Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Class versus Race

A common intersection in typically educated conversations about these two topics tend to debate the importance of one over the other. While one side argues for a race-based interpretation of the world, the other stresses that is due to class.

The funny thing about both of these concepts is the ambiguity that comes from even defining them.

Race itself is a contrived concept, and has no serious biological or evolutionary origin. It is purely a cultural construct. Is someone called mulatto white or black? Are cabalasians, caucasian, black or asian? Where does one race begin and another end? How do we delineate one group from another when many people are two or more? How do we decide what race a person belongs to when genetics can prove that we are all essentially mutts?

Class too is a cultural construct. It exists because of human society, and differs from one to the next. Whether talking about an Indian caste system, or the industrial world's Marxist philosophical breakdown, markers of class are diverse, and controversial. How do you define middle-class when 80% of America believes itself to be middle-class? What does it mean when we compare middle-middle to upper-middle to top-out-of-sight to so-goddamn-rich-we-don't-know-they-exist? What differentiates the unique combination of capital's myriad forms (material, cultural, etc.) from one group to the next?

Frequently in my studies on the subject, I have come to the conclusion of favoring class over race in the discussion of our socio-cultural political-economic globalized context. That is to say, I look at the world through class. And class, my readers, is colorblind, but also color-conscious. It considers that whites live disproportionately longer lives in America than blacks do, but when adjusted for class (which you can find defined [here]) that difference is all but eliminated. This single fact proves an existence of class disparities that are founded on racial inequalities. Yet, class also ignores color. Unions frequently engage in sympathy strikes across their differing industries that show their commitment to fellow workers, regardless of what race they are.

For me, issues often come down to class over race because race is invoked as the red herring to hide the larger issue that the top 1% of people in the world control nearly 35% of the wealth in this country. Race is used to provoke anger, memories of historical injustice, and righteous action to reverse these wrongs, but in that dialogue elites hide the fact that once races are equal, they are still rich, and we are still poor.

Why is it that corporations, as legal entities, are considered individuals and taxed as individuals? A conglomerate of executives and stock-holders hardly seem like individuals to me... Why is it that the richest people in our country pay the least in comparison to their total wealth? And, more importantly, why do they receive so many benefits and breaks when their impact on the world is so great? Why is it that the middle-class of America is vanishing? Why is it that more and more people have to rely on debt to afford the basics?

I ask these questions, and yet there are thousands more I could put to you. The reality is that race is an issue in the larger context of our world which is being unfairly exploited through neoliberal economics that restructures our world to suit the needs of elites, and displaces the wealth of everyone else. Rates of black-on-black crime, of tea-parties, of anti-immigration, of structural-subtle racism are directly related to poorer classes paying the expense for elites to enjoy tax breaks, free markets, and government bailouts for their failed investments.

Who do you think the system works for? It works to the benefit of rich people -- who are often rich white people, true, but America is not the only place that wealth is concentrated. Around the world, from China to Nicaragua, race and racism is used to justify class warfare that impoverishes the many to enrich the few.

You think that skin-color stops a coal company in West Virginia from contracting their experts to the Chinese? Yet do you think that racism isn't a factor when those same companies ignore the blatant human rights violations the poor Chinese workers are subjected to?

The reality is that race is important, but can't be looked at in isolation. You can't talk about tearing down black housing projects with recognizing that none of their residents have the social/cultural/educational/material capital to use the system and improve their lives. You can't deal with illegal immigration without acknowledging the immense wealth these same so-called "drains on the economy" bring to the country by doing jobs that most Americans will not do, by paying taxes, by participating in the market, by bringing more and more of their families here to support the structure which allows wealthy elites to have enough dish-washers for their country-club in Bohemian Grove.

Class is acutely racial, and yet also crosses racial-categories. The color of your money is what ultimately matters.

This has been an introduction on the topic. Saboteur Academia will continue to provide you with more content on the subject as we progress in our understanding.


5 footnotes:

Jasmin said...

I'm not going to go into a diatribe (:-P), but in short, class trumps race, I think, because racial inequalities are what spurred class inequalities in the first place. I think there are two versions of history you can endorse: one is like the original version of "The Three Little Pigs." The smart pig picked good materials to build his house and worked diligently while the other two pigs sat around, and when the wolf came the smart pig was prepared and the fate of the other two was their fault (even though he saved them, like a good brother). In the American History version of TTLP, the smart pig would collect all of the bricks, more than he needed to build his house, so that neither of the pigs could use them even if they wanted to. To then turn around and point the finger at their "laziness" would be disgenuous at best. See the difference?

To ignore race is to suggest that class distinctions just arose in a vacuum, and honestly I think some people do it because they want a White face to put on the distress, as if poor White people are inherently "more deserving" than poor non-Whites. I don't even think the point that race trumps class (or vice versa) is even that important in the long run, but that argument runs the risk (as I've said a million times) of trivializing the fact that Blacks do worse than Whites of the same social class, and tend to do worse than Whites of lower social classes too. That's the general finding (I'm not discrediting your evidence, but I would call it the exception, and question where you found your life expectancy stats since I've seen different ones), so I can't help but think that people who look for the class angle in racial disparities really just don't want to talk about race. And that's fine--just say so.

(I said this wasn't going to be long but I have to go on a mini-tangent.) Notice that by saying class is more important than race, people can avoid talking about it on the grounds that they are talking about "more pressing issues". It's like there has to be an excuse. Why don't you ever hear anyone say they just don't want to talk about it?

Honestly, I feel like I could hand you a textbook's worth of evidence of race trumping class, and you'd still want to talk about class. Why? (No one I've asked has ever answered this question, by the way.)

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: i got my evidence from charles sackrey, g.w. domhoff, and paul fussell.

i think the revised version of TTLP is a good parable for a class-conscious interpretation of history. i see the difference you mean, but i don't see how it invokes race (over class). i do see it as a good demonstration of elites victim-blaming.

class itself arouse out of racial problems as much as out of any other issue. class exists because equality does not exist. (that's a generalization, but the specifics would politics, economics, religion, etc.)

i like to talk about class because it includes race (as i said in my post) but at the same time supercedes the identity politics that race can degenerate into. however, i am also well aware of the problems talking ONLY about class, and forgetting that racism is a problem too. but i still feel that an honest class-based interpretation takes race into account without hiding or dismissing racism. i repeat: class DOES NOT ignore race.

on a personal note, i find class more interesting to talk about and more helpful in allowing me to understand the world.

Jasmin said...

I think this: but i still feel that an honest class-based interpretation takes race into account without hiding or dismissing racism suggests to me that we seem to agree to an extent, but I would make the case that most people who are hyper-focused on class would disagree with you. To them, there's no need to take race into account (incidentally, I've heard few people focused on race say there's no need to take class into account--if anything class disparities make racial ones more salient), because "there are no race problems, just class ones!" So I think you (and people like you) should take issue with your fellow class-ers first, since they are the ones making it an either/or discussion.

Makes sense that class would be more interesting to someone White. Lol, I didn't get a choice.

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: i'm sorry if you've found people who discuss class consequently ignore race. that hasn't been my experience with the issue, but i can understand that it would be damn frustrating -- and probably make you want to smack somebody =P

class isn't interesting to me because i'm white! haha. (besides, you forget that i'm more jewish than anything else.) class is more interesting to me because of the reasons i pointed out in my previous comment, and (this might warrant it's own post) because unlike at forums such as SWPD, i don't feel punished for my perceived "whiteness" and considered with intellectual hostility. i can be upper-middle class and still talk about racial disparities that affect working-class people in this country without feeling pressured to apologize for my own privilege. (this is just as an example.)

Mira said...

I've seen many similar pyramids while grown up and in school, so I am very used to thinking about class. Race- not so much. It wasn't really relevant in my culture. But all lectures did acknowledge the fact that evil capitalists/colonialists did horrible things to blacks (to prove the point they are TEH evil).

So, all in all, I grew up thinking about class a lot. My family was middle class when I was a kid. My parents were educated (father had a PhD) and while not rich, we were ok. There were various people in my family and some of my ancestors were peasants, while others were working class, and others were scientists or noblemen (noblewomen to be exact).

In socialist country, however, you are a citizen, period. None of my family members suffered for not being working class, even though working class was elevated and had many rights. In practice, that didn't work as good. For example, uneducated people lacked the knowledge to successfully lead companies (education does matter after all), but it's another story.

After the fall of Yugoslavia in the 90s there's no middle class left. There are either rich people or poor people. Most of the people are poor (more or less). Most of the educated people are poor. It's a norm here to be educated and poor. It's not surprising at all. If you don't have connections, if your uncle doesn't know someone who can get you a decent job, you don't have many options.