Monday, November 29, 2021

Identity Politics and White Guilt. A Dead End For Fighting Racism

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired




I was at a comedy show a few nights ago and the first comedian was an Irishman. And I mean a real Irishman as opposed to an Irish American, who all too often, are unable to point to Ireland on a map. The Irishman heard my English accent and that gave him ample material for his show talking about 800 years of oppression from the English and so on. It was a good laugh.


I get that Irish Americans have heard all the horror stories from their parents and/or grandparents about the English occupation of Ireland, the banning of their language, culture and so on but to not delve more deeply in to the causes of things in order to gain a deeper understanding of events is a misfortune for them. I am also an English working class man with much Irish ancestry, but to claim to be Irish would result in a real laugh (the craic) from the Irish as I am culturally English, but of Irish ancestry as well, like millions of English people.


One thing I do not feel is guilty or responsible for the brutal history of British Colonial Power. I also, like most white workers, do not feel guilty about my skin tone either, or that I was born a male. I enjoy the “accent” privilege I have here in the US and have used it to my advantage on occasion but not to as a tool of oppression.


Guilt is poison. It is poison not simply for the person possessing it, but for the person(s) demanding it as some sort of payment, a penance for historical events beyond one’s control. In the US, Guilt is common among white liberals as a means of atonement for their privileges: Attending good schools, the best universities, living in the best neighborhoods, their white skin etc. The views expressed in that trashy book, White Fragility is a classic example of this guilt, a worthless book indeed and the author has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for writing it.  Identity politics, which is so pervasive in the US and has its roots in the petit bourgeois, is a means of obscuring the class issue and very harmful to all working class people.


White liberal guilt is the most insidious, condescending form of racism and I agree with Coleman Hughes’ in the video above. He has been called a lot of names by some in the Black community for his views as he points out; an Uncle Tom, just wanting to make white people feel good and advance his own interests and so on. That is such a racist position really and nothing but an attempt to silence ideas. Whether one agrees with him or not, it is clear he is a serious thinker.

It is not 1958. The heroic struggles of the Black working class and youth in the Post World War Two era, what has been called the Civil Rights movement or at times the Black Revolt, forced the white racist ruling class in the US to open some doors, to remove some of the racist barriers to the development of a black middle class, a buffer zone between themselves and the Black working class and the revolutionary potential that is inherent in this class. The Civil Rights movement was an international embarrassment to US capitalism and its claim to be the “land of the free”. There has been a significant growth of the black middle class as a result of the Civil Rights movement as US capitalism needed to divert this movement from the streets and direct action that they do not control to the electoral arena and the courts that they do.


We are witnessing the same approach to the Black Lives Matter movement as major corporations and billionaires that control them have thrown or have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to Black colleges, Black owned businesses and banks and other strata in order to strengthen this buffer zone yet again. This class will be evidence that capitalism works, “look at me” will be their mantra, “I made it, so can you if you work hard and make the right decisions”.


The white workers will not respond to this guilt strategy, I know I don’t because as I say it’s a nasty form or racism, feeling sorry for people whose history and very existence we should be inspired by as opposed to seeing them as helpless victims. The history of millions of white workers in the US is also one of poverty and abuse, of children working in mines and factories and such. Taking this in to account does not equate to minimizing or ignoring the horrors of slavery or the special oppression that Black folks, Native people and all people of color have to face on top of their class oppression.


In my experience as a blue-collar worker that has worked alongside many black workers, in a factory in NYC when I first came here to many years at a public utility in the Oakland California area, I never experienced this guilt pressure from black workers with one or two exceptions that were looking to advance in to management. Their use of racism was that it was an obstacle to their personal advancement. As for the black working class as a whole, they wanted to get out of it and were not very good workers  and quite willing to defend the bosses (of which they were now a part) from accusations of racism. To be honest, the role of most Affirmative Action departments in large companies is to defend the company from accusations of racism. Our union was a much stronger vehicle for fighting racism than the AA office.


Black workers like women I worked alongside as well, simply wanted to be treated fairly, to have the same opportunities as anyone else. Working class people have principles and are not lacking integrity.


I’ll end this here but need to make it clear for the left types, many in the self-styled socialist organizations, who might call me a traitor for praising a middle class academic, that I have some major disagreements with this young man. Also, as Sean O'Torrain and I always stressed, we don't look over our shoulders at the left hoping we get recognition from them when we write. As far as I know Hughes is not a socialist. I understand that he appears on panels with conservatives and other cheerleaders of the market and the capitalist system.  With some of these black academics in particular, they might be drawn to a genuine left current in the workers' movement if one existed with a working class orientation to racism, its roots in the US and how to fight it. I wonder if he has read Theodore Allen's The Invention of The White Race.

I assume he would not and I have not heard him identify with Malcom X and his profound statement that “You can’t’ have capitalism without racism”. While Malcolm X never specifically called for socialism he was clearly moving in this direction and his remarks certainly place socialism on the table. If you can’t have capitalism without racism, then capitalism has to go and only a united working class is capable of this and we don’t unite the working class by using an approach the intention of which is to divide them.


Just a few quick thoughts.

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