Class & Race in US Politics (by 2nd Anon 1st-year student)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 7:01 AM by Daniel Laurison

            Bernie Sanders ran for president on a platform of free higher education and higher wages—excellent issues to champion and extremely important for the future of the left in the US. However, when faced with criticism that he was not addressing the specific issues of people of color (POC) and that his progressive platform did not openly critique white supremacy, his response was, rather than being accountable for this failure, to point out his support for Martin Luther King Jr. and to assert, as Adolf Reed does in the article “Bernie Sanders and the New Class Politics,” that “that black, or other nonwhite, Americans indeed would…benefit disproportionately from implementation of those items [increased minimum wage, national healthcare, free public education, etc.] of Sanders’s platform.” Critical of liberal identity politics that deemphasize class, leftist Sanders supporters often engage in this sort of class reductionism when class and race in the United States are inextricable and must be treated as such.

            However, class in the US has always had a race issue, and Sanders’ attempts to unify the races under a platform of slightly better pay and education which remains largely inaccessible to POC because of systematic racism are insufficient, and the history of race in the US shows it. Ta-Nehisi Coates, who accused Sanders of reinforcing white supremacy, points out that, “[t]he income gap between black and white households is roughly the same today as it was in 1970… [a study] found that 4 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks across America had been raised in poor neighborhoods. A generation later, the same study showed, virtually nothing had changed.White supremacy, caused by systematic disenfranchisement, by white men literally stealing from the hands of black children, is not fixable by broader redistributive policies; policies alone cannot change that every facet of economic and cultural life is stacked against POC.

            The Brown article explores how welfare state policies have been weaponized against POC as well. Policies like what Sanders presents have been tried before, only to be unevenly applied to ensure that white Americans can achieve mobility while denying black and to a lesser degree Hispanic Americans access to these resources. It is not liberal identity politics to point out the legacy of racial discrimination not just from exploitative real estate agents and racist employers but also from agents of the state.

            The unwillingness of white workers of course troubles the feel-good message of racial unity to unite with brown and black workers. Chronicled in The Wages of Whiteness, every time language could have been used to unify workers across racial lines, white workers reinvented the terms to further distance themselves from workers of color and to devalue their labor. Sanders’ message is certainly class reductionist and its failure to address the plight of POC in the US does not serve to unite the races but to further disenfranchise POC in their unique fight against racism and white supremacy. There can be no peace without justice, and Sanders and his followers must recognize that before they begin to talk about post-racialism.