Barbara Fields, co-author of the newly-published Racecraft: the Soul of Inequality in Amerian Life, had this to say about racism and inequality:
Racism and inequality have the same central nervous system. They’re a part of the same process. People should not think, for example, Bernie Sanders isn’t addressing the problems of black people because he doesn’t have a black label on it, with a bow tied around it, saying this is for black people. But, when he speaks for a new minimum wage and for higher-education to be within everybody’s reach, these are the inequality problems that plague everyone.
And they’re one of the reasons why racism, not race, is intense and resurgent in this country. We have a white working population that, by and large, expected to be taken care of, to be treated fairly, so long as they abided by the rules. And now, with good reason, they feel left out. Not just since the crash but, in years probably going back as far as the 1970s (certainly from the 80s), they’re watching the situation deteriorate.
The same has been true for black working people, if anything, to a more intense degree. Of course the difference is black people never expected fairness. So they don’t react to unfairness in the same way.
Commentators discuss the lead-contaminated water problem in Flint, Michigan, as a racial issue, as if Flint’s black and white citizens did not have a common interest in non-toxic drinking water.
‘Racecraft’ has disappeared 44% of the population of Flint because ‘majority black’ is easily transmuted into ‘black’ in the mainstream media. So now people think of Flint as a ‘black’ city. That means 44% of its population has been disappeared.
Those people are part and parcel of the same story about an unsafe water supply and an infrastructure that ignored Legionnaires’ disease. It ignored lead in the water. It ignored the need to provide what, in a civilized society, amounts to basic infrastructure for all of its people.
Very quickly that became a ‘racecraft’ matter, because it turned into something racial. What does it mean to say it’s racial? Flint is not an all-black city. But, in the eyes of most of the public that reads the newspapers, that’s probably how it looks. That’s the only way they can account for that kind of callousness toward human beings living in that place.
Right-wing politicians get white working people to ignore economic injustice by focusing on race. When liberals and progressives also focus on race and ignore economic issues, they unintentionally support the system of divide and rule. It’s time to stop talking about the “white working class” as if black and Hispanic workers did not secure jobs, decent wages, need, affordable health care and Social Security.
Progressives should not forget about racial discrimination in hiring, lending and law enforcement. Hillary Clinton is right to point out that breaking up the big banks will not, in and of itself, cure racism or sexism.
But the present rigged economic system hurts most of us, white and black, male and female. Any sensible white working man should be willing to give up the supposed benefits of “white male privilege” in order to overcome the privileges of crony capitalists, and I hope we can all unite to change things.
Barbara J. Fields: “We Left Democracy Behind a Long Time Ago”, an interview for the VersoBooks blog.
Burying the White Working Class by Conor Kilpatrick for Jacobin.
What West Virginia is saying at the polls by Jedediah Purdy for Scalawag.
What pundits keep getting wrong about Donald Trump and the working class by Jamelle Bouie for Slate.
Yes, Voters Really Are Angry About the Unfairness of the Economy by David Atkins for Washington Monthly.