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Racism: If we understand what it is we can fight it.

Started by Richard Mellor, February 13, 2009, 06:16:25 pm

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Richard Mellor

According to reports in the press, the conciliation meeting between the black and white residents of Paris Texas last month "didn't go so well".  Black residents talked of the discrimination they face daily in Paris: "When you go in the schools and see mostly black kids sitting in detention--it's racism. In court, we get high bonds, we get longer sentences. If that's not racism, what is it?"

Another speaker, a pastor at a local black church spoke of the monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers on the front lawn of the country courthouse. Creola Cotton whose daughter received a seven-year term in a youth prison for shoving a hall monitor described her anger, especially as three months earlier the same judge had sentenced a 14-year-old white girl to probation for arson. The girl received an early release after the case ignited national protests.  Jacqueline McClelland spoke of the murder of her son Brandon who was tied to a pickup and dragged along until there was little left of him.  Two white men have been charged with his murder.

As the blacks described how they felt, "Their white listeners mostly glared back with their arms crossed.", reports the Chicago Tribune. (1).  Now I wasn't there and everyone in the room might have been a stone cold ideological racist.  But I figure it's more like at work.  Racism was not a subject that people discussed very often because the blacks got mad and the whites got defensive.  I know a white kid here who was the only white kid in his class.  He was not in any way a racist but really felt uncomfortable during Black History Month.

The problem with it was that he always felt like he was being blamed for what happened in slavery and for the racism that exists in society.  He was completely sympathetic to the brutal history of racism against people of color here in the US, especially black folks, as he understood that we live in a racist and sexist society, but the guilt trip was not acceptable to him. It is not acceptable to most white workers either.

I used to explain to him that the reason for this is that there is no class analysis of this history.  They can't teach us that a certain class applied racism as a method.  Obviously, the white factory workers or the poor whites in the south were not the same as the slave owners.   Every month is white history month, but it is white capitalist history that dominates; the history of the working class in general is hidden.  This doesn't mean that having white skin hasn't meant privilege for workers in comparison to people of color but that is a conscious effort on the part of the ruling class to divide workers as well as the failure of worker's leaders throughout history to counter it.  

There is a very powerful tendency for human beings on the same economic rung of society, facing the same hardships; in short, of the same class, to be drawn toward each other, to unite in resistance to the oppression they face.  This has occurred throughout the history in the US and the world. Blacks, united with Irish poor, led many revolts and uprisings in the 17th and 18th century in the US.  In the New York Conspiracy of 1741, an Irishman named Quack, referred to by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker as a "revolutionary arsonist" set fire to Fort George in New York City.  It was the "greatest fortification in all of British America" (2) For weeks fires were set in the city. Two of the leaders of this rebellion, John Gwin, a former slave and Negro Peg, his Irish lover were hung and hundreds were rounded up hanged or deported. Radical preachers who called on people to rise up against oppression were targeted.

In response to the solidarity that existed among the poorest of the poor, the mercantile ruling classes introduced measures that criminalized white black cooperation.  One called for "diligent enquiry into the economy and behavior of all the mean ale houses and tipling house within this city."  Of particular interest were the taverns where"negroes and the scum and dregs of white people" enjoyed their free time together.  Along with these divisive measures they launched an ideological war in order to break the bonds between white and black.  "They endeavored to teach racial lessons to New York's people of European descent, promoting a white identity that would transcend and unify the city's fractious ethnic divisions." (3) Like the Jim Crow laws of the southern states, racism is a conscious strategy to divide and rule and divert the powerful tendency for class unity in to ethnic division or religious sectarianism. .  In Ireland, the occupiers used religion. This strategy has had great success due to the leaders of the worker's organizations

Things have only changed today to the extent that they have due to the struggles of specially oppressed minorities against this inequality and the integration of workplaces.  The ruling class will always use racism as a weapon to divide its class enemy; racism is not a personal problem it is a social one.  

Look at the situation today. I was at a huge public hospital a few weeks ago visiting a sick friend.  The place is amazing, like the DMV in some ways except the frustration on people's faces is a thousand times worse and accompanied by pain, sorrow and anger.  And there were a lot of sick people about.  My friend had an appointment made for him in a few weeks and was told by the nurse to make sure he comes in at 10.am for the 1.00 O'clock appointment and he should be one of the first seen? should health care be like this in a civilized society? I looked around me and almost everyone was black, or generally dark skinned.  There were few white people, although I am sure this will change as the present crisis deepens.  Look at the incarceration rate in the US. Blacks made up 41 percent of the nation's 2 million prison and jail inmates in 2006 yet they are only13% of the population.  Are they more prone to criminal behavior?

The death penalty remains an example of the extreme inequality in the U.S. justice system. In 2000, governor George Ryan off Illinois imposed a moratorium on the death penalty citing concerns over the fact that more death row inmates had been exonerated than executed since Illinois reinstated it in 1977. When Governor Ryan made his decision, 62 percent of those on death row were black, in a state with a black population of 15 percent. Of the 18 persons who had been exonerated from Illinois' death row as of February 2007, 12 were black.  If we don't accept that there is a problem in these statistics, a social problem, then one of the only alternatives left is to draw racial conclusions.  This is what those that rule society want us to think; it's their fault.  What if Jews or Catholics were substituted for blacks?  There would be an outcry.

That's why the tension and division in that meeting in Paris Texas couldn't be breached.  Leading the meeting according to reports, were, "two conciliation specialists from the U.S. Department of Justice". Like the "official" respected historians of capitalism, these people represent the interests of the ruling class and they have no interest in ridding society of racism; they are a minority in this society and they need it.

For the whites in that meeting, leaderless, and with no force explaining racism in this way, they see no alternative but to keep quiet and side with the white authorities. In fact, the judge who sentenced the young black girl above to seven years was in the room, shaking his head in disgust that the black folks would even suggest that justice was color blind:
"I think the black community in this town is suffering a great deal from poverty, broken homes, drugs," he said. "Because a larger percentage of the black population is caught up in that, in their anguish they are perceiving they are the victims of discrimination. But white people are not the enemy. Poverty, illiteracy, drugs, absentee fathers--that's the enemy. That's not racism. That's the breakdown of a community." (4)  And what causes poverty, crime and drugs I might ask?

Now here was the real guilty party speaking.  He has no time for black workers and no time for white ones; but he'll use them as pawns in the game as the Bob Dylan song goes. Imagine how the mood would have changed had a couple of white people stood up and first addressed their black brothers and sisters.  They first condemned the racism of the authorities and the racism of individuals like the murderers of the young man tied dragged behind a truck ten years ago. They condemned the rotten racist history of the country and accepted that that the fears and feelings of the black residents were valid.  This is something that is the responsibility of white workers to do.  This is simply saying to our black brothers and sisters, "yes, you are right about what you see and what you say".  It is not the whining, guilt-ridden condescension of the white liberals; it is merely a public recognition of what was and what is.  Every black person understands a white bus driver is different to Donald Trump or George Bush; we just have to make sure we aren't fooled in to thinking we're the same as them or that our interests are best served by such thinking.  Our interests lie in unity with all workers and opposition to racism and the system that perpetuates it----capitalism.

And what next?  To turn and point at the culprit and the upholder of the racist laws of the land at the back of the room and the so-called "conciliation specialists" and lay the blame where it belongs.  Throughout history they have used us in this way in order to keep their privileges and the higher up you go the worse they are. Condemn racism, attack its source, and explain its purpose.  This would have transformed that meeting and opened up the real possibility of unity along class lines. This responsibility falls on the shoulders of white workers as the ruling class is white and we have to solidly and openly declare our hostility to them and our allegiance with workers of color.  The same goes for gender discrimination.

We should also remember the words of Malcom X who said, "You can't have capitalism without racism."

(1)   Race In America, Chicago Tribune: 1-30-09
(2)   The Many Headed Hydra: P 174
(3)   Ibid: P207
(4)   Chicago Tribune: 1-30-09



I'm sorry, but there is a long sad pathetic history of White workers taking advantage of their color privilege, and openly fighting against the rights of Black workers.

Like the long history of hate strikes - for instance, the biggest public workers strike in New York City history, the teachers strike of 1968, was a hate strike targeting Black parents and teachers who were fighting for the rights of African American students.

That same year, the plumbers went on strike (the only walkout UA local 1 called in the entire 20th century) explicitly to prevent Blacks and Puerto Ricans from getting union plumbing jobs.

Beginning that year, Black, Latino and Chinese construction workers began a 25 year long struggle to integrate the construction trades - a battle that often involved riots on jobsites.

And I could go on and on and on.

Lenin said that - "Workers of the oppressor nationality have to bend over backwards to win the confidence of the workers of the oppressed nationalities".

And that's as true in America as it was in Tsarist Russia.

In other words, if White workers want the support of Black and Latino workers, they have to EARN IT - by renouncing all of the very real priviliges they have, by fighting for affirmative action WITH QUOTAS (even if it means that unqualified Whites have to get fired to make room for qualified Blacks and Latinos) and by "bending over backwards" to atone for the 400 years of racism that they have shown towards their brothers and sisters of color.

it's just that simple!

Richard Mellor

Greg wrote:
"In other words, if White workers want the support of Black and Latino workers, they have to EARN IT - by renouncing all of the very real priviliges they have, by fighting for affirmative action WITH QUOTAS (even if it means that unqualified Whites have to get fired to make room for qualified Blacks and Latinos) and by "bending over backwards" to atone for the 400 years of racism that they have shown towards their brothers and sisters of color."

Sorry Greg but this is a disastrous approach.  It makes no attempt to recognize that white workers are opressed also and have suffered great hardship.  Recognizing this does not mean that we ignore the fact that having white skin has had its priviliges or the brutal and violent history of racism in this country, just as we would not ignore that Protestant workers in Ireland had priviliges.  Our goal is to win them from the influence of the Protestant Bourgeois.  Your approach as well intentioned as it might be, does the opposite.

I will repeat what I wrote on my blog.  This is a divisive approach and will drive white workers further in to the arms of the white racist bosses.  

As I said, you and I have had priviliges as men.  Your industry in particular, and the building trades in general has kept women out and (and people of color obviously) and men have had jobs that could have gone to women.  Even when women got jobs they have been harassed mercilessly. While we would not excuse this behavior, the blame for this situation lies squarely on the shoulders odf the leaders of worker's organizations.  Malcolm X was in the UAW for a while was he not.  Had they fought racism correctly and militantly, he would have been drawn to this.

The solution to this history (the exclusion of women from the building trades)  is not to fight for the demand that you lose your job, Greg.  Your solution is a totally divisive one.  It would be accepted more by the white petit bourgeois liberals who have a lot of self hate and guilt but that's not the group that I orient to.

I never opposed Affirmative Action at work but always attacked it as not a real solution to racism in America and a bosses alternative to the mass action of the civil rights movement and the struggles for jobs for all.  I always put forward demands that drew workers together. I remember getting support from my Local for the guys that almost killed Reginald Denny, this was very difficult and I remember we had a long debate about it, particularly as we'd had a white meter reader almost beaten to death by four youth, but I was successful by appealing to them on a class basis.  They were mostly white but not exclusively.  I do not believe I would have been successful with your approach

To my knowledge Affirmative Action was not the demand of the civil rights movement but a solution to the growing movement on the part of the white racist bosses to divert it from the streets to the courts where they hold sway. This was particularly important as Malcolm X was speaking at Union rallies and Martin Luther King as we all know was killed at a strike in Memphis.  Malcolm X was drawing socialist conclusions and MLK was moving in this direction.

Although many whites that supported and sacrificed during the civil rights movement should be honored; they were overwhelmingly from the liberal middle class it seems to me. This shift toward the traditional working class and its organizations by these two leaders was not a good sign for the enemies of working people.

It would be almost impossible to build a united movement around AA.  Why would white worker's mobilize for it? Sure, sympathetic workers might agree with it but why would I become mobilized around a policy that offers me unemployment; it's my turn to be unemployed now?  Worker's of all creeds and colors can be brought together to fight for a job for someone, but not their own.

Consider your approach in other situations.  In Ireland calling for Protestant workers with the same basis. In a tribal situation where one tribal grouping has held state power at the expense of another.  In Iraq, between Sunni and Shia or Kurd.

I'm sorry too Greg but your approach is suicide for the working class and for black workers in particular.



Look at it from our side.

White workers have betrayed Black workers for so long, from the 1600's to today.

Working class Whites have often been in the vanguard of attacks on African Americans - just look at the hate strikes during World War II and the 1960's.

White workers flocked to the segregated suburbs in the 1950's - never gave a thought of fighting against restrictive covenant racism and by and large joined hands with suburban police departments in their racial profiling racism, which is still to this day used to keep most of suburbia a "Negro-free zone".

And today, when Black communities are under seige, we get no solidarity from White led unions or indeed from most rank and file White workers.

Why the hell should we trust them?

Hell in the building trades in New York City we had to wage a 25 year armed struggle just to get the right to be the last hired and the first fired! [Incidentally, women getting into the trades here was a direct part of that, just for your information].

So, why should we mollycoddle the White workers, and worry about their hurt feelings?

They never seem to give a **** about ours - or the feelings of the Latinos!

Either they're willing to abandon their priviliges, and to EARN our support, or either there is not ever going to be a revolution here - or, the revolution will be a Black Latino alliance thing taking on the whole White community.

To paraphrase Lenin, White workers have to bend over backwards to win the confidence of Black and Latino workers. Until they do, it's just not going to happen.

In light of that reality, you need to begin proselytizing among workers of your race of what they need to do if they want us and the Latinos to join hands with them, instead of lecturing workers of color about how we have to pander to the sensitivities of racist labor aristocrats!

Part of that involves advocating for Affirmative Action with Quotas for Blacks, Latinos and women of all colors - and demanding unconditional amnesty for all immigrants.

Sorry brother - the fact is, most White workers ALREADY ARE "in the hands of the White bosses" - it's up to THEM to come over to US - and you need to be working on convincing workers of your race of what they need to do to EVEN DESERVE the support of Black and Latin workers!

Incidentally, it's unconscionable and treasonous to the class for a White socialist to oppose affirmative action.

Like all reforms, it has it's flaws - but if it it wasn't for Affirmative Action, we'd still be Pullman porters and housekeepers and the Latinos would still be picking lettuce or stuck in the garment district.

To the extent that workers of color (and women workers of all races) have decent jobs at all, it's because of Affirmative Action!

So I'm disgusted to see that you - like so many White socialists - oppose it.

Yes, White men are going to oppose it (especially incompetent White men who have gravy train jobs, who if those jobs were based on merit rather than race and gender privilige, would go to men of color, women of color or White women.)

That is an ARISTOCRATIC PRIVILIGE and those workers who take advantage of those priviliges are the class enemy within our class, a petty bourgeous intrusion that, at the critical moment, will amost certainly be counterrevlutionary.

So I really have no use for "unity" with them.

Richard, Lenin had the unenviable task of convincing ethnic Russian workers that they had a DUTY to give up their aristocratic priviliges over Jews, Ukranians, Byelorussians, Transcaucasians, Central Asian Muslims and Siberians, or the revolution wasn't gonna happen.

The revolution succeeded to the extent the Bolsheviks did that.

Stalin (who, ironically enough, WAS a minority - a Georgian) gave all of those priviliges right back to the ethnic Russians (with a few scraps for ethnic Georgians within the "NKVD" - the national police department).

And that's what made Russia go from being a beacon for the world working class in the 1920's to becoming just another sqalidly racist tyranny.

Do we want to be Bolshevik Leninists here?

Or do we want to go the Stalin road?

I know the path I want to take - what about you?

Yes, telling White workers that they have an INTERNATIONALIST CLASS DUTY to renounce color line privilige and support Affirmative Action - even though that will mean that incompetent priviliged White males will have to give up their gravy train jobs to men of color and women of all races.

And it's really going to suck for White revolutionaries like you to have to sell that to White workers!

But, you know what?

Like Lenin taught us, and as I explained above, until the White worker in America starts bending over backwards to EARN and DESERVE Black and Latino support, there will be no revolution in this country (or it will be a race war, Blacks and Latinos against Whites of al classes)

If White workers do not renounce their ill gotten priviliges, you're right, it WILL be a disaster - but don't blame the Black worker or the Latino!


February 15, 2009, 08:02:58 pm #4 Last Edit: February 15, 2009, 08:19:20 pm by Gifford
Quote from: GREGORYABUTLER;14744
White workers flocked to the segregated suburbs in the 1950's - never gave a thought of fighting against restrictive covenant racism and by and large joined hands with suburban police departments in their racial profiling racism, which is still to this day used to keep most of suburbia a "Negro-free zone".

This is simply not true. According to a study by Whelan (2001) called "Black Boom in the 'Burbs'" in American Demographics 20-21, as of the 2000 U.S. Census, 39% of African Americans live in the suburbs, and this has clearly been rising steadily since then.

Also, many studies of suburbanization in the post-World War II period have made clear that white workers didn't go to developers and demand that ticky-tack housing (folk singer Malvina Reynold's "Little Boxes") be built for them, nor did white workers lobby Congress for the Federal Highway Act of 1956 so they would have roads to get them there. These were ways the capitalists devised to launch a new round of accumulation, clearly using a racist logic, to entice white workers out of the inner cities that included subsidized FHA and VA loans.

And the capitalists were in a panic after the 1946 strike wave set all-time records (which still stand today) for the number of strikes, 4985, number of strikers, 4,600,000, and "man-days" lost to industrial production, 116,000,000. There were also 6 citywide general strikes that year. The panic also drove capitalists to locate newly decentralized factories in the suburbs too, as this quote from George Rawick's Rainbow at Midnight (pp. 259-260) demonstrates:

   A vice-president of the American Trust Company told a postwar gathering of executives in San Francisco how labor militancy had influenced decisions by business in respect to the location of new plants, explaining, 'In this period good employee relations have become a number one goal. Labor costs have expanded markedly. Conditions under which employees live, as well as work, vitally influence management-labor relations. Generally, large aggregations of labor in one big plant are more subject to outside disrupting influences, and have less happy relations with management than in smaller [suburban] plants.'

So the jobs were intentionally being relocated to the suburbs, as were the cheap new houses, that with preferential loans were too good a deal to pass up, racism or not. And at the end of World War II, there were 12,000,000 people returning from military service, creating severe housing shortages.

The same argument about white flight could be used to blame all the working class people today, many of whom are people of color, who were tricked into buying suburban homes with too-good-to-pass-up subprime mortgages, that didn't matter because housing prices would never stop appreciating, would they? Well, the house of cards collapsed and I just saw a statistic that said that 27% of American homes are underwater, meaning more is owed on them then they are worth on the market. And the people suffering the most are the new suburbanites, who are mostly people of color who recently moved out of the city.

Just to correct some erroneous statements.

Solidarity with Squatters,




It took Black Americans 50 YEARS to reach 39% suburbanization.

Mr Gifford forgets to tell us that the overall US population is  70% SUBURBAN and has been since 1980!!!!!

And how much of that 39% was in segregated all Black suburbs like Mt Vernon or Wyandanche, New York, or Englewood or East Orange, New Jersey or Inkster, Michigan?

Mr Gifford won't tell us that either - because that would undercut his essentially racist argument.

Oh, and by the way, ever heard of a "restrictive covenant"?

The clauses inserted in suburban mortgages by order of the Veterans Administration and the Federal Housing Administration that restricted home sales to "Caucasians" and in many cases specifically barred "Negroes" and "Mongoloids"?

Mr Gifford doesn't want to talk about that either, I see!

Why don't you just admit the fact that White workers in America have directly benefited from segregation and racism?

It's true, so why not come clean and admit it?

Thank you