to remind us of the importance of class divisions in creating especially economic disparities, including the racial wealth gap. Focusing on anti-racism alone will not eliminate these disparities for all.

Some of these disparities are directly related to class division and the (currently growing) power disparities between the elite and those below them. Eliminating or at least seriously reducing the differentiation in wealth and power overall will have a large effect on reducing things like the racial wealth gap.

At the same time, we cannot ignore racism as a factor in creating the racial wealth gap. Systemically based racist decisions, whether overt, covert, or unintended consequence, such as initial passage of social security, the GI Bill, and redlining have clearly affected the racial wealth gap.

Also, I resonate with the analysis that race (along with other identity divisions like gender) has been used by the elite and powerful to divert attention from the class roots that lie at the basis of their wealth and power. This goes both ways in that, on one hand, it is used to divide us and create and justify the hierarchy, and on the other hand, the elites try to grab, champion, and “black-wash” the racial equality and justice narrative to prevent us from seriously consider the class divide.

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Excellent piece!
Oh that it could reach the ears and brains of a critical mass of people resulting in commensurate actions.

This! Bears repeating:
“Racism is real and anti-racism is both admirable and necessary, but extant racism isn’t what principally produces our inequality and anti-racism won’t eliminate it. And because racism is not the principal source of inequality today, anti-racism functions more as a misdirection that justifies inequality than a strategy for eliminating it.”

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Shorter: correlation does not necessarily also mean causation. I understand your argument to be that, while race is correlated with aggregate inequality, class is both correlated with and causal of inequality in the aggregate as well as withn racial silos. I agree. I think your exposition would benefit from an everyday metaphor that illustrates this and that people can grasp more easily. I wish I could say I have that metaphor ready to hand; I don’t.

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Yeah. This encompasses some of my frustration with BLM’s lack of historical knowledge and seeming inability to see beyond their own noses. Much as I want to support them fully I wind up stopping with their ability to mobilize masses of people (which I am excited to see, and really, really like, the best protest movements since Vietnam). That said, I think the police are as much to do with getting masses of people to hate them, all by themselves.
That leaves BLM to mobilize using social media. So where is NAACP, etcetera? And where are the “demands” that Frederick Douglass talked about - program(s), in detail, of what needs to be done and the connections to accomplish those demands. Complaints are not demands. Defund, demilitarize, are complaints not demands. Demands need to go into detail about how to do this. The people being served with these types of demands, if left to themselves, will do a fake fix, at most.
At this point the demonstrations are giving way to demonstration fatigue without seeing much in the way of real changes, if any. Those “solutions” are being left up to the very people who don’t want actual solutions. Any “solutions” are more likely to be fig leaves and gaslighting.
Remember when the white/black ratio of police officers was so massive we (me certainly) assumed that merely changing the percentages was the magic bullet to changing police behavior. So many of those changes have been made and yet, we still have the same (and worse) (militarized) behavior.
The reaction to George Floyd’s murder by cops showed how much BLM can serve as a locus to bring people to the streets, but also how little depth BLM has in terms of putting forward workable programs to make real changes. A lot of people on the streets and still not much on the table.
BLM can, however, still screw things up. I haven’t forgotten the way they ambushed and went after Bernie Sanders. They seemed to have no concept that he had worked for civil rights, housing, income and so forth for black people since he was a kid in college. (look for pictures of a very young Bernie in sit ins). He was yelled at because he was white, male old - that’s a 3-bigot merit badge right there not to mention shooting themselves in the foot.
Because of the DNC and other factors it is too much of a stretch to blame BLM for Bernie not getting nominated and for corporate Hillary getting beaten by Trump. BLM probably didn’t bring Trump the tiny margin (via Electoral College, actual votes losing) to win, but I think they did play a part in that direction, against their own interest (my major frustration with BLM when I say they often don’t seem to see past their noses).
In the end we will see whether BLM has basically wasted all the protest movement by not thinking strategically (takes more of a core organization). Street protests are running down and getting harder to find while cops are still occupational military goons, just more on alert.
Initially, for a while, when I saw the huge turnouts and people said, “this time it is different,” I had hopes. I’m not so sure it is different. In a manner of speaking they aimed for the flack, hit the flack, and never saw the main target.
I still think something will come out of it but not what I had hoped for.

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Nice comment dreamdancer. You hit hard on one of my chief complaints, defund should be replaced first and foremost with demilitarize. This includes not only hardware, but also mindset and tactics.
Penetration of mass movements by TPTB has always been a problem. Agents provocateur can and have been deployed to soil the reputation of peaceful protests and images captured on video that are hardly representative of a movement at large are seared into the public mind. Trump is trying this tactic with BLM and the “spooky” Antifa demonstrations. His appeals to the “suburban housewives” are quite transparent now aren’t they. (Ironic that we always want transparency in our leaders–of course IQ45 is no leader.)
Back to the protests, I have seen multiple videos where self policing occurred. Yesterday, for instance, there was one where a black man dressed down a white man who chased down some white counter protesters and sent them packing using a baseball bat. The black man clearly said that such action would be blamed on blacks and that was not what BLM was about. It is very possible that the white man was an agent provocateur, or just an amateur protester. Either way it was good to see self regulation in action. Again, it was one video of many that I have seen.
I wish the movement well, but unlike my neighbors, I have not posted a sign in my yard. Then again, I have never joined a political party and remain a Proud Progressive Independent, just like my hero. Peace.

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This article conveys CRUCIAL insight that should be guiding our overall movement organizing–not just that of BLM.

I’m delighted, by the way, that all the comments so far appreciate the article’s insight and offer, in many cases, further insight in line with the article. In far too many cases, I find insightful, unconventional pieces sabotaged by trolls who do nothing but bash the author. Perhaps, the people here, like me, have learned how insightful Adolph Reed is and make a special point of reading anything he signs. The potential trolls don’t know who he is and aren’t interested. Just speculating–but the unusual strength of the comments here really struck me.

Getting back to organizing, I sense that Reed (and Walter Benn Michaels) are on to something that really requires generalizing. Our movements tend to stay siloed, and–given the sheer force of the oligarchic establishment and its iron grip on ALL our major institutions–we really need concerted effort (a “movement of movements”) if ANY of the isolated movements are to achieve their demands. For reasons I’d need space to explain, I think we could EFFECTIVELY package all relevant demands as two: a peaceful Green New Deal and ranked-choice voting. Of course, the “peaceful GND” umbrella would cover a LOT of things (like Medicare for All, as well as significant defunding of police and community-controlled police). But I really think we need a “banner” to unite movements who are ALL thwarted by the same unjust system.

Ranked-choice voting would be in the interests of breaking the duopoly’s iron grip, which constantly allows Democrats to use Republican extremism as EXTORTION in favor of their own “lying neoliberal warmonger” agendas (to quote Reed’s brilliant description of Hillary Clinton; it really fits the whole corporate Dem establishment).

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Except that BLM’s more urgent concern is about law enforcement injustice, not economic injustice. Rich & poor black people alike face undue harassment by the police. Even Republican Senator Tim Scott acknowledges the problem, although his suggested solution is to be a Senator and put official US Senator license plates on your car, so everyone knows you’re not one of “those” people.

In the past, a lot of economic injustice was directly due to racism, and those past conditions led to the racial wealth disparity that we see today. These days the economy might be more color-blind, but there’s still plenty of other forms of racism that need to be addressed.

But racism doesn’t sting nearly as much if you’re not poor. Since the U.S. is a Protestant ethic, social Darwinist country, being poor adds the stigma of being a “loser” to the stigma (for racists) of your being black. If you’re rich and black, you’re virtually an honorary white and are looked upon, for most purposes, as superior to white “trailer trash.” Consider the social status of Obama, Oprah, or Kamala Harris compared to white rednecks. If blacks weren’t so disproportionately poor, the stigma due to race would be MUCH less. And cops, who enforce bourgeois standards, would be MUCH less inclined to brutalize black people.

I wanted to share my post about this brilliant article from my NEW Climate Justice or Bust blog (not allowed to link, but it should be easy to Google).

Brilliant New Article (Not Mine) Co-authored by Adolph Reed

Wanted to turn my readers on to a brilliant new piece co-authored by Adolph Reed, Jr. and Walter Benn Michaels. First time I’ve heard of Michaels, but Reed is a longstanding favorite. Actually, it was probably his justly celebrated piece, “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important” that most influenced me to break with my own Bernie or Bust movement and adopt a “Never Trump” stance.

That said, Reed’s spot-on description of Clinton, “lying neoliberal warmonger,” brilliantly describes establishment (corporate) Democrats, including BOTH members of the Biden-Harris ticket. They HAVE to lie, since the truth that they’re both puppets of Wall Street and “War Street” (my concise, catchy term for the military-industrial-surveillance-Israel complex), wouldn’t play too well with Democrats’ increasingly progressive base.

Anyway, Reed and Michaels nail on-the-ground realities in arguing Black Lives Matter won’t even achieve its own racial equality aims in focusing exclusively on racial issues and not also economic-inequality ones that cut across racial lines. In fact, I think BLM has likely set itself up to be exploited and even co-opted by establishment Democrats, who self-servingly make identity politics the essence of all virtue while repudiating focus on class (amidst identity-based suffering) as racist or sexist. That is, when they’re forced against their will to mention class at all. The choice of upward-climbing, unprincipled Kamala Harris perfectly reflects this; checking the right identity boxes makes her, in Dems’ eyes, the paragon of all virtue. When in fact, to update Cornel West’s stinging takedown of Obama, she’s the new “black mascot” for Wall Street and War Street.

I might have agreed with your sentiment 10 years ago, when prevailing wisdom said racism was dying out. Hearing people say that Melania is classier than Michelle dispelled that notion. (That’s just one easy example; I could give you plenty of others.) Fame offers some protection from racial animus delivered straight to the face, but the hate still there, seething at those “uppity” n-words.

Like I said in my previous post, even black republicans know that lots of cops presume any black man driving a nice car is a thief or a drug dealer unless proven otherwise.

And let’s be honest. Many white “liberals” love to pat themselves on the back for having a black friend or two in their social circle, but in the back of their heads they’re relieved that those friends don’t “act black”.

Yes, this article is absolutely right that the only way to meaningfully reduce black poverty is to reduce ALL poverty.

No, BLM is not wrong for doing what they do.

I hope you don’t think I meant to say that BLM is wrong in what they do; that was far from my intention.

But I think Reed is right not only that reducing all poverty is essential to reducing black poverty, but even in his more radical claim that reducing black (and white) poverty is essential to overturning systemic racism. I admit racism is real, but I don’t think most racists are very analytical about their beliefs. If they were, they’d admit they have an image of the black race as “low lives” and “losers”–beliefs associated in the U.S. with poverty. Granted, they think black poverty is due to genetic/cultural inferiority, but both the “low life” image and thoughts of genetic inferiority are attached to “hillbillies” and “rednecks” too. And of course the white poor (the “hillbillies” and “rednecks” themselves) often are racists to have someone to look down on; they don’t want to be the lowest of the “lows lives,” and the rich have long exploited this. So I think there’s much evidence that a lot of racism itself depends on Americans’ perceptions that the poor are losers (which, as Chris Hedges points out, is a deeply un-Christian belief). So I doubt we’ll make much headway against racism unless we fight BOTH the black and white poverty that sustains it.

To address your point, of course racists are going to think blacks showing signs of wealth are pimps or drug dealers, since they think blacks are genetically/cultural inferior and couldn’t have attained the wealth by their own brains and hard work. Which is why blacks like Adolph Reed himself pose HUGE problems for them, since he has status, education, and brain power that has nothing to do with drug-dealing or pimping. Ditto for Obama (whose politics, like Reed, I despise). But Obama clearly has wealth, status, and something on the ball–which makes white racists especially hate him. It’s sort of a trifecta of hate: he makes white racists feel inferior, he refutes their beliefs about black inferiority, and his policies screw them. Hillary Clinton has much of the same effect on sexist lower-class white men–for the same reasons.