What Does “Stronger Together” Mean Now that Trump is Really Actually About to be the President?

I am resuscitating my blog as a space where I can post in more detail than Facebook, and hopefully open the conversation about the problematic ways that race has played out on both sides of this election.

There are too many reasons that Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost to catalogue. Over the last few weeks, I’ve read a lot of articles and Facebook posts stating that if only Sanders had been the nominee, he would have beaten Trump. Further, that the DNC is responsible for this loss, because it chose the weaker candidate. Worse yet, it was only due to inside politics and subterfuge that Sanders had the nomination stolen from him.

Yes, the corruption factor is important, disappointing and needs to be addressed – as do many other factors. But, most importantly we need to grapple with the reality that Clinton won in large part because blacks chose her over Sanders. Common reasons given for why Sanders did not gain black support include that he was blocked by the media, thus, blacks did not know about his candidacy or that blacks simply do not understand that our interests are class based and that race should be sidelined to class.

Several months ago – right after the primary – I posed a simple question on my Facebook page: how would the white left feel about an older white man becoming President without black support? Unfortunately, the answer was clear: race does not matter.

My hope is that we can talk seriously about these fundamentally different understandings. Why do our assessments of the conditions under which we live veer so seriously? Unfortunately, these differences are likely to be magnified and exacerbated under Trump, as it becomes more clear that he is putting his vision for white nationalistic democracy in place.

Disclosure #1: I believe that had Sanders simply been open to discussing race, he would have won the primary and the election. I have no evidence – just gut.

Disclosure #2: I have been a Sanders fan for years, following his television appearances, holding him up as an example of how a real politician talks about corruption and economic reform. I wanted to get on the Bernie bandwagon.

Disclosure #3: I do not believe that the racism problem is only on the right. I believe that white supremacy is alive and well on the left – albeit in a more subtle and palatable form – and that it is why we lost. Many of my recent organizing experiences have led me to the conclusion that until we come to a consensus on the left about the relationship between race and class, the right will always win.

Disclosure #4: Although I am committed to attempting this conversation, I am pessimistic. I believe that white left voters instinctively understand their interests as much as black left voters. It may be that consensus is unattainable.

The R-word

The moment that Sanders lost me was when he was asked if he would be open to discussion of reparations for blacks and said no. Yes, I know that none of the mainstream candidates support reparations. Yes, I know that reparations are a pipe dream and politically impossible. Yes, I know that Sanders came out with a statement proposing the same old failed social programs to level the playing field and correct historic wrongs. I got all that.

But, I still don’t understand why anyone proposing a revolution would not be open to a simple conversation about correcting a massive injustice that is still in process today. No, I didn’t expect Sanders to know much about African American social conditions. But, I also didn’t expect that he would reject black concerns as peripheral so forcefully.

I also understand that the issue of reparations is a controversial one. Why it’s controversial is actually hard to fathom. And, yes, I do understand that many groups could make a claim for reparations. But, in the specific case of African Americans, I feel a broad scale discussion on how this country can truly move past its history of slavery and more recent history of building a white middle class through government policy of redlining, restrictive covenants etc, and most recent history of the economic hate crime committed against specifically black Americans who as a group lost all economic gains since the end of the Civil Rights movement in the 2007 Housing Crash and Great Recession warrants discussion.

Until we can rectify the results of these wrongs, how can we be a country rooted in anything but them? Without rectification national coherence will continue to be based on a national identity as white.

There are too many horrendous statistics to present here. But with a 70% downward mobility rate, a 50% loss of collective wealth, the black middle class holding fewer economic resources than the white poor at an over 20 to 1 ratio, that at the current pace it will take longer than the entire history of slavery for a black man to earn a wage equal to a white man…and much much more…to say that reparations are not even worthy of discussion seems to indicate a commitment to an underlying belief.

What justifications are there really for the persistence of racialized inequality post civil rights? If we believe that the playing field is even – at least within classes, as Sanders class dominant analysis suggests –  then we must also believe that blacks, as a group, have something inherently wrong with them. In this case, how do we understand a 45% downward mobility rate for African Americans born into the middle class into poverty versus 16% for white Americans*? Is it that middle class blacks were inherently not worthy of middle class status? And when we speak about education for the black poor who are we speaking about? African American women are the most educated group in American society – albeit also the lowest paid, most likely to be unemployed, and fasting growing population of self-employed.

If we believe that the playing field is uneven, but that a program of race based policies designed to even the field is not worthy of serious discussion, then either we are holding on to factually false beliefs about African Americans (i.e. they need to be more educated etc…) or we are not truly believers in a society where race is not a dividing line.

Trump’s rise to power shows that many Americans have chosen the latter position. But, Sander’s rise indicates that many on the left either do not have their facts right – possibly due to the illusion of economic progress created by a cultural shift toward multiculturalism – or that they tacitly agree with a more palatable version of racial democracy. Clearing this up is exactly why there needs to be a discussion about how we can ensure that social and cultural progress is represented economically. This is is what the conversation about reparations is fundamentally about. When the majority of black Americans support some form of reparations, it seems obvious why a candidate that won’t even talk about them, would not get our vote.

To be continued…

*70% downward mobility is overall; 45% and 16% downward mobility rates are specifically from middle class to poverty.

Additional resources:

Dr. Carol Anderson shared some very important insights about the phenomenon of White Rage on the WBAI Tuesday Morning Show, which I co-host. I highly recommend you listen to our interview and pick up her book.

 

The Metastasis of Economic Hate

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The official version of this article is published in the Fall 2013 edition of South Atlantic Quarterly hereI am posting a longer, but looser draft below, as there were some interesting points I had to cut out… Please reference published article for citations.

Years after Thomas Jefferson’s famous words “all men are created equal” began to ring as a call to conscience, he himself must have felt every bit of their hollowness. Polish Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko bequeathed Jefferson enough money to free his slaves, as well as to set them off with land and farming equipment of their own, but Jefferson refused this gift.  Instead, he died with a debt hanging over Monticello – a kind of debt that he was the first to incur through monetizing his slaves for use as collateral for the loan to build his estate (Weincek 2012: 96). The slave families, who resided on Jefferson’s estate as intact families, were separated and sold to pay the outstanding debt such that the estate could be passed down to its rightful heir.  In spite of words we have no reason not to believe were heartfelt, and in spite of fathering six black children, Jefferson was not able to rise to the call of his words in the end, leaving as mixed a legacy as the American history that has followed. And in spite of generations of black descendants, no reparation has ever been paid to them; they remain a forgotten part of this legacy. As the story is most commonly told, there is only mention made to a legitimate debt paid with the bodies, blood and breath of Jefferson slaves, but no mention of any owing to them. Unfortunately, this telling of Jefferson’s story not only exposes the power dynamics of the past, but also discloses a fundamental understanding of the world that continues to rear its ugly head today.

During Jefferson’s life, Wall Street was already expanding on and experimenting with the monetization of human life through debt. In 1804, well before the battle for abolition was won here in America, but only after a bloody 13-year struggle, Haitian slaves liberated themselves by successfully defeating Napoleon.  President Jefferson was the first to refuse to recognize their independence from France. As a result, over twenty years later, the French reminded the Haitians that they, themselves, constituted a debt. The Haitians did the only thing they could to retain their physical freedom and borrowed the equivalent of $150 million dollars (almost double the cost of Louisiana) from Wall Street to pay “reparations” to the French. Of course, this original predatory debt reaped enormous rewards and in the end they paid the equivalent of $20 billion dollars for their freedom – something that never should have been for sale. And all the way up until 1947, 80% of Haiti’s economy went to pay off this debt to National City Bank – known today as Citibank. Of course, the price of freedom was unrelenting poverty, the permanent loss of opportunity to develop infrastructure, and the seemingly never-ending suffering in enslavement of another form.

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The Limits of Local: Occupying Hurricane Sandy

When Sandy’s waters finally receded, they left behind the devastation of lost lives and a mountain of debris. And they also exposed how a system of historic inequity perpetuates itself in real life, real time and real suffering. A network of people from all walks of life who identified as members of Occupy Wall Street came together quickly and organically to intervene.

Organizers set out to practice the anarchist principle of mutual aid on the ground. By bringing the best of Zuccotti Park to people that mostly had no interest in an anti-capitalist movement, and in some cases even associated themselves with the Tea Party, activists thought disaster aid would naturally become political. The slogan quickly became “solidarity not charity.”

In the urgency of the immediate aftermath of the storm, solidarity in practice meant providing hot food, warm blankets and clothing, and attempting to assist the newly homeless with places to stay and abstruse FEMA paperwork.

Fundraising websites went live, and within a few days Occupy Sandy had raised nearly a million dollars. The Occupy network quickly dispersed to three main areas: Red Hook in Brooklyn, the Rockaways in Queens and Midland Beach in Staten Island. Each area faced similar geographic challenges as shoreline communities, but each had distinct – yet equally rocky – economic terrain.

Of course, the storm before Sandy was the so-called Great Recession. Many in the hardest hit areas were already reeling from the new economic realities of long-term joblessness, declining property values and reduced consumer spending. But, for many in these communities these realities had nothing to do with a recession or storm – poverty and oppression were already written on their daily lives. Thus, for some the storm exposed precariousness, but for others the storm held the potential to expose the injustice of long term national policies that led to the unjust enrichment of some and the impoverishment of others.

In this context the line between solidarity and charity was immediately blurred. Since it was unclear what solidarity looked like before the storm, it was even less clear what it looked like after.

Originally published in SocialText/Periscope

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Fire in the Blood, Drug Company Genocide, and the Banality of Evil

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This week, the UN released a report on the progress of reducing AIDS globally. And, although the mainstream media has painted a positive picture by touting large reductions in cases, a deeper look at the report reveals that only 34% of those eligible for treatment are receiving it. Of the 28 million people in low and middle income countries who have AIDS and who are also eligible for treatment, only 9.7 million people are actually receiving help. So, why is there such an enormous gap?

A recent film called Fire in the Blood by Dylan Mohan Gray explains the nefarious reasons behind this horrible reality – how the capitalist ideology of profit before people mixed with racism to literally cause the deaths and continued suffering of millions of people.

According to the UN report, 90% of people with unmet needs for antiretroviral treatment live in 30 countries most of which are in Africa, but which also include: Brazil, India, Vietnam, Columbia, and China – in other words the Global South.

It was in 1996 that the antiretroviral cocktail that ended the AIDS crisis in the West was discovered. Yet, between 1997 and 2003, 10 million men, women, and children died of AIDS in Africa simply because Big Pharma denied them access to these drugs in an effort to protect their profits. Put into perspective, 10 million is almost 15 times the number of people than who died of AIDS in the United States during the entire 32 year history of the disease.

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After-Trayvon

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So far, the post-Trayvon moment has been marked by disappointment. From the vicious attack on Rachel Jeantel, the reluctant star witness, to the casual racism of juror B37, who seemed surprised into silence by the public sentiment about the case, there are so many intertwined layers of racism that unraveling them seems painfully impossible.

Yet, the disclosure of personal racial wounds alongside solid black avatars on Facebook seemed based on just that need to unravel the layers in hope of mutual understanding. But after a couple of weeks, it was time to get rid of the black square and begin to grapple with the existential reality that the symbolism of cultural progress for blacks has come at the expense of justice.

PEW report sheds light on some of the reasons why: whereas only 5% of African Americans were satisfied with the verdict, 49% of whites were. Whereas 78% of blacks want to talk about the racial issues that the verdict brings up, only 28% of whites feel like talking, and 60% of whites are rolling their eyes because they feel that race is getting too much attention. In other words, we have very different understandings of our daily experiences, and the dominant group largely denies the sentiments of the minority because they simply do not matter in tangible ways – in other words equality is only a formality.

And so, for African Americans the looming question of the post-Trayvon period is “what now?” So far, this question has been met with uncertainty. In spite of efforts to organize, the energy has been dispersed under the heavy reality that after fifty years of cultural, aesthetic and symbolic victories, social and economic conditions are not even simply unchanged, but they are quickly worsening.

(Published in Tidal Magazine)

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Tracing the Contours of the Movement

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What is it that we mean when we say “the movement?”  Sometimes it seems that what we have come to call “the movement” has so many meanings that it has almost none.  The movement is everything that came out of the park, and also everything on the left that organizes in one way or another against neoliberal capitalism. And while there are overlaps, there are also important tensions.

As we continue to connect the dots and build alliances between Occupy and traditional left organizing nationally, it may be worth considering what it is we really mean when we say “the movement.” Where are its outlines and intersections? But also, where are the gaps and incompatibilities?

Published in Tidal Magazine & The Militant Research Handbook

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Histories Hidden by What We Call Democracy

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Frequently, within the movement we hear that class is more important than race, and that it is not racist to believe that class is more important than race – just a matter of legitimate political difference. Even though this kind of “political difference” splits along racial lines, it’s nevertheless impossible that prioritization of class is deeply tied to the privileges associated with whiteness – and thus, really a racial difference, and not really political at all. Furthermore, some would argue that because race is a social construction designed to fragment class interests, it is better to ignore race, and as a consequence, tacitly demand that black people and people of color align with whites along class lines – in other words along the lines of white interests. This is a clear assertion of white priority that tends to seem like the “obvious” solution to those proposing ideas like these.

Continue reading in Tidal Magazine

The Inequality Within the Inequality

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Generally speaking, the American Dream goes something like this: go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house, raise a family, and retire on your nest egg. We’ve all been told that we live in a meritocracy, so as long as we work hard and play by the rules, we’ll end up sipping Daiquiris on some exotic beach when we retire at 65.

Unfortunately, the rarely acknowledged fuel for all this dreaming is wealth. As opposed to the myth of meritocracy, the reality is that privileges grow as money is passed down generationally, typically when parents pay for college educations and provide sizeable down payments for first homes. One generation establishes the wealth of the next, and the next generation builds on the wealth of the former. But, what happens when parents don’t possess saved wealth?

A recent report entitled, The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide, from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) shows that over time the gap between those with intergenerational wealth and those without it only widens. As of 2009, whites possessed 20 times the wealth of blacks. In practical terms this means that the average middle class black family has less access to resources than a white family with earnings below the poverty line.

Continue reading in Tidal Magazine

Here’s to Not Talking About Race

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From the Kimani Gray killing in East Flatbush to the Accidental Racist song and the spoofs it inspired, from the Boston Marathon bombing to the 16 year old black girl who has been suspended from school and faces felony charges in Florida over a science experiment gone wrong, we have tried to talk about race in America, but we haven’t gotten very far.

The easiest way to understand what a long way we have to go is that 83% of whites believe that we are living in a post-racial society, whereas only 17% of blacks do. In other words 83% of blacks and whites are living in completely opposing racial realities – with the vast majority of whites denying the day-to-day experience of the vast majority of blacks. This isn’t that surprising when you consider that only 15% of whites have even one close friend of color. Of course, this enormous gap in lived experience is one of the key reasons that having a discussion about race tends to fail. One side – the side with the power – defines the terms and in doing so denies the existence and significance of the other side. Conversation over.

Continue reading in Tidal Magazine

Education Debt in the Ownership Society

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Education and housing are inextricably intertwined in both the American imagination and our economy — yet there has been very little talk about how the student debt crisis and the housing crisis relate to each other in terms of both long-term economic cycles and our changing American identity. As evidenced by the overblown debate over interest rates taking place in Congress, we remain focused on minor details, and have yet to examine the big picture of what these twin crises portend.

With over $1 trillion amassed in student debt, and 41% of the class of 2005 delinquent or in default, our attention has remained stubbornly fixed on interest rate changes that would only amount to $9 a month in savings, for a handful of borrowers, while a crisis of inequality and poverty develops unchecked by public outrage and resistance. If we look at the cyclical and generational relationship between education debt and the housing market, however, we can see how the failure to treat the real crisis now will produce enormous inequality as millions of Americans continue to fall out of the middle class.

Continue reading on Alternet