Beyond Diversity :
The Struggle for Justice and Solidarity
"Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict."
- Mary "Mother" Jones
We need to understand our society, both the positives and the negatives, in order to work for more democracy. In 1903 W.E.B. Dubois stated, " For the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." And now, at the start of the Twenty First Century our nation and our movements continue to struggle with racism. We believe that the danger to our democracy is not race-- it is racism; the oppression of a group of people based upon their perceived race. Racism is both a belief system and the domination of a people based upon these beliefs.
Racism is a great and dangerous falsehood: i.e., that one "race" is inherently superior in the biological sense and, conversely, that other races are inherently "inferior." Racism grew out of an effort to justify such self-serving economic thrusts as genocide against Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the seizure of much of Mexico by the United States, and much more -- and has continued as a means through which oppressors exploit labor and maintain their political power. The mythology of racism is deeply rooted and extremely tenacious.
Racial prejudice is a negative attitude toward a person or group of people. Racial discrimination encompasses the actions taken to further oppress the target -- the victim -- group. In our time, racism has remained a central characteristic of modern capitalism and contributes to the extreme inequalities in our world.
Although racial definitions, and ethnic definitions are often vague and imprecise, racism continues to divide our communities and our movements. For a racist: defining race is easy. A race is "them", those people, the other, the not you. Any group which the racist hates or fears. Often it is a group that shares certain characteristics with the racist. The racist seldom speaks of the great myriad of basic human similarities, but instead the differences are emphasized to a high degree as to draw distinction and justify intolerance and oppression.
Institutional racism is the use of power and authority of a dominant group, working through the social structures of society, to enforce prejudices and to prevent the subjugated group from gaining access to public services such as good schools, effective health care, decent housing, and equal opportunity, particularly in meaningful employment.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point
is to change it. Karl Marx
DSA presents itself as a democratic, socialist, feminist, and anti-racist organization. Since its founding in 1982, the Anti Racism Commission of DSA has defined itself as pursuing an anti-racism agenda. This agenda includes participating in the dialogue and intellectual efforts of DSA to advocate for a pluralist, anti-racist society and to advance the democratic socialist project within this society.
Racism has produced a tortuous history in the U.S. intellectual community even among socialists and progressives. Socialism has often had a troubled relationship with anti racism struggles. Marxism has contributed significantly to the understanding of social and economic relationships, but has proven inadequate to explain the origin, development and institutional role of racism in our society. ( See Toward a Socialist's Theory of Racism, Cornel West)
Since our 1983 publication of Third World Socialist, we have defined the anti racism project beyond the white-black paradigm to include a multi-polar understanding of the role of race and the connected role of class oppression in the US society. While the issue of African American slavery and oppression is central and important, to only focus on Black-White issues is to ignore the objective reality of U.S. race relations.
In 1985 the organization adopted this language in its priorities document, " In our society there are few problems more urgent than the effects of racism and sexism. While rooted in the history of slavery, invasions, and the early development of the Americas, racism has remained a central characteristic of modern capitalism. Racism and sexism are brutal and oppressive system of institutions and ideologies which we must be committed to resisting as a fundamental part of the struggle for new economic relationships."
In 2001, DSA adopted a new political priorities document which stated that, "The politics of DSA will be guided by a demand for social and economic justice for all - - now! In pursuit of justice, multi racial and anti-racism politics shall become a priority in our work. Agendas in our organizations should consistently include the issues of communities of color. This calls for an immediate re-orientation of our practice toward multi racial coalition building. We will consistently look for opportunities to work with activists in communities of color."
As Democratic Socialists we propose to create a multi racial class-based movement for social change. Only a movement with such an anti-racist, pro-justice viewpoint at its core has a possibility of success in the U.S. To build a multi racial movement, we need to have a conversation about race, oppression, class, language, and culture.
Generally people are willing to consider race and class oppression when they see the specific effects of these oppressions on their own lives. We recognize class as a relationship between two or more groups of people who have specific roles and power relationships in the economic system. Business owners and employees are the most obvious examples. The racial stratification of our nation has promoted and extended the class domination. Racial oppression is such an integral part of economic and political domination that the struggle against racism is necessary for all working class progress.
Our movement cannot exclude the white working class from the dialogue about race. And, working class unity is necessary part of any realistic strategy for positive structural change.
Some in the white working class remain influenced by the racist ideology still dominant in the institutions of our society. While rejecting white supremacist ideology, we also need to explore the oppression that these working class whites experience.
First, we choose to briefly deconstruct whiteness. Many have been influenced by the currently popular arguments of identity and white privilege. We acknowledge that white is a socially constructed category with both positive AND negative connotations.
Identities are constructed by the individual defining and interpreting their own experiences and their interactions with others. A person becomes Chicano, or Latino, or White, or Asian American. They learn and accept this identity. And, their identity is potentially constantly changing.
We propose that the same mechanisms that bestow privilege upon those who self-identify as "white" also rob many of the other associations that people of color are forced to use (for positive and negative ends). Being classified as white prevents one from choosing another identity ( e.g., Irish, or progressive) or a combination of identities that more accurately and usefully describes oneself. THIS INCLUDES CLASS IDENTITY. We recognize that many people accept and respond to multiple identities.
Studies of identity have led to a focus on White Privilege. This privilege is substantive, damaging, and we resist it in our work. The white privilege argument, while a useful scholarly endeavor, often does not help much within class based popular movements because , in part, the critique of white privilege has often been misguided and misappropriated to cloud class. Yes, a Black man in Manhattan may encounter a problem getting a cab, even from a Black cab driver. And so would a white person who is obviously homeless. Yes, a Black or Latina college professor may encounter prejudice while shopping in a boutique clothing store- as would a poor white, or working class white woman who entered the store in her work clothes or even the Salvadoran sister who sewed the clothes.
This argument about white privilege, in part because it derived from studies in psychology, is complex and often distorts the issues of class. Most writings, most intellectuals, and certainly the popular media refuse to talk about economic class. There are reasons for this. A black factory worker and a white factory worker have a lot more in common with each other than either has with the CEO, no matter what the color of the CEO. To be accurate, we should really discuss white /upper class privilege, Please read Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickeled and Dimed.: On (Not) Getting By in America. (2001) The subjects in this book are not privileged. They are oppressed. While they do not have major privileges, they do live and work within an economy organized based upon White Supremacy. Some have argued that this delivers privileges, because they are white. But, does not the organization of White Supremacy keep in power the very class which is oppressing working people?
Beyond Diversity: Some allies , good folks, from a liberal persuasion avoid recognition class issues and class oppression by arguing for diversity. They argue that we need to develop a more representative group of teachers, faculty, etc. As socialists, we find diversity to be a weak, timid, corporate, commodified goal. Instead, we seek justice!
Let us suggest what we regard as a more useful response.
Some people learned their anti-racism by going to diversity workshops. Workshops are valuable. Some in a younger generation have learned anti-racism by not learning racism in the first place. This group has learned anti-racism first hand from their advantage of growing up in a less racially stratified society than that of their parents. While frequently not experiencing racism directly, these young people do live and work in a society organized on the basis of White Supremacy. We must recognize this progress as well as the changes in realities of working class life in the United States as important variables in building the anti-racist movement.
Still others learn anti racism by working with social movements. We encourage all to work against racism within popular movements. Within the many struggles for justice we learn anti-racism and unlearn class bias on a practical level.
It helps us to move beyond the white privilege argument by recognizing the difference between guilt and responsibility. The white privilege argument is usually about guilt. (not a very useful emotion). We prefer to deal with responsibility. ie. what are we going to do differently? Focusing on white privilege usually does not build movements, while focusing on anti racism and class solidarity will.
Rather than assign guilt we find it more useful to work in solidarity with people of color in opposition to real oppression and in favor of real change. The important task is to do something about oppression and White Supremacy. We recognize that we are each either sustaining the current social order-including its racial injustice and white/upper class privilege, or we are engaged in resisting this social order. We choose to resist. The goal of the Anti Racism Commission of DSA is to help build a movement for social justice. We are not satisfied with calls for diversity, instead we demand Justice NOW!
WE MUST BUILD MOVEMENTS.
Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Frederick Douglass.
Our goal is to build a movement to change the nation. To do this, we need unity- - unity with justice.
Socialists point out that one of our difficulties in seeing class in our society is that we look at poverty (class) and we see race. We racialize class. As a consequence we seldom accurately see race or poverty or class oppression.
Lets talk about the working class. If we are going to do class politics, we need to look at our own attitudes toward both race and class. Class refers to the economic and social differences between groups in our society. (poor, working class, middle and upper class). As socialists we recognize the working class as a potential agent for change. The U.S. has a multi racial working class. Workers of color make up the majority of workers in many cities and industries. And whites of the working class make up at least 40% of the potential voters in the nation.
Working class politics is most frequently expressed in the organizing efforts of labor unions. U. S. unions have historically been divided over racism. Some have perpetuated racism and discrimination and social inequality and others fight against racism. Left organizations have a similar history. Overcoming the divisions of race is central to our struggle in building a progressive working class majority. Are we going to support racism, and divisions, or are we going to build a unified social movement to change this society?
At present the working class all over the world is losing ground. If you are interested in doing something enduringly effective about this -- working to reverse this trend and moving forward -- then please join us.
Our experience tells us that many in the working class are ready for an alternative. They are looking for something beyond the choice between Republicans and Democrats. We believe that that alternative is socialism and a socialist analysis. African Americans, Latino, Native Americans, Asians, and Anglos in the working class are ready for socialism because they think it is wrong for some people to live in mansions while others live in public housing that looks like a war zone. We think it is wrong for some people to live in luxury while others cannot adequately feed their children. We do not accept a social order in which one in five children live in poverty and the U.S. has one of the highest infant death rates in the modern world. We do not accept a social order in which one group has quality schools in safe neighborhoods, and the working poor have inadequate and unsafe schools. We do not accept a world economic system where over 1 billion are without safe water, and 149 million children are malnourished.
Only a vigorously committed multi racial movement with multi racial leadership -- and the vision of full socio-economic equality -- can organize the necessary power and carry it through to the full development of the genuinely democratic, egalitarian society. That is the kind of movement that will be strong, enduring, vital -- and successful. We invite you to join us.
Chief Oren Lyons [Onondaga] presenting the statement of the Grand Council of
the Iroquois to the United States Government, 1973:
"We have not asked you to give up your religions for ours. We have not
asked you to give up your ways of life for ours. We have not asked you to
give up your government for ours. We have not asked you to give up your
territories. Why can you not accord us with the same respect? For your
children learn from watching their elders, and if you want your children to
do what is right, then it is up to you to set the example. That is all we
have to say at this moment. Oneh."
A working paper of the Anti Racism Commission of Democratic Socialists of America.