Policies designed without racial justice goals can actually deepen the divide, while creating the illusion that they've taken care of everyone.
Every few years, a white progressive man begs activists to reject racial questions and focus on the “real” agenda. The latest is Walter Benn Michaels, head of the English Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who wrote the book The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, and who was recently featured on this site (“Is Diversity Enough?” October).
Rather than saving democracy or liberating the working class, the argument goes, progressives have been forced by narrow-minded people of color to obsess about whether they have one of each kind on their conference panels or college faculties. In this narrative, identity politics is to blame for the inability of progressives to stick together, thereby making room for the rise of conservatism. Michaels says as much, barely acknowledging any other factors, including the right wing’s brilliant (and highly racialized) campaigns to establish its ideas in the American consciousness.
For 20 years, I have worked as an organizer and journalist in racial justice organizations owned and operated by people of color, hoping to contribute to a vibrant larger movement. My current employer, the Applied Research Center, holds that it’s important to be “explicit about race but not exclusive.” That’s not diversity; it’s a sensible analysis for a complicated world.
Analysts like Michaels repeatedly harp on “diversity” as if that’s the only measure of racial progress. That reflects their deep lack of connection with actual communities and their cluelessness about the role that race plays in economics and democracy. They want to write off racism as a distraction from universal solutions, or as a divide-and-conquer tactic to split the working class.
The mainstream media, and the feckless bloggers (conservatives and so-called progressives alike) who claim to challenge the Beltway status quo, can be glad that this much maligned representative will be gone (for now, anyway). But the bottom line (for me) is that she consistently spoke truth to power for all those who lack the voice and forum she had. Rep. McKinney will be departing Capitol Hill with a definitively progressive voting record that proves she walked the talk in rain or shine, regardless of which way the political winds blew.
Indeed, the enemies she has amassed over her tenure on the Hill is an impressive and protean cadre of folks any true progressive activist should boast having. For that roster of nemeses is a lot more substantive and telling than the years of faux reportage on her at the hands of most journalists and bloggers.
In a recent article published in The Wall Street Journal, writer Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg talks about the business of segregating books -- specifically Black books.
Here's a sneak peek:
"You face a double-edged sword," says Mr. Massey, 33 years old. "I'm black and I'm published by a black imprint, so I'm automatically slotted in African-American fiction." That helps black readers to find his books easily and has underpinned his career. At the same time, he says, the placement "limits my sales."
The article goes on . . .
As a practical matter, segregating books by race and culture makes it less likely that black writers will hit the national best-seller lists -- whites make up a majority of book buyers -- limiting their chances of earning bigger paychecks. Nadine Aldred, who writes as Millenia Black, says that writer Jennifer Weiner might not have become a best-selling author if her books had been sold exclusively in a Jewish-American section. Ms. Weiner, whose books include "Good in Bed" and "Little Earthquakes," agrees. "If my books were perceived as Jewish 'chick lit,' there would be a narrower appeal," she says.
In Walter Mosley's second installation in a cycle of essays published in The Nation, the author looks at the tricky matter of class in America, what it means and how malleable its definition continues to be.
Indeed, we cannot truly understand the import of race without simultaneously analyzing the subtle intricacies of class in a society that rarely addresses this issue head-on. It is also true that we cannot fully understand class in this country without factoring in race (and for that matter, gender).
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the following excerpt republished courtesy of The Nation. But I encourage you to read the entire essay as well.
What is the difference between the working class and the middle class? Is it a clearly demarcated line dividing those who pass on wealth and those who accrue it?
Most people I know consider themselves middle-class workers. They're making good money, they say, and have good credit at the bank. Their children will go to good colleges and get better jobs. They will retire in comfort and travel to Europe (or Africa) to see the genesis of their culture.
These self-proclaimed middle-class citizens feel a certain private smugness about their proven ability to make it in this world while those in the working and lower classes--because of upbringing, lack of intelligence or will, or bad luck--are merely the fuel for the wealth of the nation.
But how do you know where you fit in the class system? Is it a level of income? Is it defined by education or the kind of job you possess? Is class a function of your relationship to your labor? For instance, are you in the middle class because you own your own business? Or are we defined by our rung on the ladder? As long as we are not at the bottom (or the top), then we can say we are in the middle.
It's a difficult question because the economic state of everyone's life in this world is in perpetual flux. . . .
There is nothing like being made to feel like a nigger. Just having to verbalize it or commit such a thought to text is gut-wrenching. Janitor or journalist, if you're black in America, that feeling is both unmistakable and more familiar than it ever should be so long after the the visible successes of the civil rights movement. But despite the greater prospects, opportunities and privileges earned for and by many of us over the decades, the default has remained the same: The power dynamics that exist in this country at any given time may render us niggers.
I have often joked that if you ever want to see a modern-day Uncle Tom, look no further than me in the vicinity of a white police officer. The reality is, that is how I have been conditioned to behave around the police for pure self-preservation reasons, having grown up black in Chicago with parents who wanted their boys to live to adulthood. But the other reality is that whatever newfound liberties I have experienced, and all too often have taken for granted, I don't ever want to be made to feel like a nigger--something far, far worse than its utterance. It is a status whose roots form the tree from which we are lynched. Without the corollary lack of humanity and powerlessness, lynching could not occur, in all of its modern iterations, " contagious shootings" included.
If only it were that simple. Few things are, and the Black haircare market in urban America is no exception.
Watch the following video vignette for yourself and see how this compelling 6-minute documentary directed by high school filmmaker Rebecca Christian for the San Diego Asian Film Foundation's Reel Voices Documentary Project will raise as many questions as it seeks to answer.
Writer Derek Jennings weaves quite a narrative at AlterNet about his relationship to the word: nigger. It is masterfully written with wit, authenticity and nuance.
In it he writes:
What makes me really uncomfortable, though, is "nigger" and its cousin, "nigga." I generally don't F wit' the N-word(s). I'm quick to playfully deride those who euphemize regular curse words (saying "Darn" when we and they know damn well they meant "Damn"). But I'm so self-conscious about ni**er that even when writing it, I generally self-censor, adding asterisks. As if that makes a bit of darned difference.
The reason for my discomfort? Words like nigger, and hate speech, in general, have an added dimension of meaning, a historical intent to cause harm, communicate a threat or symbolize a power dynamic. There's a saying that goes, "It ain't what you call me, it's what I answer to." In the not-too-distant past, black folks had no control over what others called us, and reflexively, we co-opted the N-word, fashioning myriad alternative meanings and usages of it in an attempt to take the sting out of it. That's why the N-word is so unique among hate speech -- it's now used most frequently by the very people it was meant to oppress.