Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Do Whites Lose Or Gain When They Fight Racism?

One of the big problems I have with "white privilege" discourse is that it suggests whites will be losing something when they fight racism. This is the EXACT OPPOSITE of the approach radicals took during the Great Depression. When demanding that whites challenge white chauvinism and white supremacy, they argued that racism was a weapon that the ruling class used to divide the working class and that white workers hurt themselves by drawing the color line on the job, in their communities and in their political decisions. As an example they pointed to the fact that the Jim Crow laws and lynchings ended up destroying the living standards of working class whites by breaking unions, removing them from the polls, and leading to the election of elites who underfunded schools and refused to pass child labor laws. THAT was a perspective that worked- leading to the formation of interracial unions in industries that had previously been unorganized and leading to much greater white support for campaigns against lynching and an end to the color line in many American work places. That approach also led to many whites to interrogate their own racism and their relationship to Black culture. And it led to real material change. The time of the fastest economic progress for Blacks in the US, both absolutely and relative to whites was between 1940 and 1950, when per capital income of blacks rose from 44% tp 57% of the white total when white per capita income was rising quickly.
Fast forwarding to today, I realize that times are different and people have the right to invent new language to deal with the persistence of racial hierarchy. But an approach which sees dignity, respect and fair treatment as a privilege rather than a right has some downsides that need to be addressed.I am not saying that white privilege discourse should be relinquished, but that its use should be more limited than it is now. Perhaps an approach which emphasizes the material and moral interest whites have in fighting racism might be considered as an alternative path.